Just because the practice of prayer is ancient doesn't mean the application has to be. How can churches encourage and enhance the experience of prayer?
Teach people to pray
For some people, praying comes as naturally as eating. For others, not so much. For "seasoned" Christians, it's easy to forget that some people simply don't know how to pray. How can the church help?
- Provide simple sermons or small-group lessons on how to pray.
- Include litanies as a form of prayer during your worship service. Use preformatted litanies or create your own. Have a church leader read a passage and instruct worshippers to respond by reading certain verses of Scripture or words of a hymn during pauses.
- Create and distribute prayer guides such as the Community Prayer Guide for the Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church or the one created by Athens First United Methodist Church in Georgia.
- Send daily prayer prompts to members. This could be as simple as sending an email or posting a daily prompt on your church's social media site.
Introduce new practices
Even those who have been praying for a lifetime can benefit from new prayer practices. Here are a few examples of new ways to pray:
- Breath prayers: Inhale one worshipful phrase and exhale another.
- Personalize Scripture in prayer. Substitute a name or the words "I" or "me" where appropriate.
- Read Scripture as you pray. Read a verse or two, then stop to pray what comes to mind. Continue the process several times throughout a passage of Scripture.
- Involve all of your senses. Hold a cross or another physical reminder of your faith. Light candles. Pray in the moonlight or at sunrise.
- Travel and pray. Walk and pray for your neighbors and community. Pray for the children as you wait in line to pick up yours. Pray for businesses as you pass their billboards on the interstate.
- Pray through the alphabet. Think of a name of God or a characteristic of God that begins with each letter. Or use each letter as a prompt for a certain person for whom you can pray.
- Check out Upper Room's prayer methods.
Provide opportunities to pray
Church members are often great about sharing prayer requests, but sometimes in all the discussion about the requests, they forget to pray. There are ways to offer more opportunities to pray.
- Create a prayer initiative. Just as The United Methodist Church sometimes offers a call to prayer, individual congregations can ask their members to pray and fast for a certain length of time for a specific need or goal.
- Encourage congregants to pair up to pray at the beginning of worship or small group meetings, or simply in everyday life. Make sure worshippers understand that silent prayers are just as acceptable as audible prayers.
- Create a "buddy" prayer system for special events. For example, place the first names of all vacation Bible school registrants on cards. Volunteers choose a card and then pray for that child throughout the week of VBS. Or take a note from Covenant United Methodist Church in Springfield, Pennsylvania, who enlisted volunteers to pray for specific members of a mission team throughout their trip.
- Promote worship warriors. Set aside a private room where volunteers can take turns praying throughout the entire worship service for those leading the services as well as those attending.
- Create a prayer "closet" within your church. For some, the size and expanse of the sanctuary can be intimidating. If possible, create a more intimate place where people can pray.
- Enlist volunteers to lead a prayer ministry. Ask volunteers consistently to devote a given amount of time to pray for the requests given to the church.
Make prayer accessible to all
Anyone can pray, but some find comfort in having others pray for them. How can the church make sure never to overlook those in need of prayer?
- Make it noninvasive. Prominently display prayer cards in the back of pews or in bulletin inserts. Make sure it is very obvious where or how to return the prayer cards. And make sure that the cards can be filled out anonymously, if desired.
- Make sure prayers are actually offered on behalf of the individuals who make requests. If there are too many requests for church leadership to cover, create a prayer team or ministry to spend time weekly lifting up the requests.
- Keep requests private. Unless otherwise noted, all prayer requests should be kept confidential. Someone should pray for the request, but gossip and speculation should be forbidden.
- If contact information is provided, send a return card that states simply, "I prayed for you today." If possible, let those who have requested prayer know that a prayer has been offered on their behalf.
- Consider online forms as a way for people to request prayer on your Internet sites.
- Publicize information about how people can email or text prayer concerns.
Prayer is a vital part of church life and individual spiritual growth. Help individuals in your church revive their prayer ministries. Remind worshippers that no one is too young, too old or too busy to pray. Help your church make time to pray.
— Tricia Brown has been a freelance writer and editor for more than twenty years, ghost-writing and editing for individuals as well as for health, education and religious organizations. She enjoys reading, writing and public speaking commitments in which she teaches and encourages other women.