Inviting a church into prayer can be powerful. Throughout the ages, God’s people have prayed. Revivals have come, grace was received, God heard. To lead a congregation into prayer is a massive joy.
Today, I would like to write about the leadership of a prayer meeting. Over planning prayer can be dangerous, but there are some practical considerations.
I’ve attended and led countless prayer meetings over the years. Here are some things I’ve learned.
What is the focus of this prayer meeting?
Some prayer meetings will focus on individual needs of the people present, or people who have submitted requests. Often, a written list will accompany this prayer meeting.
Other prayer meetings focus on a subject or issue. This might be a cause people are interested in, or a crisis that has developed.
Finally, some prayer meetings focus on the mission of God, the advance of God’s kingdom. These usually contain a blend of the first two.
Is this prayer meeting open or closed?
The prayer meeting is greatly influenced by those who attend it. Some prayer meetings are invitation only, perhaps for leaders in the church. Other prayer meetings will have an open invitation to anyone interested.
Both can be powerful. Sometimes, it is more effective to pray with less people. It can be helpful, however, to see how people respond to an open invitation for prayer.
How long is this prayer meeting?
The Holy Spirit can work within a preset length of time. It is good for the attenders to know how long prayer will go on.
I’ve found prayer meetings in the 30-45 minute range are effective. Long enough to breathe, but short enough to provide urgency and quick pacing. In longer prayer meetings, it's tempting to fill up big portions of the meeting with teachings or prayer request time. These are great, but they aren't prayer.
How many people will attend this prayer meeting?
2-5 people can be a great number for an effective prayer meeting. During a half hour, each person will get ample opportunity to pray out loud. Focus is often easier to come by. The prayer flow is less often interrupted with disconnected requests or preachy prayers.
5-10 people is also a wonderful amount. This size is still small enough to have a singular focus, and for everyone to have a chance to pray out loud. A group this size might also be conducive to prophecies and sharing during the meeting.
10-20 people need a little more leadership, but this can be a fantastic size. Singing can be beautiful in a group this size. Waiting on a word from the Lord is often effective in a group this size.
20-50 people create a beautiful atmosphere when in prayer. This size makes one-at-a-time prayer less effective (although still possible). If that style is used, directions on pacing (pray quickly) and sharing (give other people a chance to pray) must be given. Sometimes volume is an issue as some prayers become difficult for everyone to hear. Breaking up into groups or leading from the front can be edifying here.
50+ people can pray well together. This is a large enough group to have everyone simultaneously speak to God, out loud. This is a beautiful sound. Singing is wonderful at this size. This is often a good size to have leaders available to pray for individuals.
200+ people praying together is a revival. Rejoice.
How will the Holy Spirit interact with this prayer meeting?
I believe prophecies — the upbuilding, encouragement, and consolation kind — can be wonderful for prayer meetings (1 Corinthians 14:3). Not the "thus saith the Lord" kind. I will sometimes pause the meeting and ask people to share something brief on their heart. I tell them it might be for someone present. I don’t usually refer to these “prophecies,” but words of encouragement or exhortation. This seems less confusing to people.
I believe Scripture sharing can be wonderful for prayer meetings. There may be a Scripture or two meant for my particular heart at that particular moment. Sharing God’s word is safe. As a leader, I like to share an applicational sentence after someone shares a Scripture. I want people absorb the Word, and that little pause helps. I am also want to avoid a Scripture reading fest.
I believe direction can be helpful during prayer meetings. I don’t usually know what topics we’ll cover, but sometimes I do. I will introduce those, perhaps sharing my heart a bit, and ask people to pray accordingly.
Does this prayer meeting need directions on the front end?
Never meant to stifle, directions can help the meeting fly. Those who don’t want directions are often those who ruin prayer meetings. Those who want them are often sensitive to others and don't want to be out of turn. If they don't have any guidelines they won't pray for fear they are breaking an unspoken rule. They want to know how to pray, when to pray, and what to pray for. Given a basic framework, they take it from there.
Some meetings will need specific directions on the front end. If you don’t want one person to pray for five minutes, you’d better say so. My father used to say, “The first minute we’re praying with you. The second we’re praying for you. The third we might be praying against you.” Some folks are longwinded; it happens. Sometimes it's me.
Are there individuals I should invite to this prayer meeting?
You might want to invite specific people to help you lead a particular prayer meeting. If they have a heart for a specific subject, perhaps they could share about it for a few minutes before entering into prayer. If they are strong in the Word, they might have a Scripture they could share about a particular subject. You also might hand the meeting off to them for the night.
You might want to invite specific people to be part of the meeting. You know individuals who pray well and are sensitive to the Spirit. Invite them. Their passion and example will help others still learning how to pray.
Get comfortable with the uncomfortable.
There will be awkward moments during the prayer meeting. At times, there will be long silence in between prayers, deathly long silence, but don’t panic.
Someone will pray with incorrect doctrine, something unbiblical. Don’t panic. Perhaps there is a teaching opportunity there. Praise God that you now know something of their belief system you never knew before.
Someone will pray, but not pray, and actually preach. Their words will be addressed to God, technically, but in actuality addressed to someone in the room. They might even be addressing you. Don’t panic.
In all these instances, good leadership is helpful. Good leaders might step in and pray out loud, allowing the meeting to get back on the rails. If something is truly out of order, they might interrupt and correct. If a follow up conversation is necessary, they might be able to initiate it.
Trust the heart of the people.
I have often been blessed by the heart people have for God and His work. When in the prayer meeting, their heart is manifest. This can be a great encouragement to pastors and leaders. In the prayer meeting, you might be gifted with hope as you listen to the faith and love of the people.
The thing is, they love the world. They want their friends and family to know Christ. Prayer is an outlet for them in that direction. Give them some leadership and watch them fly. The Spirit lives within them. He will help them.
If necessary, speak with people individually.
There is always the possibility you'll need to talk with someone after the meeting. For instance, someone who prays a few 5+ minute prayers is taking an inordinate amount of prayer time from the group. Tactfully, but directly, someone like this ought to be addressed. They likely weren’t aware, so help bring awareness. They, and the group, might thank you.
Various styles and places for the prayer meeting.
One of my favorite prayer meetings is with leaders in our church. Our pastors prayer meeting is dynamic. It often provides faith and clarity for our future as a church.
Praying with small group leaders and volunteer leaders is also beautiful. There is a power when the leadership of the church comes together for prayer. Each church is organized differently, but the various levels of leadership are usually obvious. Prayer meetings can reflect those levels.
Prayer and worship is often a great combination. Praising God with committed and likeminded believers is powerful. Perhaps your Sunday worship time is good, but worship in song at the prayer meeting can be potent. The heart of the people makes it that way. They want God. They are ready to pursue.
Brief prayer meetings during the corporate Sunday gathering are also effective. Take 5 minutes during a Sunday morning and pray through a specific current event. Pray over them. Ask them to pray silently in their seats for a specific subject. Rather quickly, through those morning times, a prayerful heart can be cultivated.
Additionally, occasional all-church prayer meetings are a way to encourage prayer within the church. See who attends. Attempt to get as many people as possible involved. For some, it might be the first time they’ve ever prayed with other believers.
Prayer meetings of one gender only can be good, but a mixed gender prayer meeting provides a balance. Men offer their perspective, while women offer theirs. The voice of both brings a complementary tone to the meeting. The female perspective adds a sweetness or sensitivity sometimes lacking in a male prayer meeting.
The early morning men’s prayer meeting is my least favorite. I like to expose younger men to prayer, and they will not join me during that hour. Additionally, older men can be on fire for Jesus, but they can also be bitter about the world and life. This leads to prayers that are sometimes void of hope. I do not gravitate towards that prayer time slot, instead choosing to pray alone during the morning hours.
Don’t decide if the prayer meeting was good or not. We don’t know if the meeting that felt dead actually produced great results. Conversely, we don’t know that the passionate prayer meeting was actually asking amiss the entire time. Only God knows, and only time will tell. You are to oversee the long-term health of the meeting. But if the meeting is going well in general, try not to freak out if a specific night goes badly. You just don’t know.
Our world is broken, meaning people are broken. This brokenness means that some of us are mentally disturbed. You might confront this in a prayer meeting. With love, speak directly to someone who is disruptive. They might not even know. The body can be a blessing to them.
Occasionally, a prayer is so inappropriate it must immediately be confronted. Not later, now. Slanderous prayers, prayer addressing the devil, or prayers fraught with dangerous false doctrine qualify. In those moments, interrupt them lovingly and tell them you’d like to speak with them afterwards. Perhaps a leader is available right at that moment to talk with them. But if it is damaging to the body, don’t let it continue.
I hope these thoughts help you. Let me give you one final one. Do it. Pray. I have toiled for years trying to find the perfect prayer rhythm for our church family. Like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, I'm not sure it exists. Prayer is a battle, war. War can be messy. But we are called to get in there and pray, to cry out to God. Go for it.