Steps to help keep your members alive
It’s an empirical fact that prayer meetings in many Adventist congregations are losing their vibrancy. The total number of attendees has rapidly declined in recent years. Prayer meetings seem to have lost their fervor, and are almost dead. This decline is, of course, the result of many factors. It could result from the mood and style of the organization that fosters a lifeless atmosphere. Another reason could be that the leadership for prayer meetings feels frustrated.
But the question remains, “What can be done to revive interest and attendance in prayer meeting and boost the desire of our members to have meaningful prayer lives?” The following steps could help make for more effective and vibrant prayer meetings:
1. The need for prayer. The apostle Paul says, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).* Prayer must be a life partner of the Christian. It is the means by which we communicate with God and make our requests known to Him. We must talk to God. He bids us to come to Him. He says, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). This rest is from everything, including a hard-day’s work. We must remind our members of this promise and, hence, encourage their growth from mere formality to service with understanding.
2. Time management. Time for prayer meetings must neither be rushed, nor should it be prolonged beyond its scheduled time. Many people need to prepare reports and other materials for the next day’s activity. Others travel a great deal. Still others prefer to attend the prayer service after work before going home to see their family. When long prayer meetings become the norm, it will prevent many people from attending prayer meetings. Leaders must manage prayer meeting time for maximum effectiveness.
3. Leadership in prayer meetings. Much preparation must be taken to offer a well-organized presentation. The sermon or devotional talk must be thoughtful but short, and the rest of the time given to prayer. Many forget that it is not the sermon that must be heated in the oven. Spiritual gifts have been given to all members, and each member’s gifts must be sharpened and used to edify the church. Pastors and elders must also be careful in choosing persons to lead the prayer meeting who are of upright character.
4. Diversities and dynamism. While we should be careful not to cross over from Adventism to Pentecostalism, prayer meetings must have life and hold the interest of those in attendance. In too many places they have become boring services.
Prayer meetings may be organized into small groups so that group discussion can take place. In this setting the leader can also lead participants through particular prayer points. Prayers may begin right away, along with the singing of hymns. A short Bible presentation given before the prayer time will encourage a mindset of prayer and worship. In whatever way, let vibrancy be seen and experienced in the prayer meetings. God has given us abundant knowledge in these last days (Dan. 12:4), and the church should experience the new understandings God is giving to His people. Let our divinely inspired knowledge be coupled with innovation.
5. The pastor’s part. Prior to the prayer meeting, the pastor can—when possible—contact members to inquire as to whether they have a particular problem that the church can help them pray about. Members want to hear their pastor pray for them. When members see their pastor in this way, they will trust the pastor more. The pastor’s relationships with members through the prayer meeting will energize wider church participation.
Pastors and elders who want to add flavor to their prayer meetings must allow the church to hear people they have never heard before. There is no rule against inviting another Adventist pastor to help in the prayer meeting service. We all like meeting new people, and new people frequently
have fresh ideas and guidance to share. Inviting a pastor or elder from outside the district will add new flavor to the prayer meeting.
6. Time for testimonies and thanksgiving. Planning for member testimonies is another way to turn hearts in the church. Our Christian lives have been watered, made stronger, and we can face various situations in life because of the testimonies of other believers. Sadly, many prayer meetings are dropping testimony times. Testimony time gives members an opportunity to tell how God has been listening to their prayers. These times also allow us to listen to the miracles that God has been doing in the lives of church members as a result of their faith in Christ.
7. Music appreciation. The purpose of prayer meetings should not be that of entertainment. It should be for time to talk with the Lord. We need to lay our cares and concerns aside, and bow before the throne of God to receive strength for our lives. Music is another effective method we can use to elevate the minds of our members to the ultimate Source of power. Music has the potential to encourage more than sermons. Hearing the rhythms and voices of fellow believers is an inspiring means of leading listeners to praise, thanksgiving, and prayer. Music can also relax the body and elevate alertness. However, music for prayer meetings should be solemn in nature. Hymns should be selected carefully.
8. Members’ suggestions. After each prayer meeting, the pastor should ask members how they felt about the experience and what they would like in the next week’s prayer meeting. Pastors and elders should not presume they know the best way to lead a prayer meeting. Members have constructive criticisms that can make prayer meeting an encouraging and uplifting time.
9. Program outline. A printed program lists the order of service, as well as how members are involved. It is good for participants to know the order of service ahead of time so that no one is surprised about what role they are to play in the program. Those having duties in the service should also be reminded of their responsibilities. If possible, let each member have a personal copy of the program. Having a printed program also allows members to see themselves playing a part in the program; it may encourage them to participate more.
10. A time for fellowship. Prayer meetings can be an effective means of reuniting the church to Christ and to each other in fellowship. In groups of two or three, the participants may want to come together to pray for one another. They could then each choose a prayer partner and continue to pray for one another throughout the week. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” (Ps. 133:1).
These steps can be reviewed yearly in order to keep your church’s prayer meeting on fire. Make every effort to help your church prayer meetings stay alive. A praying church is a growing church. Allow the gospel commission to be the central theme of your church. Thus, all the activities in the life of your congregation, such as witnessing and evangelism, will be energized by the power of prayer.
Keep church members alive through a living prayer meeting.
*All Scriptures in this article are taken from the King James Version.
This article was first published in Adventist World (April 2007)