The neglected meeting of the contemporary American church is without question the prayer meeting, so how can we remedy this deficiency? The path forward is for faithful servants of Christ to initiate times of corporate prayer within local churches. How can a church move from not having a prayer meeting to having a regular, vibrant time of corporate prayer? If you are a pastor, implementing this kind of change will be much easier than if you are not. The way to make such a change also will look different depending on whether you are a leader in the church or a faithful member who longs for times of prayer with your brothers and sisters. Let’s consider both scenarios this week, so that no matter how you serve in the church of which you are a member, you can work toward seeing the church become more prayerful.
First, how can you help a church incorporate a prayer meeting if you are not the pastor or an elder of the church? It’s important at the outset to remember how important it is for members to follow and support the leadership of the local church. If that is not a possibility, then the best decision would be to find another church to join where you can joyfully submit to the leadership. What this means for prayer meetings is that you will need to work with the pastors/elders of the church so that they support having a regular prayer meeting.
The first step in the process is to spend time praying that the leadership would be receptive to adding a prayer service to the regular worship times of the church. Then, humbly approach the church leadership and ask if they would consider making this change. It is possible that the church leadership already feels overtaxed, and the idea of adding more to their plate might be distasteful initially. That’s why I recommend you come with a plan in place to show that you are not trying to dump something on them but that you are ready to help get the ministry up and running. Perhaps you could have a specific day and time you would like the prayer meeting, a particular room on campus you think would be a good meeting location, and, if you are qualified, you might even volunteer to organize and lead some of the initial prayer meetings. Come with a well thought out plan, but also be open to the leadership incorporating your idea but not necessarily using your plan. The best-case scenario is the leadership excitedly receives your suggestion, takes ownership of the prayer meeting, and starts holding prayer meetings as soon as possible. But what if that doesn’t happen?
In some cases the leadership might reject the idea altogether. Perhaps the church calendar already seems too full. Perhaps they have tried to start prayer meetings in the past without success. Whatever the reason, be prepared for your idea not to be implemented, at least not right away. Then what? Keep praying. Remember, prayer meetings are important, and they are worth persistently pursuing in the local church. Not only keep praying individually, but see if you can find two or three friends in the church who would meet to pray with you. I do not recommend you tell them your idea was rejected. You might not even want to talk about prayer meetings per se. Instead, just meet with them for prayer on your own time at a coffee shop, over breakfast, in the evenings, or on a Sunday afternoon. Keep a journal of the requests for which you are praying and how God answers those requests. Pray especially for needs of the local congregation, and pray for the leadership of the church. As God answers prayer, it will become evident within the church, and it can be a great motivator for more people to join in prayer. The best way to encourage a prayer meeting when it is not immediately received is to pray and watch how God works through prayer. Be patient, and trust that God will show the church the importance of praying together as you set a godly example.
If you are one of the elders of the church where you are a member, implementing a prayer meeting is initially much easier because it is likely you have the authority and influence to get such a meeting started. However, the challenge you will face will not be related to getting the meeting approved but in getting the members of the church to attend faithfully and participate enthusiastically in prayer meetings. How can you implement a prayer meeting so that it’s not just you and your family in attendance, so that the other members of the church want to attend and pray?
First, pray. I know that seems obvious, but it’s easy to forget step one. The Spirit is the One Who moves God’s people to prayer, so pray that God would stir up the hearts of the congregation with a desire to gather together for prayer. Pray that when the church gathers for prayer, the Spirit would guide the church in prayer and make the prayer meeting effective in fulfilling God’s purposes.
Second, be persistent. In some cases, people will be hungry for such a prayer time and many will come to pray. But in most cases, attendance will be low. I’ve told our people many times that coming to a prayer meeting often is spiritual warfare: I would like to skip the prayer meeting before it starts, but after the prayer meeting I am overwhelmingly grateful I overcame my lazy flesh and prayed with my brothers and sisters in Christ. Realize that many people will not overcome the flesh, at least not right away. They will plan to come but change their minds at the last minute. Something will happen that will prevent them from attending. Don’t be discouraged. The enemy of our souls does not want the church to pray, and he will do everything he can to fight against it. Expect it to be difficult, both for you and for others. But overcome the difficulty by faith, trusting that God will hear and answer His people’s prayers, even when only a few of them show up.
Third, have a plan for the prayer meeting. When people show up to pray, you want to make the most of your time together, so know what you will do with that time before you arrive. But what should your plan look like? Planning the prayer meeting is crucial, and it requires its own discussion. We’ll talk about that next time.
If you have a story about starting up a regular prayer meeting, either successfully or not, or if you try to implement what we’ve talked about in this article, we’d love to read about it in the comments.