Imagine what your church community could look like five years from now. Now focus your thoughts on how your church has grown incredibly in prayer. People are setting aside time each day to pray. They’re worshipping God throughout the day. You see small groups and ministry teams making prayer a central part of their meeting times. You see a church where God is doing amazing things as he responds to the prayers of his people.
Sound exciting? How might we realize this kind of vision? In my online MB Seminary course called Missional Discipleship, I suggest that prayer saturation is the first—and arguably the most important—of 11 essential disciple-making elements.
Let me suggest several ways that we can strengthen prayer in our churches.
First, we need to enlarge people’s vision for prayer. Preaching and teaching on prayer certainly helps. In addition, we can inspire others by telling them about some of the spiritual revivals that have happened over the past 300 years (for starters, they could watch The Role of Prayer in Spiritual Awakening video by Dr. J. Edwin Orr). Knowing how God has responded to concerted, extraordinary prayer in the recent past can inspire us to pray today in focused and persistent ways.
Another way to saturate your church with prayer is to equip people to pray. Most Christians know how to ask God for stuff. But do we truly practice thankfulness, confession, and adoration of God? Do we realize deep down that the goal is not just to pray for a set period each day (as good as that is), but to develop a lifestyle of prayer—an ongoing dependence on him?
We can teach about prayer through sermons and workshops, but there is nothing quite like combining training with practice. One of the most powerful equipping times I experienced on a church leadership team was when we went on a two-day prayer retreat. We all read a book on prayer prior to the retreat, took in some training sessions during the retreat, and then spent time in prayer. It was powerful!
“These days we pray for everything in a bold expectant way. And God has answered so many prayers.
Another strategy is to simply build on what is already happening in prayer. For example, when I was co-chair of our church board, we extended our dedicated prayer times and incorporated prayer throughout our business discussions. This small change had considerable impact.
Life groups and ministry groups provide an excellent forum for strengthening prayer in your church. Inspire your leaders with a big vision for prayer! Train them and give them solid prayer resources. When leaders really pray, others will follow their example.
I think it’s also helpful to periodically incorporate prayer initiatives that rally people to pray. Make the most of people’s willingness to commit to something significant for a short period of time. For example, some churches will organize a day or week of prayer where people sign up to pray at different times. One year, our church did 40 days of prayer during Lent where people were encouraged to pray for specific aspects of the church each day.
I’ve often challenged groups to pray for five unsaved people for five days a week for five weeks. These kinds of short prayer initiatives get people praying and, in the process, help them develop a stronger habit of prayer.
In our high-tech age, we’d be crazy not to maximize technology and social media as ways to mobilize people to strengthen their prayer lives. I’ll sometimes post prayer requests on Facebook and I know that within minutes, I’ll have an army of prayer warriors joining me in whatever battle I’m facing. Small groups can create private Facebook groups, use apps that have good group chats (like WhatsApp), or capitalize on other messaging platforms to promote prayer in their groups.
For many churches, it’s also helpful to grow a vital Sunday morning prayer ministry. When this is in place, God will often reveal himself in amazing ways. For example, at our former church, we often had an open mic sharing time during our worship services. One Sunday, a woman shared how she had gone up for prayer during our post-service prayer ministry a few weeks previously about her recent cancer diagnosis. After our prayer team prayed for her, the woman felt that God had healed her. Her doctor wasn’t so sure, and he tried to convince her that the first test was conclusive. After she pleaded with him, the doctor finally authorized another test. The new test result revealed that the woman was cancer-free! You can imagine how the congregation responded to this obvious answer to prayer. As we see God work, we’ll be more likely to believe that he can do immeasurably more that we could ever ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20).
Finally, I encourage you to be bold in taking next steps. Pastor Chris, a church planter in Toronto, sensed that God wanted his church to have dedicated prayer groups praying every day of the week. He knew there would be opposition, so he tried to dismiss the growing conviction in his spirit. Finally, he realized that he had to obey the voice of the Lord. Within two months, they had 10 prayer groups that covered every day of the week!
Here’s what Pastor Chris said seven months into their church’s prayer venture:
“These days we pray for everything in a bold expectant way. And God has answered so many prayers. At the same time, the spiritual warfare continues to ramp up. But we are not discouraged or deterred. In fact, I think we are slowly developing an audaciousness to our faith in prayer. It’s been a long journey but a fruitful one. So, we are still praying. We don’t know what else to do anymore. That’s a good thing!”
I am so encouraged by Pastor Chris and his church. God loves it when we spend time with him in meaningful prayer and he moves in response to the prayers of his people.
In the words of E.M. Bounds, “What the Church needs today is not new organizations or more and novel methods, but people whom the Holy Spirit can use—people of prayer, people mighty in prayer” (E.M. Bounds, paraphrased).
Saturating your church in prayer is a key strategy for helping your church reach its full disciple-making potential.
Written by Randy Wollf, PHD
Randy is Academic Dean and Associate Professer of Leadership and Practical Theology at MB Seminary and the author of Maximum Discipleship in the Church. His course, Missional Discipleship, is available fully online beginning August 29.