Stetzer’s 10th mark is ‘Appreciating & Participating in Ancient Patterns’ (p140) but I have gone with prayer. Without prayer we are lost. It is the engine room of any planting ‘strategy’. When I first arrived at NCC it did what all good churches do – it had a midweek ‘prayer meeting’. I say prayer but it was more like a 45 minute ‘study’ on the importance of praying followed by another 45 of actually getting down to business. There were about a dozen or so people sat in a room having tea and biscuits and ‘fellowshipping’ and when I asked around the room if each knew what the other did for a living or what their main spiritual struggle in life was, I got a horrified and hushed silence. What did that have to do with prayer? When I asked if anybody actually knew the random person in a faraway land that was prayed for by one person (who went to said place on holiday and felt moved to share it with the church), I got silence again? When I asked how many unbelievers on the estate did people actually know by name and, more than that, know specifically some of the battles they were facing, again, more uncomfortable silence.In other words, were we really praying intelligently and with insight or just painting by numbers?
This is not a criticism of my people but an observation which I suspect is played out in churches up and down the country every week. Pastors beside themselves with concern about flagging numbers in the ‘midweek meeting’. Have we ever thought that it might be because it sucks the big one. Who wants to go and sit in a room for an hour and a half and mouth half-hearted words with people they don’t really know about people they have never really met (and have no interest in if they’re honest)? So, I killed the midweek meeting.
We changed one of the Sunday School rooms into a ‘prayer room’ and moved to an early morning 1 hour prayer meeting. We put up a notice board with local needs and individuals we knew, our sick, our church officers, our ministries and we put in a CD player and some Bibles and we began to pray. On Sunday evenings we hand out ‘prayer slips’ to each person in attendance. it has the following questions: ‘Name’, ‘Something to give thanks for’, ‘Items for prayer’, ‘Pray for the salvation of….’ Few people came and few still do, aside from the team and an occasional ‘visitor’. But that is not the point. Prayer is going on. And people are being prayed for specifically and intelligently every day.
We have a prayer meeting an hour before the Sunday service, which again can be hit and miss in terms of attendance but we persevere with it. Once a month we have a ‘missionary Sunday’ prayer slot and we pray for another country in the world, in order to educate our people about world needs. Once a month on Sunday afternoons we have our church Prayer Meeting as a service to pray for the needs of the church and for members to be updated on any ‘changes’ (and there are always some!). One evening a month we come together to pray specifically for the ‘community’ and any and all contacts we have in a concentrated fashion. We encourage people to share any encouragements or discouragements they may have had in sharing the gospel and we praise the Lord for both.
We are very much a work in progress and if we feel an area is going stale then we mercilessly bin it and look for something else more meaningful. The point is we are always learning and looking for ways in which we can pray better. But we need to do it. I think it is the number one reason why we are beginning to make inroads into our community.
Apart from offering Twenty Pound notes, those who don’t want to come or are too tired or too lazy or are busy – there is nothing much else we can do right now to encourage prayer. I don’t think going back to one midweek meeting is the answer and I don’t think what we have now is the best. We are only trying to do old things in new ways. At the end of the day how sexy can a prayer meeting be? We’re just asking for reality, vulnerability and honesty when we come to the Almighty in petition.