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by Wallace T. Scherer

I have been in hundreds of prayer meetings in dozens of churches in the last forty years. Some were very good, many were so-so, and many were poor. What do I mean by those classifications?

First let me describe what I consider a poor prayer meeting: It is one in which there seems to be no real direction, one where it seems more of a duty that must be performed than a real calling or zeal. In this prayer meeting people pray for the same things they always pray for: Mrs. Jones has a cold, Sister Sara needs a better job, Brother Ralph is going on a trip.

In a poor prayer meeting a few people may be spread out over a large auditorium and some can't hear others pray. Some folks may pray too long while others feel intimidated and don't pray at all.

A so-so prayer meeting may have someone up front who directs. They might even assign certain people to pray for certain things. They might even intersperse prayers with songs and scripture readings. But the topics tend to be the same: Mrs. Jones has a cold, Sister Sara needs a better job, Brother Ralph is going on a trip.

And, like the poor prayer meeting, the size of the meeting place may not be suitable for the size of the group, some may pray so softly others can't hear, and some folks may pray too long while others feel intimidated and don't pray at all.

Obviously the so-so prayer meeting takes more work to prepare for than the poor prayer meeting. And the very good one takes more work than the so-so one.

Here's how I would describe a very good prayer meeting.

  1. People who come are excited about being there. They have seen God answering their prayers on a regular basis. They are trying to live their lives each day in accordance with the Bible. They are anxious to share their experiences, and they have come early in order to have time to talk with each other before the meeting starts.
  2. The leader is happy and enthusiastic. He greets the people individually as they arrive, thanking them for arriving early. He has arrived even earlier and has everything prepared.
  3. The size of the meeting room is not too small nor too large for the size of the group. Heating and/or air conditioning have been adjusted to be as comfortable as possible before anyone arrives. It may be at the church or in a private home.
  4. As the meeting starts, there may be a song or two, a testimony or two, and a scripture reading. But soon they get down to the business of praying. They all realize this is important work and are eager to start.
  5. The leader may ask for a few general requests from the group. He may write them down on a flip chart or chalk board for prayer later, or ask each person to write them down on a paper or card that he has previously made sure they all had. Or he may just go ahead and appoint a person to pray for that request after each one is made. A good leader will also vary his format from time to time.
  6. If the group is small, say seven people or less, it may be good to maintain the group intact. But if more are present, it would be good to divide into groups of four or five people.
  7. Each group will be praying for requests shared from within that group for a certain period of time. The leader may also have assigned other topics for prayer and have them listed on the chart or board. These will probably be split between ongoing interests, such as ministries of the church, outreach activities, the elderly and shut-ins, etc. and other events of a changing nature such as current local, national, and international events, as well as personal situations of the congregation.
  8. At a specified time, the leader will call the groups back, possibly through the use of a song or soft background music. There will be a final group song, testimony, and/or announcements, a final prayer, and dismissal.
Incorporating these elements of a very good prayer meeting could be transforming enough for most churches or groups. But there is one other thing that can be added to transform it even more: conversational prayer.


First, what is a conversation? Well, we do know that it is NOT one person talking and everyone else just listening. Nor is it one person saying everything he knows about one subject, such as automobiles, then another person telling everything he knows about gardening, then the third person saying everything he has recently learned about Georgia vacations. I think we can all agree that could not be classified as a conversation.

How many prayer meetings have you been to, though, which seem just like that? The leader may ask for three people to pray for the pastor. The first one prays for everything he can think of about the pastor. He goes on for five minutes. Then it is time for the second person to pray. He can't think of anything different from what the first person prayed for, and is too embarrassed to say that the first person did well enough, so he starts repeating the same things the first one prayed for, and carries on for another three minutes. By the time the third person gets up to pray, he is so frustrated that he mumbles a few of the same phrases the others have said, says Amen, and sits down.

Or maybe the leader assigns three people to pray for three unrelated things. They each think they have to cover the topic completely and carry on for three or four minutes each. Meanwhile, others in their seats are thinking that a certain other aspect of the subject should be prayed for, but they were not called on to pray, so the best they can do is to pray silently. Others may not be so fortunate as to even understand the prayer because they are seated several rows behind the one who is praying. They are frustrated, but continue to act interested and spiritual by occasionally saying a soft “Amen”. However, they think that maybe there could be something else more profitable to do on that night of the week.

(By the way, the leader also complains that people are not spiritual because they do not come to prayer meeting as they ought to.)

Here's how I would describe a conversation between three people: The first person brings up a topic of conversation by just starting to talk about something or asking the others their opinion about something. The second person responds and then the third throws in his two cents worth about the topic. The first responds to the third, the second chimes in, and on goes the conversation, gradually morphing into other related and then unrelated topics. No one hogs the conversation, but each contributes what he can. Each one feels valued. They enjoy the mental stimulation and come away feeling good about the experience.

Conversational prayer is no different. The first person initiates prayer for a certain topic. He only says a few short phrases, knowing that he will again have a chance to cover other aspects of the topic as the prayer continues without ever changing the topic. Each person in the group (three to five people in a group is best) contributes short phrases related to the topic. They each pray several times if they wish, in no particular order, until it seems the topic is exhausted for the time allowed. Then, depending on the agreed upon format, another topic is introduced and prayer continues in the same manner. If a person doesn't feel he has anything to add, he is not obligated to pray out loud, only silently agree with the others' prayers.

In directed conversational prayer, a leader will introduce each topic at a specified time. In free style conversational prayer, there is a pause of about five seconds when no one seems to be adding anything new to the existing topic, then the leader of the group may begin praying for another topic. Prayer continues in the group until that topic is exhausted, etc.

Conversational prayer is not boring because no one has to be left out. Each person gets the chance to pray for a topic as many times as he can think of some new aspect of the topic which should be covered in prayer.

To illustrate, let's say that my group of four people is to pray for the pastor. I start by thanking God for his ministry. Others continue to thank God for the different ways the pastor has been used in the lives of different members of the congregation, mentioning names and specific events. We pray for his spiritual life, his personal prayer time and Bible study, his testimony before the world, his wife, his children, his sermon preparation, his health, etc. We could carry on for probably an hour just praying for the pastor because we each know him in different ways and know of different needs he has or may soon have.

A similar pattern can be carried on for just about any topic worthy of prayer. For instance, the Bible instructs us to pray for our leaders. Does one person just pray for our president, and period. No, one starts praying for the president, and the group carries on just as it did for the pastor. Then we can morph into praying for his cabinet, the congress, the governors, the state representatives, the city council, the mayor, the chief of police, the fire chief, the ambulance drivers, the policeman on the corner. It can go on for hours without even getting tired. Of course one has to come up for air occasionally, and it may be necessary to limit the time allowed.

I once participated in an all-night vigil using the conversational format. We started about 9 PM and continued until about 3 AM. We would break occasionally for a song, a scripture reading, and for refreshments. It was great. I felt like we could have gone a few more hours.

Let me encourage you to try this method. Start with a group of three or four people. Discuss what a conversation is, and apply it to prayer. I think you will see it transform your prayer meeting.

Other helpful links to "conversational prayer"


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