The Least Attended Church Gathering

Last night, we had a sweet time of singing God’s praises and praying together as a church–prior to eating a meal. We do this once a month at New Covenant. This gathering serves as a monthly prayer meeting. The other times of prayer in the life of our church occur in our morning worship service and during our weekly/bi-weekly small groups. Most of the time, our monthly prayer meeting is fairly well attended. I suspect that it is, at least in part, due to the fact that we have a meal. However, it is a sad reality of the church in the Western world that the prayer meeting is “the least attended church gathering.” I have experienced this sad reality first hand as a member of a church of 1000+ where 8 to 10 people would show up for the weekly prayer meeting. It didn’t take me long to realize that prayerlessness is one of the foremost sins and symptoms of an anemic church. I fight against this sin in my own heart and life. The end result of a prayerless church is that it inevitably becomes a powerless church.

God has ordered things in His church in such a way that prayer is one of the foremost means by which He gives His people spiritual power and vitality for the advancement of His Kingdom through the preaching of the Gospel and the carrying out of deeds of love and mercy. So why does the church in the Western world fail so miserably at coming to the throne of grace in order to receive the grace and mercy needed on a daily and weekly basis (Heb. 4:16)? I would offer the following 4 reasons:

  1. The Church in the Western World is Far Too Rich. Just as is true in marriage, money can mask deficiencies and defects in the church. If the money wasn’t there, we would see just what things really look like. Having enough money and resources can keep churches and ministries going for a very long time. Being able to build big enough buildings, staffing well-enough and paying a man who can preach skillfully enough can subtly send the message that everything is healthy. One of the most dangerous places to be as the church is in a place of material prosperity. It is not sin for a church to have large buildings, a robust staff and a gifted pastor(s)–but it is laden with dangers. If this is true of the church in the Western world, then we need to emphasize just how important a prayer meeting is for the life of the particular local church of which we are a part.
  2. The Church in the Western World is Far Too Ambitious. Prayer is, in one very real sense, a pulling away from the busyness of life and bowing before God the Father and at the feet of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the cessation of work and the entering into the presence of the living and true God in order to call on Him to “work for us” (Isaiah 64:4). Our culture is one of relentless production. Many of the churches in our culture are fueled by the quest for more. The end result of such a culture is that the church is infected with a restlessness. Another outreach event, another music production and another special service or service project takes the driver’s seat while we kick the prayer meeting out of the car. We need to put the prayer meeting in the passenger’s seat directly beside the worship service.
  3. The Church in the Western World is Far Too Frenetic. Arguably, we live in the most active time in human history. When there are hundreds of events happening simultaneously, professing believers often give in to the social pressure of being at the next social event in their community rather than being with the people of God in worship and prayer. The prayer meeting is a glorious corrective to the frenetic culture around us. The prayer meeting helps quiet our minds as we direct our thoughts and prayers up to the God of heaven. After all, He has promised to keep at perfect peace those who keep their minds on Him (Isaiah 26:3).
  4. The Church in the Western World is Far Too Earthly-Minded. The allure of the frenetic culture is often driven by the fact that the members of the church in the Western world are often far too earthly-minded. There is a serious lack of heavenly-mindedness in our lives. Those who are heavenly-minded long to be with the people of God as they gather to be in the presence of God. They recognize that this world is passing away and that the events of the culture around them are meaningless in comparison with the eternal significance of worshiping and praying to the eternal God who is our everlasting home. They are pressing onto Zion with songs and prayers accompanying their pilgrimage. As the saying goes, we need to become so heavenly-minded that we’re finally of some earthly good. Heavenly-mindedness is fostered and manifests itself, first and foremost, in worship and at the prayer meeting.

There is much more that could be said about this subject, but I would simply raise an appeal to those who read this: Don’t neglect the prayer meeting. Make it a point to recognize that we have the enormous privilege and responsibility of coming together as the people of God to call on the God of all grace for the power we lack to participate with Him in seeing His Kingdom advance through the ministry of the word, prayer and worship. We have a God in heaven who has given us the unparalleled privilege of “casting all of our cares on Him” knowing that “He cares for us.” May He give His church–especially in the Western world–the grace to enter in on this most precious means of grace for His glory, our fruitfulness and the advancement of His Kingdom.

10 Responses

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful, stimulating and challenging post, only one little detail of which I would disagree with ! As someone who ministers in UK and has traveled widely as Director of an international missions agency, my experience is that worse than attendance at the prayer meeting is the attendance at missionary prayer meetings!

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  3. Jim Spelman

    I agree with John Brand. “You can’t care about what you don’t know about; you can’t pray about what you don’t care about.” That is a paraphrase from a quote from a missionary friend.

    Therefore I have been leading our weekly prayer gatherings a little differently. I am trying to provide a small tidbit of news from around the world, a short geography lesson, or anything that might open our eyes a bit more to what is happening in the world. It is not that people don’t care; they are just too busy and too preoccupied with their own little worlds. Our prayer gathering (which I call “World Wide Wednesdays”) is VERY slowly growing. In a church that averages a weekly attendance of about 80, we get about 10% to the prayer meeting on a good night. In my 25 years of leading prayer gatherings/events, that is pretty encouraging. But I still dream of outgrowing our current room!

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  5. S. Wilson

    Excellent article – challenging, always, to consider both the vital aspect of prayer and its too-often avoided benefits. I do think, also, that we must consider the “prayer meeting” as an isolated, special gathering would find very little biblical, or historical, support. I think one could say that any “special meeting” of the church is going to be its least attended. The regular meeting together of God’s people for prayer, praise and proclamation will always be the white-hot center of local fellowships. When we step away from that center, for many good and worthwhile reasons (surely including prayer gatherings), we should not too-quickly decry the expected smaller attendance.

  6. T Chil

    Great article. I have always thought the pulse of the church was based on the attendance at Prayer Meeting (mid-week). As you have stated, a weak prayer meeting, leads to a weak church. Most churches do not care, and particularly the leadership.
    The church is failing because of all the reasons you have listed, and instead of leadership in prayer, there is leadership in a “new way”, gimmicks, and sundry other things… all of which ultimately will lead to a continuing weak church and failure.
    Twenty years from now the hot big movements of today to “focus” the local church will be seen as complete flops, and the only people who profited will be the ones who did the phony consulting.

  7. KT

    Thank you for this fine article.

    I was very convicted by this reading and will be making immediate changes. Having specific prayer subject matter is very helpful but not necessarily required. If we just start praying, and keep praying, I’m sure God will figure out how to direct our minds and prayers.

  8. Excellent article. I think one of the biggest problems not mentioned is that Church leadership does not know how to teach their congregations to pray. Jesus disciples asked him, “Lord teach us to pray”. Praying is something that we “learn”. The western church, focuses much of the efforts on worship (singing) and teaching the word of God (Bible focused). We have bible teachers on staff and we have worship leaders on staff. How many churches do you know actually have as a “staff” position a prayer leader? From a corporate point of view, we hope that good bible teaching will be the impetus for individuals to go home and open their bible and read it, study it, learn from it at home. In the same way we have corporate worship which we hope that individuals will also do at home. What we really do not have is a corporate emphasis on prayer and therefore have no corporate example in which exemplifies or encourages the individual to have a prayer life at home. The question is why do we not have this, I believe it is because we are just not taught. I think church leaders scratch their heads and wonder how do you even begin to incorporate this into a corporate service. For most they would rather create a whole separate service that is focused or dedicated alone to prayer. My recommendation is simple…church leaders should begin to pray and ask God, “Lord, teach us to pray”. When I realized that prayer is something that is taught, just like worship and just like the Word of God, I realized that God gifts teachers and worship leaders, I am confident that he has also gifted prayer leaders in his church, we just don’t use them or we misuse them. The way we pray when we go into our private room and close the door in our daily devotions does not translate well to public and corporate prayer. Much like the worship and teaching of God’s word in the corporate setting, it is directed and the subject matter is chosen and prepared ahead of time. The good news is that since prayer is something we can learn, it means that we can improve. For God is all-knowing and we can be ever learning in this area of prayer. When I began to pray to God and asked Him to teach me to pray, He gave me a number of ideas on how prayer can be dynamic and uplifting experience corporately. One idea would be to chose a subject of prayer for the body, like the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22. In the bulletins a piece of paper with a color dot is handed out. During the service, the prayer leader puts up on the overhead a slide showing each color dot that is representative of one of the Fruits of the Spirit mentioned in Gal 5:22. He/she then asks, all those who want to participate, with the color dot representing “Love” would stand and pray for all those around them that the Love of God would be lavished upon them and that they would sow the Love of God in their lives and in their homes…after 1 – 2 mins then the leaders asks those with Joy to stand and do the same…etc until all 9 of the fruits have been prayed for. This is just one example of how churches could incorporate prayer into a corporate setting. Praying the Word of God is another. Ultimately the goal is to by example teach people how to pray so that the importance of prayer become understood by the individual. To show them that we need to be a people of God’s Word, a people of Worship, a people of Prayer and a people of Service. My thoughts are, that unless church leaders embrace the equality of importance of prayer to be on the same level as worship and the teaching of God’s word, it is unlikely the unbalance will be corrected. Try convincing the Pastor to give up time from his sermon and try asking the worship leader to have one less song in order to make time for prayer to be incorporated. And that is why, by and large, the western church doesn’t give any priority or importance to prayer corporately or on an individual level. It just not considered important enough to sacrifice time and incorporate it, its too much work, and besides how do you even do it? Its so much easier to just create a separate service that is dedicated to just prayer even though we know only 10 people will show up who already know the importance of praying while the rest of the body receives no benefit or learns nothing. And some how we have learned to be ok with this…It is truly heartbreaking, but I am hopeful . When I see articles like this, I know God is bringing this to the heart and mind of others and I am encouraged greatly.

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