Recently Pastor Max Doner posted a short article on Reformed Baptist Fellowship discussing the value and validity of holding a regular church Prayer Meeting. He lists several reasons for the decline of the Prayer Meeting’s popularity, none of which I would quibble with, but I would amend to his list one major reasons that the Prayer Meeting suffers: we’re often not very good at conducting them. I’ve been in prayer meetings that seem almost electric in their spiritual intimacy and gospel zeal, and I’ve been in others that would make a sloth go looking for something a bit more invigorating.
Small wonder that the Prayer Meeting isn’t treasured when they are far too often sloppy, disjointed, unfocused, and bland. We who are tasked with leading such meetings should approach them as we would any other gospel labor- with a careful plan to glorify God, edify His people, and help light evangelistic fire in the souls of the people. This takes forethought. I must confess that I have personally presided over some prayer meetings that were hastily put together- and it bore the sort of fruit one would expect. But in God’s grace, I’ve also been able to conduct some where we felt the blessing of Christ in the way Pastor Doner describes in his quotation of Matthew 18: 19-20: Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
Here then are 12 tips I’ve found helpful in conducting effective prayer meetings.
1. Start with a SHORT devotion from Scripture.
Notice that SHORT is capitalized, which is the typing way of yelling at you. Keep it SHORT. Five minutes is best, ten is the absolute maximum. The goal is to orient the hearts and minds of God’s people toward spiritual matters, not preach a morning sermon part II. You have gathered the people here to pray, so respect the purpose of the meeting.
Psalm 19 makes an excellent text, as both the glories of God in creation and the fuller revelation of saving grace in the Scripture can be highlighted. I recently used Ephesians 1 as an opening text and briefly pointed out the Trinitarian nature of salvation. It can also work to briefly summarize the recent sermon and lead the people into a time of prayerful response or even focus on the words of a hymn. Whatever you pick, make sure the tone and tenor of your speech is in harmony with the sort of prayer you desire to lead the people into.
2. Begin with a focused time of doxological Prayer.
The Prayer Meeting should not normally be one big mass of open prayer, but should rather be organized into smaller segments with a particular focus. After giving a SHORT devotion I invite the people to offer a response to God’s Word through prayer, picking up the major themes of the text presented. Emphasize that this is a time of worship and not for general requests.
You will find that this is new for many people, so you will need to model the sort of prayer you are trying to lead them into. This is another reason why the Psalms make for excellent devotional material, as they typically model this sort of doxological method.
3. Use the “open floor” rather than the “go around the circle” method.
It is temping to have everyone pray in turn because it forces participation, but I would avoid it. “Going around the circle” tends to take way too long and it also fosters a situation where people are composing their prayers as the circle gets closer to them, rather than joining with the current speaker with all their mind and heart.
4. Have your second season of prayer be a time for requests and intercession, but with a specific focus.
This is not the time to pray for grandma’s neighbor’s brother’s roommate’s uncle Beau’s arthritis. Lay a specific area of prayer before the people. I like to focus on the health of our local church, or the church’s evangelistic witness, or something timely such as the appointment of new Church officers or a specific missionary family.
5. Have your third and last season of prayer be open to the burdens and concerns of the people, but avoid spending more time talking than praying.
This one takes the careful application of wisdom, and doesn’t happen overnight. You also don’t want to stifle the fellowship of the people of God as they explain a situation or express care for one another, but try to move the “sharing time” into the “praying time” without undue delay. Leaving this portion of prayer to the end is a major help in this area, as an extended discussion of requests can’t monopolize the whole meeting.
6. If necessary, split up a large gathering into smaller groups.
In larger churches, after the first two seasons of prayer it may be time to split up into smaller groups to share general requests. This can be done in one room, as the sound of the prayers being offered by different people actually makes a nice soundtrack to your own. Staying in one room also will keep everyone together for when you bring the meeting to a close (see point 12 below).
7. Don’t do the “recap.”
Everyone just listened to the requests, you don’t need to list them back to everybody. Just start praying.
8. Encourage “piggyback prayers.”
Just because someone prayed for something doesn’t mean it is checked off the list and done with. Encourage others to echo the prayers of their fellow saints with their agreements, affirmations, and Amens. Again, modeling this is helpful as bad habits may have to be unlearned.
9. Don’t be afraid of silence
Give people time. I would err on the side of allowing time to pray rather than ending a session because you think everyone is done. There are worse things than quiet contemplation.
10. Say Amen with gusto and encourage the people to do likewise.
For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. (2 Corinthians 1:20)
11. Make sure that the Prayer Meeting is saturated with gospel realities and gospel priorities.
Pray for conversions. Pray for growth in grace. Pray for missions. Pray for the preaching of the Word. Pray for evangelism. Pray for God to be glorified through the salvation of the lost. Pray in light of gospel realities and gospel priorities. When asked the secret of his success for the gospel, Spurgeon famously replied “my people pray for me.”
12. End the prayer meeting in a way that gives it structure and closure.
The two methods I like to use are to either make the last prayer a reading of Scripture that ends in “Amen,” or to close with a short hymn such as the Doxology. This gives the Prayer Meeting the feel of a worship service (which it is) and helps to bracket the time as something distinct and special in the life of the church.
I’m sure there are a million ways these guidelines could be adapted to particular situation and contexts, and I would even advise periodically modifying the format so as to not grow stale. May the Lord revive the Prayer Meeting, and may he use this means to accomplish his purposes unto His glory, our growth, and the salvation of the lost!
(By: Nicolas Alford)