CHURCHES THAT PRAY ARE CHURCHES THAT GROW
BY THOM S. RAINER
The results of a recent survey of almost 600 evangelistic churches surprised us. We found three common methodologies among all of the responses – preaching, prayer, and small groups or Sunday school. The
churches studied were a mix of white-collar, blue-collar, rural, urban, suburban, white, Hispanic, black, Asian, lower-income, upper-income, traditional, contemporary and blended. And even though the evangelistic ministries at these churches are as diverse as the types of churches themselves, the “big three” methodologies are consistent in each of the responses.
We recently devoted several articles to the first methodology – preaching. In the next three articles, we will examine the place of prayer in evangelism.
The survey results
Nearly 70 percent of surveyed churches rated prayer as a major factor in evangelistic success. Except for those churches with attendances of 700 to 999, at least 60 percent of churches in every size category
identified prayer as a major factor.
Interestingly, the strongest responses came from two extremes – the smallest and the largest churches. Since our survey size is too few for small churches, we can’t offer a categorical explanation for their
responses. However, many of the largest churches have a staff person, full-time or part-time, dedicated to prayer ministries. This focus makes the churches more aware of their need for greater emphasis on prayer.
Church leaders were asked to respond to the statement, “Prayer is foundational to effective evangelism.” More than 80 percent of respondents said that they absolutely agree that prayer is the most important. The number who responded agree, very much agree, or absolutely agree account for more than 98 percent of the churches. Only 1 percent did not agree with the statement.
Earlier surveys by C. Peter Wagner, George Barna, Kirk Hadaway and others discovered a direct correlation between prayer and church growth. Our study confirms their work, but specifically in the area of evangelistic or conversion growth. Whereas the 1960s and 1970s were times of intense interest in methodological approaches to growth, we now see a greater balance, which recognizes spiritual realities such as prayer to the sovereignty of God.
Our research team also asked questions about the implementation of prayer ministries for evangelistic effectiveness. We wanted to know if attitudes result in actions. Church leaders were asked to respond to
the statement; “We are committed to prayer as an essential element of any successful outreach venture.”
We drew two obvious conclusions from the results. First, these evangelistic churches are committed to prayer. Close to 90 percent responded very much agree or absolutely agree to the above-mentioned
statement. Only 1 percent did not agree that their churches were committed to prayer for evangelistic outreach.
While the prayer commitment of these churches is clearly apparent, a second, not so obvious response pattern emerged. The responses showed that church leaders are committed to prayer, but they are not satisfied with their level of commitment. This appears to be a healthy conflict – commitment is evident; satisfaction is not. And because the leaders are not fully satisfied with the depth and breadth of prayer in their churches, it helps them avoid complacency.
Eighty percent say prayer is foundational to effective evangelism, yet less than 65 percent believe their churches are truly committed to prayer for outreach. While the level of commitment (almost two-thirds
of the churches) is very high, we nevertheless note a longing for an even greater depth of commitment.
One pastor in South Carolina shared his frank assessment of his church’s prayer ministry. “With each passing day I recognize God’s plan for prayer in my life, personally and in my church.” After a brief pause he continued, “But neither I nor my church are where we should be in our level of commitment to prayer. We have made great strides, but we have so far to go. I just don’t think we will ever be fully satisfied.” Many other church leaders made similar comments. Because of this attitude, we anticipate even greater levels of commitment to prayer in the years ahead.
C. Peter Wagner estimates that five percent of churches in America have a dynamic prayer ministry. Among the 576 evangelistic churches in our study, more than three-fourths have a church-wide prayer ministry. Though not all can be called “dynamic,” our impression is that most are truly vibrant and make a difference in the life of the church.
If Wagner’s assessment is correct, and if our numbers are valid, the contrast between praying and nonpraying churches is stark. Wagner’s estimate of only five percent is dramatically below our measure of
approximately 75 percent. Therefore, we conclude with conviction that most evangelistically growing churches are also praying churches.
How They Pray
Ed Young, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, leads one of the largest and fastest growing Southern Baptist churches in the nation. Numerous articles have been written about the church, predominantly on its methodologies to reach people.
In an earlier survey, C. Peter Wagner attributes Second Baptist’s explosive growth to the beginning of a church-wide prayer ministry started in 1982. This 24-hour ministry consists of two prayer intercessors, in a prayer room, at separate workstations. One intercessor obtains prayer needs via a telephone prayer line, while a second intercessor prays for the telephone requests, as well as requests received by other means. The church utilizes 336 persons (two at a time, for 168 hours) to serve in the prayer room each week. With
on-call substitutes, the ministry – known as the “First Watch” ministry of Second Baptist involves nearly 400 church members. A few years ago, a “Second Watch” was formed to provide intercessory prayer across all areas of Houston. To help coordinate this massive endeavor, Second Baptist has a full-time prayer ministry director and a full-time prayer secretary.
In comparison, most of the respondent churches have neither part-time nor full-time staff devoted specifically to prayer ministries. This void, however, does not deter the church leaders from moving forward with several approaches to corporate praying.
In many of these churches, we discovered that God calls upon one particular person with a passion for prayer. In most cases this person is a woman and she has a distinct call to develop prayer ministries in
the church. In fact, our study found that the success of a prayer ministry is largely dependent upon four factors.
• A passion for prayer. The prayer leader’s entire life is directed by and focused upon prayer. His or her burning passion for prayer influences others to become prayer intercessors. The following comments
of a prayer ministry coordinator reflect this attitude: “I simply cannot understand why all of our church members are not giving our prayer ministry one or more hours a week. Prayer is such a precious privilege. You would think the people would be in line to sign up!”
• The support of the pastor. One vital role of the pastor is to support the prayer ministry and the prayer leader. “I knew God was calling me to lead this ministry,” a California woman shared. “But I simply could get nothing more than token support from our pastor. Rather than making an issue of him, I gave the matter to God in prayer. Would you believe that within one year, the pastor was called to another church? Our new pastor is a man of prayer and enthusiastically supports the ministry!” Perhaps there is a lesson for pastors in her comments!
• Leadership and organization. Our researchers found that leaders of prayer ministries truly are “called leaders” because they have willing and excited followers. Excluding Sunday school, church prayer ministries often have more member involvement than any other church ministry. For that reason, good organization is an essential skill for “called leaders.”
• A church that is ready. Not all churches are ready for corporate prayer ministries. The level of readiness is not as dependent on financial and personnel resources as it is on spiritual factors. As one rather blunt prayer leader told us: “Some churches make Laodicea look like a paradigm of passion. These churches must have business meetings and a majority vote just to decide if they are going to pray.”
Upper Room Ministries
Special prayer rooms are not new, but I first heard Don Miller of Fort Worth, Texas, call this place the “upper room.” In simplest terms, an upper room is a place in the church’s building that’s specifically set
aside for prayer. There are, basically, two kinds of upper rooms in churches.
The first type is a room where people can come and go at will. It’s more like a small chapel than an organized intercessory prayer room. Unfortunately, with rare exceptions, these rooms are vacant much of the day and night, and little intercessory prayer takes place.
The second type is a room that’s specifically organized and designed for intercessors to pray during designated hours of the day. Though we did not ask about prayer rooms on our initial survey, we discovered in follow-up interviews that approximately one-third of the evangelistically effective churches have dynamic intercessory prayer rooms.
Worship and Preaching Intercessor
Nearly half of the follow-up interviewees indicated that their prayer ministries include a group of intercessors that pray during worship services. Although they pray during the entire service, many focus on
the sermon as a time for intense intercession. These worship service intercessors usually either pray in a designated upper room, or simply use any vacant room.
The study results did reveal that few of these evangelistic churches use prayer chains. A minister of education in Texas commented, “Our prayer chain became a gossip chain. We had more problems than prayers, so we simply stopped emphasizing it. The chain died a natural death.”
Wagner notes that prayer chains are often used only for emergencies; however, he advocates the use of prayer chains for concentrated prayer efforts directed toward specific concerns or issues. Perhaps it is the
crisis-only mentality that causes some prayer chains to degenerate into a gossip chain.
According to Wagner, the vitality of a prayer chain depends upon sharing answered prayers. He asserts that one other principle for maintaining the vitality of a prayer chain is to design and implement an efficient way to share answered prayer with prayer chain members. Without knowledge of answered prayers, the ministry can become tedious. None of the interviewed pastors or staff indicated that their prayer chains, whether in place or discontinued, include the element of sharing answered prayer.
Wednesday Night Praying
Some churches responded that their prayer life became vital when they began to use Wednesday evening services to focus on prayer. Others indicated that their churches drifted away from devoting Wednesday
services to prayer because of low attendance and sheer boredom. As a Florida pastor said, “Wednesday nights had become a who’s who in the hospital. Our young people avoided the service like the plague.”
One church built a worship service around corporate prayer. Praise teams sing; the congregation participates in hymns and choruses; someone gives a testimony on answered prayer; and for about 20 minutes, the church intercedes in prayer as the pastor announces prayer needs. The conclusion of the service includes some element of expectancy for answered prayers in the days ahead.
Although the methods for incorporating and harnessing the power of prayer are various, the constant theme is that all of these churches are tenacious about prayer. Next week we will look at three other areas
where prayer is utilized or emphasized by these evangelistic churches.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS PUBLISHED BY THOM S. RAINER, FEBRUARY 27, 2004. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY AND RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.