Starting -- and Growing -- a Prayer Ministry
Whether your church prayer ministry is in start-up mode or going strong, these tips will serve as good reminders of how to provide a consistent and confidential service to your congregation.
Prayer is critical for spiritual vitality and congregational vitality. Through prayer, members hold each other up before God. Through intercession, individuals can become the channels through which the grace of God flows to other members of the body. Prayer warriors are important conduits of blessing for leaders and those with special needs.
Key Components to Help a Prayer Ministry Flourish
A church planning to start or re-start a prayer ministry will benefit from considering these five key points:
1. Strong Hands-on Leadership
The right leader -- whether staff or lay -- will have the authority, resources, and desire to move the ministry forward by involving other people, making necessary phone calls, reserving rooms, collecting and distributing prayer requests, and more. The prayer ministry is only going to be as successful as the people who are leading it. Pastor Charlie Geller, Lake Jackson First UMC, says, “Our staff facilitates our prayer ministry but the lay leaders absolutely make it hum. It is truly a group effort and a challenge to stay current. I deeply believe in the power of prayer and meditation and the power of a prayer team that is faithful to gather for prayer every week, and follow up with families week after week.”
2. Committed Volunteers
Wanda Crawford, faithful prayer team leader at Pearland First UMC for over 10 years, acknowledges this ministry is not for everyone. “It can be difficult and a bit heavy to pray about issues, problems and sadness year after year, but there are wonderful people on our prayer team to share in this and wonderful people on the list to pray for, so I am especially thankful when we have answered prayer to celebrate.” Adds Wanda, “The prayer ministry is a vital part of the church. I can’t imagine how people without church friends go through these things alone.” Remember, having a team of volunteers is helpful to keep the ministry strong. Solo ministry champions are quick to burn out or feel they are letting others down when they can’t do it all. It will also be easier to recruit others when there is a shared approach.
3. A Well-structured System
A successful prayer ministry launch as well as an ongoing prayer ministry depends on getting the word out – even beyond your congregation and into the community. Clarify how and where to submit a prayer request, both in writing, via phone or online. At the same time, explain your confidentiality policy and the mechanics of how requests are handled. Does the whole team pray for all requests, or are requests divided among team members? Do you publish first names only or only publish what you have permission to publish? This is a critical aspect to encourage a willingness to share personal matters. Some people submit prayer requests and fully expect them to be shared with a broader audience. Perhaps they’re praying for a job, and they want more people to know about it. On the other hand, some people submit prayer requests and do not want them shared at all. Pearland UMC uses the bulletin to encourage prayer requests be submitted and keeps a master list for following up. Other churches have prayer hotline recordings and prayer request submission forms on their websites.
Establish and communicate public/private information guidelines and hold to them carefully and absolutely. The submitter may want the option of selecting how the request is communicated. If there is any doubt, always default to the strictest confidential level. Notes Wanda, “Our team understands the loss of credibility that goes with discussing anything outside of the prayer team so we have pledged that nothing leaves our prayer room. The outreach portion of our ministry involves follow up calls and prayer cards signed by all of the team.”
5. Commitment from Senior Leadership
When a pastor speaks about the importance of prayer and the importance of being in community with one another, the congregation is more likely to adopt its significance. Leaders who demonstrate what it takes to “stand in the gap” for someone in need, or who teach on the Biblical principles of being an intercessor can strengthen a prayer ministry in the same way. It may be that church members are uncertain about how they might fit into a prayer ministry – or even what the word “intercessory” means. A supportive pastor dedicated to the success of a prayer ministry will take an active role in inspiring and educating church members who may need a little nudge or have an unspoken question or two.
An Emerging Trend
Several churches are leveraging technology in their prayer ministry by adopting web-based prayer room management systems such as iprayerworks, which has been developed by a staff member of Chapelwood UMC, Toby Dagenhart, and made available by subscription to other churches across the nation. A pastor in Euless, Tx, says iprayerworks has helped multiply the church’s prayer ministry because lists and updates can be accessed and prayed for from anywhere at any time. Another happy volunteer likes it “because it saves us hours of time which means we can do more praying and less shuffling of prayer cards.” Iprayerworks (www.iprayerworks.com) is customizable to churches of any size, easy to learn and automates the tracking of hospital/homebound visitation and ongoing prayer requests.
Whatever the methodology, a successful, sustained, and robust intercessory prayer ministry requires dedicated people, careful planning, and attention to follow-through.