Three years ago, we began our church plant with a prayer meeting. Months before the Sunday morning services, small groups, and organized ministries, we gathered for an hour every Sunday evening to pray for our future church and the community around us. We met in a circle sitting on old metal chairs in a sanctuary under construction and we cried out to our God for the souls of men and women. Three years and many answered prayers later – it’s still happening every Sunday night and I pray it won’t stop.
Acts 4:24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them,
Acts 4:31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.
In Acts 4, the church falls under organized persecution for the first time. Their immediate reaction was corporate prayer. This was a natural reaction because it was a regular commitment of the church to pray together. Founded under the leadership of the Apostles, the church devoted herself to corporate prayer and it was through meeting for prayer that they multiplied. (Acts 1:14; 2:42; 6:4; 10:1-2, 9; 12:5; 13:1-3) Most churches would affirm that the corporate prayer meeting was a good move, but few churches would have pursued such a move.
I’m afraid that if you dropped many of our churches into Acts 4:24 and we heard of the possibility of persecution, our first response would not be a corporate prayer meeting. Many would more likely put together a persecution evasion committee, an evacuation chart, a 4-week-course on enduring persecution, and a building project where large worship services could be held safely and conveniently underground. We have not faced serious persecution in America thus far, but many churches are facing difficulties. Churches are facing plateau, decline, corruption, and complacency. The danger is not so much outside the church, but it is within. And what has the response to these shortcomings been – another Bible study, an outreach program, a building project, or a renewed commitment to corporate praying?
Catch a Vision for Corporate Prayer
Let me plead with you, reconsider the weekly prayer meeting. It is a frightening thing that corporate prayer meetings are so frequently abandoned in favor of what is perceived to be more strategic programming. I recognize that previous experiences may have tainted the reputation of such an organized meeting. Perhaps you have heard enough prayer gossip and medical reports about distant relatives to last a lifetime, but the corporate prayer meeting does not have to reflect that stereotype. What if pastors shepherded the church in their praying? What if pastors guided their people to pray the Scriptures, to pray for more laborers in the harvest, and to pray God’s kingdom come and his will done? What if joys and burdens were shared through the weekly praying of brothers and sisters in Christ? What if souls were saved, and people were emboldened to speak the word of God through the prayers of the saints? What if a congregation’s faith was strengthened by seeing prayers answered before their eyes after months and years of persistent prayer? Catch a vision for ground shaking corporate prayer that propels the Great Commission forward.
A Bad Reason for Giving Up Prayer Meetings
If there is anything pastors should both teach and model for their congregations, it should be how to pray Biblically and missionally, so why do so many pastors replace the prayer meeting with other programming? The answer – nobody comes to prayer meetings. It is no secret that if you want to schedule the most highly attended meeting at your church, it is not going to be a prayer meeting. Prayer is not just spiritual consumption like other programs. It is spiritual output. It requires action, participation, and the exercise of discipline and faith. Bible studies and sermons are more consumeristic. You can more easily come and receive the teaching someone else has prepared and then decide what parts you will obey. Bible studies and sermons, unfortunately, feel more productive and more comfortable, and thus, in a consumer culture, the prayer meeting is too much sacrifice and too little reward for the average churchgoer.
So pastor, what will you do if only a few people are willing to join you for prayer meeting each week? Should you cancel corporate prayer gatherings due to lack of interest? What is the best course of action? Perhaps the most fruitful thing you must do for you and your congregation is to pray for your prayerless congregation. A small group of people on their knees before the Lord every week is far more powerful to reverse the prayerlessness of a congregation than another more highly attended program. Pastor, even if you are the only one at the scheduled time of corporate prayer, spend the time and pray. It will prove more powerful than any alternative.
The condition of the church may be very accurately gauged by its prayer meetings… If God be near a church, It must pray. And if He be not there, one of the first tokens of His absence will be slothfulness in prayer – Charles Spurgeon
Practical Suggestions for Corporate Prayer Meetings
- Allow space for a variety of church members to pray out loud.
- Diversify the prayer time with both large group and small group praying.
- Pray in response to Scripture readings and/or points from the Sunday sermon.
- Have church members share and pray for missional opportunities.
- Pray for particular ministries and missionaries.
- Incorporate musical worship in-between extended times of prayer.
- Lay hands on sick members and pray for miracles of healing.
- Don’t be afraid of silence. Most of us need more of it in our lives.
By His Grace & For His Glory,