If you look at the history of the church, the history of revivals, of great awakenings, it always was connected to people unifying and praying for the Lord to work in that situation. And that's what we want to happen in our generation.
Just before this experience in Acts 2:42 comes the powerful experience of Acts 2:41. This miraculous verse is too big for most in ministry to wrap their thoughts and minds around fully. It's where you discover that the result of Peter's inaugural sermon was the salvation of 3,000 souls. Knowing the biblical narrative's tendency to count only men, it is possible that those 3,000 new believers were males representing households now under the authority of Christ where women and children would subsequently follow suit. Getting so excited about the invitation for people to come to Christ in verse 41, it's easy to gloss over what happened as a result chronicled in verse 42. Because of their salvation, these new believers in this newly formed church did revolutionary and important things.
They devoted themselves to prayers. Plural. This may have included prayers in private. Prayers in public. Specific prayer seasons and even strategies to align the hearts of people with the true heart of God.
Developing a prayer strategy for your church starts with developing a devotion to prayer among the people in your church.
Phase 1: Developing Your Strategy
The goal of a prayer ministry is not to do all the praying for the church, but to equip, enable, and encourage church members to pray continually and effectively while making prayer a part of everything they do. The first and possibly the most important component in developing a church-wide prayer ministry is leadership that is committed to prayer.
If that leadership component is missing, no other piece of this strategy or any strategy can replace it. As you ask God to continue cultivating in you a deepening prayer life, consider what components should be part of your strategy to translate that desire for prayer into a reality within your church.
The following three ideas may be helpful to consider as you develop the prayer strategy for your church.
Recruit and launch a Prayer Ministry Leadership Team. The goal of this team is to support your pastor and help to equip and keep your church members praying faithfully and effectively on an ongoing basis. They will help to carry out and implement the pastor's goals for the prayer structure and efforts of your church. Look for faithful members who are influential and already committed to prayer. Work with your pastor to recruit them and establish regular meetings.
Consider your overall vision. It should clearly revolve around the idea of regularly calling people to pray. The call to prayer is so much more than a liturgical moment at the top of a worship service. It's the daily responsibility of every believer. The prayer life of your church will grow exponentially in proportion to how the prayer life of each individual member grows. Having hundreds of church-wide opportunities for prayer will not have the effect you hope if your church members and attendees are not cultivating a deeper prayer life in their own homes.
Develop a strategy for training and implementing prayer. Your strategy should fit onto one page and be easy enough to engage in conversation without having the page in front of you. When in doubt, strive for simplicity.
Phase 2: Determine Your Components
Your church-wide prayer initiative will be guided by your strategy, but known by its individual components. The parts and pieces of your prayer ministry will be what people talk about. They may not tell their neighbor over coffee the nature of your church's prayerful passion, but they will talk about their church's prayer room, prayer cards, or their prayer meetings. The components you choose should be consistent with the vision your pastor and leadership team desire to execute.
Church-Based War Room
Is there space in your church already dedicated to prayer? Some churches have a place with 24-hour access that allows people to schedule a time to come and enjoy a quiet escape with available requests, cards, and resources related to prayer. Some churches also provide a place for groups to pray near their worship center during their services. Simply assigning the value of prayer to physical space goes a long way to illustrate the emphasis you have on prayer as a church.
Secondly, if you have such a space, do people know it's there? Do they know how to access it? Are there times when it is open and times when it is not? Can it be reserved for special prayer meetings? Can the community access it? Determine the weekly scope of how the space can be used and make it known.
Finally, how is your room set up? Are there passages of Scripture displayed? Is there a space for people to write and post specific requests? Are there resources, guides, and prayer strategies available? It's important for the prayer room to be both personal and corporate. You may choose to have a prayer wall with categories for prayer and prayer requests moving from your church to your city to your world. Categories like pastors, ministries, missions, missionaries, local officials, federal government, friends in need, and global needs are all possible headers for your corporate prayer wall.
Make your church prayer room attractive, accessible, and practical.
Church-Wide Times of Prayer
For churches to become truly devoted to prayer, then it must penetrate through the leadership into every meeting, activity, and ministry in the church. There must be intentional scheduled times when the corporate body, individual ministries, and small groups will stop and pray specifically and strategically for one another and the issues at hand. There must also be times when those ministries can meet for the purpose of prayer alone and not to do other things.
Make sure you are praying more than you are talking about prayer and be sure to prioritize spiritual needs and ministry opportunities over physical needs. Schedule focused times to pray for those in authority, missionaries and ministry leaders, local needs, and coming ministry events and opportunities. Designate times to surround and pray over church leaders, students, children, parents, and those who are sick, in need of a job, or in a family crisis. Consider how that time is used to better train and equip people for deepening prayer lives.
Consider turning some weekly services into corporate prayer times. One church just added a 30-45 minute prayer time every week before their evening service. Since people were coming anyway, many came a few minutes early and prayed over corporate requests and needs. Perhaps designate a church-wide day or month for prayer and fasting.
Other times and seasons of gathered prayer could include:
- Weekly or daily staff prayer time;
- Weekly men's or women's prayer meeting;
- Scheduled prayer teams praying during weekend services to pray for God's movement through worship and teaching;
- Elder or deacon body prayer gatherings.
Phase 3: Develop Your Prayer Tools
There are numerous tools that could easily become part of your overall prayer strategy. This list is not exhaustive, so as you develop your strategy, you may discover the need for others. Here are a few simple ones to get you started.
Tools to Gather Requests
In order to pray effectively for people in your church and needs within your community, you need a way to gather requests. This purpose is likely best accomplished with a combination of tools designed to give people options for how they share needs.
- Prayer Request Cards: Use these in times of corporate worship or small group Bible study for people to log requests. After the services, early in the week, the requests should be compiled by a staff member or prayer team member.
- Prayer Request Email: Consider offering an email address and a prayer section on your church's website. It could be as simple as an online form with instructions for viewers to submit a request to a designated staff person or prayer team member.
- Prayer Request Hot Line: Perhaps you can host a designated prayer line that rings to a specific staff or prayer team member or a voice mail box where callers can leave a detailed prayer request. Remember to handle these requests with utmost confidentiality and care.
In order to effectively pray for requests while elevating the value of a deepening prayer life, you must be able to efficiently distribute the requests. Consider the following options. Again, the best way to distribute requests in your church might be a combination of several options.
- Weekly Prayer Sheet: Keep an ongoing list of special requests printed and available throughout your church. To ensure balance, make sure that one side shares physical needs and the other shares spiritual needs and ministry opportunities. It could be picked up at weekend services, at midweek gatherings, in small groups, or online. Each Sunday school class or small group should also consider developing their own prayer sheet specifically for their members.
- Prayer Wall: Some churches have a private prayer wall on their website that is accessed through a login code. Members can share the latest prayer requests and answers. You may choose to create a physical prayer wall in your church where members can post prayer needs and answered prayers.
- Daily Prayer Posts: As you develop the social media strategy for your church, you may choose to post requests on a blog or easily updated portion of your website or church-based online communication tool. When you do so, be sure to link back to your prayer post via social media. Someone may check Twitter on their phone and be prompted to click through to pray for requests.
Follow-up is critically important when managing both requests and distribution. Reach out to and connect with each person who shares a request. God is the One who will answer the request, but there is encouragement in simply knowing that someone is praying for you. Also, remember to share how prayers are answered.
- Personal Prayer Notes/Cards: Both the Apostle Paul and the Apostle John wrote letters telling people how they were praying for them. Consider printing or purchasing postcards that church members can send and share, including Scriptures and ways they are praying for others. This is a unifying and effective practice. It's also an evangelistic tool that many churches are now using. The prayer notes can be collected, compiled, and inexpensively mailed in one envelope to those for whom you prayed.
- On-Call Leaders: Many churches already have a pastor designated as the on-call pastor for the day or week. Consider having an on-call team of prayer warriors to serve on-call or at designated hours. Task them to follow up with all requests made during their rotation.
Your church's prayer strategy will likely mirror your overall vision to reach the community for Christ and grow believers into mature followers of Christ. Prayer, however, cannot simply be one small component of a successful Christian walk. It is a devotional mark that governs every area of life. The way you elevate Christ in your church will be tantamount to how you value prayer in your church. As you strategize the best way to cultivate a thriving prayer ministry in your church, know that it is ultimately the work of the Holy Spirit to call believers deeper into fellowship with Him. As people grow in faith, their lives of prayer deepen. As their prayer lives deepen, every part of your strategy multiplies and God receives glory.
The War Room Church Campaign Kit provides a comprehensive tool for churches seeking to plan and promote prayer efforts in their congregation and community. It includes a step-by-step planning guide, supportive sermon outlines, a five-week small-group study (with War Room Bible Study Book and supporting film clip DVD), evangelism outreach materials, and a DVD-ROM with promotional trailers, flyers, posters, and web ads, all designed to create an exciting campaign for your church. Plus a guide to help churches launch a prayer ministry.
BONUS: The Heart of War Room