Making sure the prayer happens at the prayer meeting

Yesterday evening we had our monthly plenary prayer meeting. We try to make prayer a central part of the life of the church. We already have opportunity to pray before our weekly Sunday meeting and as a key part of our weekly community groups.

We have been encouraged over recent months by just how many of the church membership are now involved in communal prayer meetings. Several people have noted how encouraging it is that we, typically, have the same numbers at our prayer meeting as we do people in membership. We are particularly encouraged, not just that people turn up, but there is a good degree of participation too. We don’t just have the same few people praying all the time, every time.

But one thing we want to do is make sure that we actually get to the business of prayer at every prayer meeting. All too often, prayer meetings are dominated by news and chat with not so much prayer going on. So, how do we make sure our prayer meetings involve mostly prayer? Here are a few things we try to do.

Be specific

Our Sunday morning prayer meeting is purposefully aimed at praying for the service and the surrounding things that will be going on that day. We pray specifically for the speaker, the meeting leader, the people doing the music and the Sunday school teachers. We try to pray specifically for the people who are likely to be there that morning. We pray specific things for each person that will come in.

Our midweek community group prayer meetings (at least in my group) centre on praying for each other and then the wider ministries of the church. In our time praying for one another, we limit ourselves to one thing to pray for and one thing to thank God for. We share in small groups and then we pray. When it comes to the regular ministries of the church, we all know what they are and so we don’t need to chat about them at length.

In our plenary monthly prayer meeting, we try to make sure that the meeting is broken into two or three clear sections. We will always pray for our mission partner in one section and we try to make the other sections similarly specific.

The point is, we are specific about what we are praying for. Being specific means that the section is relatively self-explanatory and doesn’t need a big introduction. We can just get on and pray for the specific thing.

Give people prayer letters (or assume they’ve already read them)

Of course, even being specific about what we are praying for, it is helpful to be specifically informed. Often this can end up being lengthy introductions to each section. So, we run through all the news about our mission partners and then parrot back all that news in our prayers. Sometimes the prayer gets squeezed out because we spent so long relaying news.

There are two ways to mitigate this. One way is to assume your people are reading the prayer letters already and just announce, ‘we are going to pray for X mission partner, whose latest news you’ve already read, so let’s pray.’ That certainly gets you down to prayer quickly but, let’s be honest, might be a bit optimistic. Having said that, if your people know you will do this every time it might just encourage them to read the prayer letters more diligently.

A second way to mitigate this is to print a brief synopsis of the prayer letters onto a single A4 sheet and hand it out at the beginning of the prayer meeting. Rather than run through all the information in the prayer letter, you can draw people’s attention to the news in front of them and then announce, ‘now we’re going to pray for our mission partners.’ People will have the latest news in front of them without you rattling it off and you can get down to pray much quicker.

Assume people know stuff already

If you are going to pray for the ministries of the church, you really don’t need to go through a long list of them. You can assume your people know what is typically on at the church. Unless there is something specific to mention as a particular point of prayer re that ministry, don’t feel the need to say anything specific about it at all.

But if there are specific things that need to be prayed for, much of the work can be done ahead of time. If you, as the prayer meeting leader contact those you are going to pray for, you can include any key points on your information sheet. This way you don’t need to acknowledge every point for prayer but can simply give people the information and then get down to business.

Don’t be scared of silence

Often, I think we’re so scared of silence that we think we must fill every moment of the meeting with talking. We spend ages running through all the information and then, because we don’t like silence, we quickly jump in with our prayers so fill any dead time.

But some people need a bit of time to think through what they’re going to say out loud. If you take the approach of giving people the prayer letter ahead of time, people are going to take a few minutes to read it and formulate their thoughts. If you want more people to pray, you have to give them some room to think about what they’re going to say and not jump in to fill the silence all the time.