Prayer Walks Help Churches Become Outwardly Focused

Date Posted: 9/25/2014

Congregations can see their communities with different eyes when they walk and pray for discernment, wisdom and power to meet needs and build life-changing relationships in their immediate neighborhood.

Many pastors throughout the conference would agree with Rev. Jim Flagg, Bellaire UMC, when he says, “We are endeavoring to be more inviting and turning our eyes outward.” Adds Jim, “One thing we will continue is prayer walks around our community.  We have a huge map that has markings where prayer teams have gone and walked, praying for the people and for the eyes of Jesus to see what breaks God's heart and what we can do about it.”
What is a Prayer Walk?
A book entitled Prayer-walking: Praying on Site with Insight , by Steve Hawthorne and Graham Kendrick defines the purpose of prayer walks as seeking God’s mercy, guidance and transforming power – both for the community and individuals walking as God’s servants. Walkers become more aware of their surroundings, particularly when intentionally trying to identify needs and prepare project teams for further outreach.
Danny Hernaez, who recently led a Prayer Walk at Fair Haven UMC in Houston, says some may refer to it as a Jericho March. Notes Danny, “The purpose is to pray for or against something and ask God to intercede, protect, or change something. The Lord may call you to march on behalf of taking back your neighborhood from sinful corruption, or for divine guidance for your leaders.”
Adds Danny, “Even if you have been in a community for a long time, you can learn to see the familiar with new eyes. You can look for signs of change, signs of need and signs of hope.”
Groups often start by praying in several key areas on their church campus, walking down nearby streets and closing their walk with a time of prayer for the neighborhood and their church’s witness and service there.

Guidelines for community observation
As a part of the visit and prayer time, congregations can take time to reflect on their observations. Consider discussing what signs show that God is at work in the neighborhood? What needs and concerns are evident, and what partners could the church come alongside to serve that area of the community? How might the nearby residents view your congregation? Would you be perceived as allies, foreigners, helpers, friends or simply irrelevant? How is the good news of salvation most relevant? What language, culture and age barriers might need to be addressed to build healthy relationships here?
Revitalizing in Longview, Tx
The Longview community in east Texas has been prayed over by members of three UMCs on several occasions over the last year, according to Rev. Virginia Wall, pastor of Wesley McCabe UMC. “We have partnered with Rev. Dick Dobbins of First UMC Gladewater and Rev. Ricky Ricks of Greggton UMC to create and coordinate shared ministry in our community, including several occasions where our members walked and talked to residents and prayed with them on the spot,” she says. “We started our walk by sharing communion together and briefing our 50 or so volunteers on how to greet people and share the love of Christ,” she adds. “We held the first one last year in the northern area of Longview to intentionally invite residents to a free Thanksgiving lunch at First UMC Gladewater. Several weeks later we walked the streets to pray with folks and invite them to a Christmas event and found that people were amazed that we were willing to pray with them on their doorstep.” The shared ministry group convened a third time to invite residents on the south side of Longview to a breakfast at McCabe UMC, which, Pastor Wall says, was as much of a blessing to the walkers as it was to the neighbors.
“Our members were hesitant at first, but soon realized this is how you meet people where they are, as Jesus calls us to do,” adds Virginia. “This has given all of us a little more confidence and openness to doing more things for our community. In fact, we are planning to host a bilingual, outdoor revival next month and our members have been supporting this outreach concept to make it happen financially, outside of our budget!”

These “baby and toddler steps” toward building an external focus are encouraging to all. Adds Virginia, “Each of these prayer walks has been an awesome experience that has introduced us to dozens of new faces and families and revitalized our hearts and neighborhoods.”
Vibrant Church Initiative Prayer Walks
“Most VCI churches conduct a prayer walk as part of their visioning workshop,” notes Dr. Jesse Brannen, TAC Director of Congregational Excellence, “but any church could benefit from this rich and unifying activity. Many will find themselves becoming more interested in the welfare of the people they are praying for, and often this activity opens doors for meaningful conversations with residents, which can also lead to the addition of new faces in our congregations.”