One of my favorite stories in church history is of Jeremiah Lanphier. Born in 1809, Lanphier converted to Christ in 1842 in a church in Lower Manhattan under the preaching of Charles Finney. Lanphier worked as a businessman for twenty years before being hired by the North Dutch Church to work as a local missionary. On July 1, 1857 he began his assignment with the church, and he hit the streets of New York to share the Gospel. He saw few conversions, but that did not stifle his passion to see people surrender to Christ.
As a former businessman, Lanphier decided to invite businessmen to a weekly lunch-hour prayer meeting at the North Dutch Church. He sent flyers all over the city in an attempt to get businessmen to attend his noon prayer meeting. On September 23, 1857, Lanphier prepared a third-floor classroom in the North Dutch Church for his first prayer meeting. At noon, no one was in the room but Lanphier. You can imagine Lanphier’s discouragement. He had labored diligently to advertise the prayer meeting, but it seemed as if all his labor was in vain. It seemed as if none of the local businessmen shared Lanphier’s passion for praying for the city of New York. Even though he was discouraged, Lanphier started praying alone in that classroom. A half-hour later, he heard footsteps coming up the stairs of the church. Six men entered the room and joined Lanphier in prayer. After their time of prayer and fellowship, the men committed to meet again the next week to continue praying for their city. Surprisingly, not six, but twenty men showed up the next week to pray. As the men continued to meet weekly to pray, the group continued to grow. Eventually, the men decided to have their prayer meetings daily, and they also had to find a new place to meet since the number of men in attendance quickly outgrew the small classroom.
The prayer group grew exponentially. Within six months, ten thousand men from all over the city met daily to pray for a move of God’s Spirit in their city. Churches all over the city opened their doors for the daily prayer meetings. Before long, the prayer movement started by Lanphier expanded to other major cities across the United States, and God began to answer the prayers of His people. Lanphier began to see people in his city respond in faith to the Gospel. However, not only did people in New York begin to surrender their lives to Jesus, but within two years, one million people throughout the United States converted to faith in Christ. One man’s commitment to pray for the spread of the Gospel in his city led to a nationwide revival.
It’s an inspiring story, but let’s be honest, most of our churches struggle with prayer. How can we as pastors and church leaders help our churches to pray more often and more effectively?
(1) Pray more than you plan.
In his book, Power Through Prayer, E.M. Bounds wrote, “What the Church needs today is not more machinery or better, not new organizations or more and novel methods, but men whom the Holy Ghost can use — men of prayer, men mighty in prayer. The Holy Ghost does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men — men of prayer.”
I love to “work on” my church. I like to think about strategy, goals, and leadership development. I like to think about the next steps we need to take to reach more people and experience greater growth. How would my church be different if I spent more time doing the work of prayer? What if I spent more time praying for the spiritual growth of my people and the spread of God’s Kingdom more than I spend time planning for the next ministry event?
I highly recommend Donald Whitney’s book, Praying the Bible. This book has been tremendously valuable in my own prayer journey by teaching me how to pray systematically through the Bible. Many days, I will walk through our worship center and pray through several Psalms with my people in my mind as I pray. I would love to say that this is my daily habit. I’m not there yet, but those times of fellowship with the Lord praying for my congregation are extremely beneficial for my soul.
(2) Pray much in corporate worship.
Is it possible that many of our churches have gotten away from extended times of prayer in corporate worship? I wonder if prayer is a central feature of the Sunday morning worship experience in many of our churches or if it is just a “time filler” for transitions from one part of the service to the next.
Charles Spurgeon was known for his emphasis on prayer during the Sunday morning worship service. His pastoral prayers were legendary. When reflecting on the importance of prayer in corporate worship, Spurgeon said to his students, “I will sooner yield up the sermon than the prayer. Thus much I have said in order to impress upon you that you must highly esteem public prayer, and seek of the Lord for the gifts and graces necessary to its right discharge.” (58-59)
If you were forced to choose to either pray or preach in your worship service, which would you choose? Obviously, Spurgeon esteemed the value of prayer in corporate worship so much that he would have chosen prayer. Spurgeon understood that our congregations need to hear us pray to be encouraged by our prayers and to also how to pray by hearing the examples set by their pastors and leaders.
(3) Pray much in community.
One of the most effective ways we have led our faith family At Northwood to pray has been through seasonal emphases. We have used a “40 Days of Prayer” emphasis at Northwood. I have written prayer guides for those 40 Days based on the needs that we had in our congregation at that time. Members of our church would work through the prayer guide daily and gather to pray in home groups weekly. It’s amazing how God has used this simple time of prayer to bless our church!
Gathering to pray might not be the priority of the majority of your church members, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do it! During our seasons of 40 Days of Prayer I have been amazed at how many people have been willing to gather weekly in small home groups to encourage each other through prayer. Simply put, if we are going to see God at work in our churches, then we must foster environments for ongoing prayer. As you look toward the next year, how are you going to lead your church to be a praying church?
 Collin Hansen and John Woodbridge, A God-Sized Vision: Revival Stories that Stretch and Stir (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2010), 80-83; John Piper, Desiring God (Colorado Springs: Multnomah Publishers, Inc., 2003), 180-182.
 E. M. Bounds, The Complete Works of E.M. Bounds on Prayer. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006), 447.
 Charles H. Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2010), 58-59.