“Corporate prayer proclaims the gospel. It builds a community of grace, trust, and vulnerability as we confess our needs and weaknesses.”
As a pastor’s kid, I was at the Church whenever the doors were opened. That meant Sunday School, Sunday morning, Sunday night, and of course the midweek prayer meeting. I dreaded the prayer meeting. Except for a short time of prayer at the end, it was just like any other service--a few hymns and a Bible lesson--but what bothered me the most was that the requests and prayers were all about sickness, unemployment, and life’s pressures. Things of little interest or concern to a young boy. The service was stale, boring, and depressing. It gave me little confidence in a big God who would be concerned with our everyday life.
In college, I started attending a new church and asked my pastor how I could get more involved. He invited me to pray with them on Wednesday night. I have to admit, I wasn’t excited about attending another prayer meeting. The first time I showed up it was noticeably different. They sat in a circle facing each other, we sang one song accapella, the pastor shared a five minute challenge, and then, we did something that was completely unprecedented, we prayed.
I was awe struck. We were praying for things of eternal value and we were seeing answers. Each week was filled with just as many praises as there were requests. Every now and then my pastor would say on a Sunday morning, “If you really want to see the heart of this Church, come back on Wednesday night.” Those who attended the prayer meeting knew exactly what he was talking about.
Years later, after I had a ministry of my own, the first thing I did was start a prayer meeting. It wasn’t perceived positively at first by the leadership who had cancelled it for lack of enthusiasm, and it took a while to gain the confidence of the congregation and teach them a different approach to corporate prayer, but after just a few months, we were running out of time to pray rather than running out of things to pray for.
The Place for Corporate Prayer
“And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Acts 2:42 ESV
As the early Church gathered after Pentecost, it says that they committed themselves to four things: teaching, fellowship, communion, and prayer.
Any church that is worth its salt will have a high view on teaching and doctrine. Whether it is on Sunday or in a Bible study during the week, the teaching is geared to instruct the congregation on how they ought to live in relationship with God and others.
When the Church gathers to fellowship, whether around a service or a potluck, they are fundamentally building bonds with each other. This is what Luke was referring to in Acts when he says, “And all who believed were together and had all things in common” (2:44). Their time together built bonds that led them to care for one another and meet each other’s needs (2:45). Spending time together, apart from just sitting and listening to the pastor preach, is crucial to the health of any congregation.
The early church also gathered regularly to share the Lord’s Table. They would meet every day to worship on the temple grounds and then return to each other’s homes to remember the Last Supper (2:46). It is important to note that ‘breaking bread’ is not referring to just another form of fellowship, it is focusing on the fundamental bond that we all have as believers through the final work of Christ. Any communion service should have a communal aspect to it, but that’s a topic for another day.
This brings us to the place of corporate prayer and its importance on this list. It is interesting to note that prayer stands prominently among these other three elements of worship. Yet, in many Churches, the prayer meeting has basically fallen away.
Consider what is not mentioned in this list. There are no social justice programs yet it says a lot about their testimony with the surrounding community. They had “favor with all the people” (2:47a). Although there was no evangelism program, because the Church was devoted to these four areas, it says, “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (2:47b).
What I have discovered in ministry is that Churches are generally strong in one of these four areas and they build their entire ministry around their strength. Unfortunately, this doesn’t result in a balanced Church and a healthy environment that cultivates growth, impact, and overall satisfaction from the congregation.
The Problems with Corporate Prayer
The problems with corporate prayer meetings, and often the reason why they fail or flounder, are because they become repetitive and replace the eternal with the immediate. Often, in our prayers, we set the standard so low that we miss the Kingdom of God entirely. One person prays for rain to water their parched lawn while the other prays for sunshine so to not interrupt their picnic.
Another problem with modern prayer meetings is that the actual act of prayer is crowded out by other elements of the service. The lesson runs long and a few songs extend the service further, and before we know it, the better part of an hour has passed and we haven't even talked about what we're going to pray about, let alone uttering a single prayer.
The prayer meeting is not a soapbox for individuals to share what’s on their heart. It’s not a place to air grievances, gossip, or summarize their day. The prayer meeting is, and should always be, about prayer.
The Case for Corporate Prayer
With so many things going wrong, it's no surprise that prayer meetings have fallen out of fashion. For many pastors, the prayer meeting is a burden and just another night of the week they have to work. There are so many other concerns on the radar of Church leaders that take higher precedence. Let me make the case for why we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater and how establishing a healthy prayer meeting can be a blessing to the church.
Corporate prayer is crucial for providing the congregation a place to do more in the service than be a passive observer. This isn’t to say that Sunday morning worship should be passive, but without a key way to feel like the congregation is actively involved in the identity of the church, worship quickly devolves into a duty or entertainment.
Corporate prayer provides the pastor and leadership with vital feedback from the congregation. Like a psychiatric patient, the congregation is laying on the couch, pouring out their hearts. What they are saying is an honest expression of how they feel. I have found that the prayer meeting is a time to check the pulse and temperature of the congregation.
Corporate prayer teaches the congregation a vital principle of trusting in God in every aspect of life. Jesus prayed before every major event in His earthly ministry. He taught His disciples to pray. He even instructed them to pray with Him, even though they were unable. He prayed fervently for those who would follow Him. If prayer was this important to someone who was already in completely communion with God, how much more important should it be for us?
Prayer is a vital part of the Christian life. With it, we tap into the power of God. We have access to the throne of grace to lay all of our cares and concerns at the feet of our heavenly Father and know that the Son eternally advocates for our blessing and the Spirit intercedes when words fail us. Prayer transforms us to a deeper trust in the Almighty and it reorients our lives to live with purpose for the Kingdom of God.
As the old adage goes, “A family that prays together, stays together.” We learn and do so much together in community. We shouldn’t relegate prayer to our personal lives only.
Corporate prayer proclaims the gospel. It builds a community of grace, trust, and vulnerability as we confess our needs and weaknesses. The prayer meeting can be one of the most powerful weapons the Church has in this world. While the Word of God is the sword of the Spirit, prayer is the force that moves it to strike.
A Charge for Corporate Prayer
“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Matthew 18:20).
Don’t be discouraged by the number in attendance. Even if only a few people show up when the Church is gathering corporately, Christ is in the midst of them. Here is some basic spiritual math. God is infinite. If you multiply any number by infinity it always becomes immeasurable. The infinite doesn’t change, but the number multiplied by it does. So don’t worry about who doesn’t show up when Jesus is there. If the fervency of our prayer is based on the number of people in attendance, then our hope is in something other than Christ.
So here is a suggestion. If your church has made a weekly prayer meeting part of their service schedule, you ought to make an effort to attend and lend your voice to the praises and supplication that are already taking place. If you find that the prayer meeting has grown stale, first examine your own heart and root out any sin before you approach the leadership. Then, share this article and hopefully it can encourage them. If your church doesn’t have a prayer meeting, schedule a meeting with your pastor. Volunteer to lead it if they will allow it. If you are a pastor and you are either struggling with a stale prayer service or don’t have one at all, hopefully this article can help you see the value of a church that prays together. If one of your members shares this article with you, don’t take it personally. See it as an opportunity. You have someone who cares enough about your Church that they are willing to give up some of their own time to see the church succeed.
Suggested Prayer Meeting Format
Here is a helpful format for a simple prayer meeting. There is no perfect model, but this may be a helpful resource for starting or revitalizing a prayer meeting. Try it out for a few weeks and see how it works.
- Start with a five minute challenge and instructions. Guide the prayers toward eternal values and the Kingdom of God.
- Go right into prayer. Pray for the spiritual needs of the Church. Pray for boldness in proclaiming the gospel. Pray for the Sunday morning worship service. Pray for unity in the Body. Pray for the Church’s testimony in the community.
- After 20 minutes, take a break to redirect the congregation to pray for various circles of influence. Pray for the governing authorities. Pray for the missionaries of the Church. Pray for surrounding Churches and local municipalities. Pray for the needs of the community.
- After 20 minutes, take another break to redirect the prayers to specific needs of the Church. Instruct the congregation to pray for, rather than announce, their requests. If they are not comfortable with praying for their own needs, encourage them to meet with you before or after the prayer meeting so that you can pray for them on their behalf.
- After 20 minutes, close in a word of prayer. That’s it. You just spent an hour praying. If you need more or less time, that’s fine too.
Helpful tips for leaders:
- Wait until the end to pray for personal requests, otherwise the time will be monopolized by immediate concerns rather than eternal values. This doesn’t diminish the importance of the personal requests, but it certainly elevates the value of God’s Kingdom.
- Guide but don’t discourage from praying for the same request/person multiple times. Explain that when one member prays, every member is joining in with them already.
- Don’t break into smaller groups unless you have to. Let the congregation hear from everyone together and teach them how to listen in prayer.
- Emphasize the importance of the prayer meeting during the Sunday morning worship service. Show enthusiasm and teach the power and importance of prayer.
- Start on time. Don’t linger and wait for stragglers to arrive. It gives the impression that those who are there are not enough and you are more concerned in the numbers than the prayers.
- Model prayer for the congregation. Instead of just teaching people how to pray, demonstrate it as one among them. Don’t just lead and close in prayer. Pray alongside the congregation.
- Be creative with scheduling. There’s no set standard for when a prayer service should take place. It doesn’t have to be a Wednesday evening. It could be on Sunday night. If you’re really creative, you could do your Sunday School teaching in the evening and have the prayer meeting before your worship service.
- Don’t schedule other events during or around the prayer meeting. Give it a place of prominence all on its own. Make it accessible to everyone, or at least convenient for most.
- Don’t substitute the small group for the corporate gathering. Even if you prefer to have the prayer meetings in a small group setting, make sure to schedule special occasions where the whole congregation can come together and pray as one body.
Rev. Adam Miller is the President and Host of Songtime and can be heard daily on the Songtime Radio Broadcast.