Recently I was interviewed by some guys at Southern Seminary about the role prayer plays in church revitalization. They interviewed 12 turnaround churches and the following are some of the findings…
Summary of Research Findings
Interviews revealed eleven themes about prayer from the experiences of these pastors and how prayer aided in their church’s revitalization. Pastors led their congregations in purposeful times of prayer, taught their people to pray in both corporate and private settings. Furthermore, pastors cautioned others who find themselves in a revitalization situation to remain humble and patient, and to seek God and join him in his work within the church and the community. Finally, these pastors articulated practical approaches to promote and develop a prayer culture in their church during the revitalization.
|Recurring Themes||Frequency||Percentage (%)|
|Pastors directed specific times of prayer||12/12||100|
|Pastors remained humble during the revitalization process||11/12||92|
|Pastors modeled prayer in their own life||10/12||83|
|Pastors discovered that congregations held tightly to the typical and traditional prayer times||9/12||75|
|Pastors should be more intentional about prayer at the beginning of the revitalization.||9/12||75|
|Pastors found prayer to be foundational to the revitalization process||9/12||75|
|Pastors described their church’s prayer culture as scattered before they arrived||7/12||58|
|Pastors refocused the mid-week prayer service on prayer not teaching||6/12||50|
|Pastors advised being patient during the revitalizing process||6/12||50|
|Pastors experienced an apathy, indifference, or misunderstanding of prayer in the congregation.||5/12||42|
|Pastors advised to learn church’s culture when first arriving at their new ministry||3/12||25|
Pastors directed specific times of prayer. All twelve pastors unanimously stated that having specific times of prayer became one of the most important things they initiated once arriving at their church. Specific times of prayer ranged from congregation members gathering before Sunday worship service to prayer for the pastor, the worship service, and lost people hearing the gospel for the first time, to home prayer meetings, partnering with a person during the week to pray, and men demonstrating their commitment to pray for the church corporately in the worship service.
Pastors remained humble during the revitalization process.Ninety two percent of the interviewed pastors indicated that remaining humble was a big factor and would advise other pastors who seek to revitalize their church to exhibit the same. Humility came in the form of constantly seeking God’s will and not their own as they desired to revitalize their church. At least a quarter of the pastors either directly or indirectly mentioned the Henry Blackaby quote from Experiencing God, “Watch to see where God is working and join Him.”
Pastors modeled prayer in their own life. Ten out of twelve pastors believed that modeling prayer in their own life both privately and publicly helped in the revitalization of their church.
Pastors discovered that congregations held tightly to the typical and traditional prayer times.One of the difficulties faced by 75 percent of pastors in the revitalization of their churches came in the form of traditions. Traditions practiced by congregations and mentioned by pastors under this theme included: typical Wednesday night prayer time, prayer before worship service, prayer before the offering, and a closing prayer. Church members clung to “prayer times” they performed in rote manner year after year, believing their rituals to be the only way to do things because they lacked leadership to teach them otherwise.
Pastors would be more intentional about prayer at the beginning of the revitalization.Once again, 75 percent of all the interviewed pastors said they would have been more intentional about making prayer a focus earlier in their tenure. Pastors also noted that they would intentionally teach and train their people on prayer.Numerous pastors referred to Gregory Frizzell as a great source for training their people to pray. Pastors also mentioned the works of Jim Cymbala for prayer training. These pastors intentionally sought out books and resources to help their people develop the discipline of prayer in their lives and also preached specifically about prayer from the pulpit.
Pastors found prayer to be foundational to the revitalization process.Nine of twelve pastors claimed that prayer provided the foundation they needed to revitalize the church. Many of these same pastors affirmed that prayer became the catalyst to their church’s revitalization. The idea of prayer being foundational by these pastors aligns with the thinking of Jonathan Edwards in his work, An Humble Attempt. Essentially, congregants began to pray in these churches and God breathed new life into these once dying churches.
Pastors described their church’s prayer culture as scattered when they arrived. More than fifty percent of the pastors interviewed described the church prayer life and prayer culture as scattered, uncoordinated, and unintentional. Knowing the scattered nature of prayer in their congregation helped these pastors focus their efforts.
Pastors refocused the mid-week prayer service on prayer not teaching.Six out of twelve pastors indicated from a previous theme that prayer became part of tradition not a purposeful communication to God. Consequently, 50 percent of the pastors removed the bible teaching aspect of mid-week services, focusing themselves and their congregation on prayer and nothing else.
Pastors advised being patience during the revitalizing process. Another theme affirmed by fifty percent of those interviewed is to exhibit patience through the revitalization of their church.
Pastors experienced an apathy, indifference, or misunderstanding of prayer in the congregation. Every single pastor answered that they encountered no real opposition to prayer; however, forty two percent said that they sensed a general apathy or indifference in their congregation in regard to prayer. Churches viewed prayer as a discipline they ought to do because churches do those sorts of things, instead of one where they get to communicate with the Creator.
Pastors advised to learn church’s culture when first arriving at their new ministry. One quarter of the pastors interviewed agreed and advised any pastor seeking to revitalize their church, to know and understand the culture of the new church before implementing change and to continually be on mission in the surrounding community.