Bringing Back the "Out-of-Style" Prayer Meeting - How to Improve Group Prayer Meetings

One of the things I hope to reintroduce in August at our church is the Midweek Prayer Meeting. 

Here are some of the links I found useful in my research along with excerpts. 

Samuel Chadwick, one of God’s great men of past years, taught that Satan’s greatest aim is to destroy our prayer lives. Satan is not afraid of prayerless study, prayerless work or prayerless religion – but he will tremble when we pray. If Chadwick was correct (and many other great men of God have said similar things), then we have a problem. If there is any part of our church life that seems to be in trouble, it is the prayer meeting. IN fact, in an increasing number of churches, for all practical purposes, there is no such meeting at all. 

The lack and neglect of such meetings is, I believe, one of the greatest mistakes in our Bible-believing churches, and such deception by Satan represents a far greater enemy than liberal theology or the cults. In fact, a clear study of 2 Corinthians 10:4-7 would show us that prayer is the principal means through which we are going to stand against the enemy whatever way he might attack us. We seem to be blind to the nature of spiritual warfare and feel that as long as we have a full Sunday school and good numbers on Sunday morning then all is well. Could it be true that if the Holy Spirit left us, very few changes would be made? Would everything go on as usual?

Prayer is one of our main weapons and faith is closely linked with it.  We must not expect it to be easy. Satan will counter-attack any efforts made towards effective prayer. We must refuse any form of discouragement and press forward whatever the cost.

Conversational Prayer Meetings (download only) by William Lantz

When children line up in front of a department store Santa Claus, each has his turn to talk to Santa.  But even though a group of children may be gathered around, what takes place is merely a series of individual communications.  To me this line-up of children seems analogous to the kind of prayer which is called group prayer, but which actually is a series of individual prayers to which others in the room are allowed to listen.  In such a situation there is no real group activity.

I have come to believe that group activity is important to prayer.  Group prayer should be like a time when the children of a family talk something over with their father.  At such a time the procedure is something like this: the children with their father may discuss plans to go to the zoo.  Each one who cares to (including the father) makes a comment or two about this.  Then the conversation may turn to household chores, then the matter of swings for the backyard, then the children’s school activities, and so on to other topics.

Conversational group prayer doesn’t consist of orations but of phrases or sentences from various individuals on one topic until the topic is covered.  Ordinarily it is rude in group conversation to make a statement about a topic and then go on to something else without giving others a chance to say anything.  On the other hand it would be rude to interrupt a speaker or orator to comment on one of his topics, no matter how many subsequent topics he might also discuss before he finished.
    Thus the “rule” for conversational group prayer is this: limit your prayer to one topic at a time.  It may take just a phrase to express it, or a sentence, or two or three sentences – but just one thought.  It could be some bit of adoration, perhaps a thought of thanksgiving, maybe a note of confession, petition, or intercession – but just one idea.
    Then wait and let others add something on that topic.  Perhaps someone else’s addition will remind you of another aspect of that topic for which you would like to pray.
    Then when it seems that everyone has finished on a topic, you or anyone else may introduce a new one.  You may pray many times during the meeting but only a single thought each time.  The prayer meeting thus proceeds topic by topic.  (Incidentally, the same topic could again be introduced later if some important neglected aspect comes to mind.)

In summary, the two rules for conversational group prayer are these: (1) Pray one thought at a time, allowing someone else a chance to add anything he wishes on that topic; (2) Proceed topically, not leaving a topic until everyone who wishes has had a chance to pray something about it.

Can you imagine how weird life would be if all your conversations were like most prayer meetings? You’d be at a party, maybe standing in a circle with friends, and one person would talk constantly for five or ten minutes, hardly taking a breath, covering six or seven topics. Finally that person would finish, and the next person would start saying basically the same thing for five or ten minutes. Maybe the next person would squeeze the person’s hand next to them to let them know they weren’t going to say anything, but then the fourth person jumps in for their five minutes on those same topics, and so on around the circle. How boring would that be? Would you chose to stay in that conversation or would you excuse yourself to go get some more food or drink and find someone else to talk to? This is why it’s so hard to get people to come to pray corporately.

Here are the ground rules for having conversational prayer (they would also work as good ground rules for having a conversation at a party):
  1. Stick with one thought at a time, allowing someone else to add to that topic before proceeding. I call this “paragraph” prayer.
  2. Proceed topically, not leaving a topic until everyone who wishes to contribute has had a chance to pray something about it.
If you follow these rules you will be amazed at the difference you will have in your times of corporate prayer (and it may really help your social life too).

Ruark lists 6 good results of Conversational Prayer.  He goes on to describe them in more detail.
  1. It shows love and respect for others present.
  2. It's considerate of attention span.
  3. There is no need to have all of your thoughts organized.
  4. There is less self-consciousness.
  5. It can be deep and real.
  6. Conversation prayer cuts down on the amount of unplanned silence in a prayer.
Prayer Meetings by Charles Spurgeon

He provides a great list of hindrances to the prayer meeting.  He goes into details on each one.

  1. Unholiness
  2. Discord
  3. Hypocrisy
  4. Long prayers
  5. Little sermons in our prayers
  6. Lack of being direct with our prayers.
  7. Lack of real intensity in our prayers.
  8. Lack of faith.
  9. Inconsistency in our prayers.
It is of no use for me to preach to the people, my dear Christian brothers and sisters, unless you pray for them. It is of no use holding special services for the quickening of the spiritually dead unless the Holy Spirit is brought to them by our prayers. It may be that you who pray have more to do with the blessed results than we who preach.

I think I have told you of the old story of the preacher who had been very successful in his preaching, but a message came from heaven to him that it would not have been so if it had not been for the prayers of an old deaf brother preacher, who sat on the pulpit stairs and pleaded with God for the conversion of the listeners. It may be true. We may appear to the eyes of men to have the credit of success, but all the while the real honor may belong to someone else, and I do certainly myself always ascribe the conversions brought about in this church to the prayers of God’s people. Let it always be so ascribed, and let God have all the glory in it. But do pray for conversions. Never give up praying for your unconverted wife or husband! Never cease to pray for your unconverted children. Never let the devil tempt you to be silent concerning your ungodly neighbors, but day and night, in the house and on the road, lift up your hearts to God in real prayer, and say to him, “Oh! that Ishmael might live before you!” He has given us his pledge that he will answer: believe it, and you shall see it, and you shall have the joy of it while He shall have the glory. Amen

Primitive Prayer Meeting by Charles Finney.  This is a great message.

The fact is, brethren, our modern prayer-meetings are too cold and too constrained. Christians are not earnest in prayer. Their souls cannot become deeply burdened and earnestly agonized in supplication; they do not thirst enough for spiritual blessings, and have not the deep communion with God which is requisite for prevailing prayer. You know what a burden is felt in a prayer-meeting when the heart is thoroughly broken; when pride is abased, the soul humbled, and the entire energies are drawn out in earnest supplication. But there are few such meetings for prayer now. There is a lack of sustaining unanimity. It is a law of mind that union of heart sustains the interest and power of prayer. Did you never observe how you can sustain another in prayer, if you enter deeply into his sympathies? You uphold his faith and his fervor.

There is a wide difference between that and a meeting in which the heart has free scope, and the Spirit of God is not straitened, but ranges with free scope and melting power. I have seen prayer-meetings in which manifestly the whole congregation went forth before God in mighty prayer. Some of you have seen such prayer. The hearts of the people were moved as the trees of the forest before a mighty rushing wind.--Words seem as if frightened with irrepressible emotion. You can see that God is there. Everyone feels it. An awe of the Holy Presence pervades each heart. And yet they are not afraid, but are drawn into sweet confidence and most earnest pleading. Literally they seem to pour out their hearts before him. This is true prayer, and meets the idea of social praying. It is a union of hearts before God's mercy-seat, the Spirit coming down to make intercession with their spirit with groanings that cannot be uttered. Every prayer-meeting should bear this character, modified only according to the type of those circumstances that call for prayer.

One of the results of the revival in Korea is the multiplication of daily early morning prayer meetings. I questioned a Korean pastor recently and he assured me that daily early morning prayer meetings (5am in summer and 6am in winter) are part of the lifestyle of evangelical Christians of all denominations. Are these Koreans more angels than men?! Yet Bob Sheehan told me that as a boy he was impressed by the devotion of his father, a working man who laboured from 7am to 7pm daily, yet attended without fail a prayer meeting at 6am on his way to work!