by Joel Comiskey, 2005
The programs in many churches are so effective and self-sufficient that there seems to be no need for prayer. As long as the worship team performs, the pastor preaches a relevant message, and the administration flows without a hitch, everyone feels satisfied. Dependence on slick programs is a North American norm. As you examine these churches, however, you’ll notice a fatal flaw: the lack of transformed lives. There is no power. God seems to be controlled by the church’s programs as well.
You can build a church without prayer and even grow numerically. But it will be a weak church that lacks power. Transfigured lives will be the exception, rather than the norm. I prefer the type of church that breathes New Testatment life from every pore. The only proven way to accomplish this is through prayer. Would Jesus rebuke some of our churches today for their prayerlessness? Would He have to cast out some of the moneychangers who peddle programs, rather than God? Would he need to remind us, “My house will be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a ‘den of robbers” (Matthew 21:12)?
Dedicate Yourselves to Prayer
Because ICM church has grown from 70 cell groups in 1991 to 20,000 cell groups today, pastors flock to that church, hoping to capture something that will make their churches grow. Pastor Castellanos says that some pastors change their name to Charismatic, hoping that the anointing of God will fall from heaven because of the name change.
Some copy the furniture or the precise administrative structure of the church.
Those who try to copy the method miss the main point. The secret behind the amazing success of the International Charismatic Mission is their commitment to prayer. God is in the midst of their amazing success.
Only God can grant success. Cells are simply the instruments of God’s mighty power. We must not trust our methodology; rather, we must trust the living God. Only God can grant us success. God uses the cell church, but He refuses to be used by it. Let us remember that our God is the God of the church. We must humbly come to Him, asking Him to use us.
Paul wrote the Colossian epistle at the end of his saying, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Colossians 4:2). The Greek word for devote literally means to attend constantly. To illustrate his point Paul uses the example of Epaphras, “. . . who is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured” (Colossians 4:12). Epaphras labored fervently and constantly for the believers in Colosse. We must continually cry out, “Lord, make us like Epaphras!” Most people immediately agree that prayer is very important. But many do not understand how to create a church of prayer. Like one desperate seminar participant blurted out, “How do I make prayer the foundation of my church?” It’s so much easier to talk about prayer than to pray. Allow me to offer a few suggestions.
Follow the Leader
In 1998 our entire pastoral team visited ICM. We were privileged to eat lunch with Pastor César Fajardo and his wife Claudia. During the course of our conversation, Pastor Fajardo looked straight at my senior pastor and said, “Your church will never pray beyond your example, pastor.” This not only sliced into the heart of my senior pastor but deeply moved each pastor present. We left Bogota that year with a firm commitment to dedicate ourselves to prayer. We realized that if the generals were not praying, the army wasn’t going to go near the battlefield. Now things have changed. We’re no longer telling the troops what to do from behind comfortable desks. We as pastors are intimately involved in the prayer life of the church. Each staff pastor leads a three-hour segment of weekly prayer in the church—including the senior pastor. Peter Wagner says it so well,
The senior pastor must take direct charge of the corporate prayer ministry of the church. The day-to-day implementation of various aspects of the prayer ministry can be delegated to the church prayer leader and others, but if the pastor is not perceived by the congregation as the supreme leader of corporate prayer, it will not fly as it should.
This doesn’t mean the senior pastor needs to do everything related to prayer. I was recently in a dynamic, growing cell church in Wimberley, Texas called Cypress Creek Church. Rob Campbell, the founding pastor, understood the importance of prayer from the very beginning. He not only exemplified prayer to the congregation through his personal example, but he also staffed CCC based on the importance of intercession by bringing aboard a Pastor of Prayer, Cecilia Belvin, who has a wonderful gift of intercession to lead the prayer ministry. The first recruitment call that Pastor Campbell made– even prior to the official launch of CCC– was asking Cecilia to lead CCC’s prayer ministry team. Today Cypress Creek Church has one of the most vital prayer ministries I have ever seen.
Promote a Variety of Prayer Formats
Concentrate on cell ministry. But remember, prayer, is not another program. It is the life of the church. It is the atmosphere in which Jesus Christ lives and works. Do your best to promote prayer at every level of the church. Here are few suggestions for implementing prayer on many levels.
Twenty-Four Hour Prayer Meeting
I am committed to this idea and constantly promote it. This strategy has worked so well for us, and my prayer is that it will work for you as well. I like it so much because those leading the charge are the generals—the pastors of the church. Allow me to explain. A twenty-four hour prayer meeting takes place within the church one day each week (although we now have an 18 hour weekly prayer meeting because people simply didn’t come between 12 p.m. and 6 a.m.). Key leaders in the church take turns leading the various prayer intervals. Those who attend the church (both cell and celebration) are encouraged to attend at anytime during the prayer meeting. They might stay for fifteen-minutes, ½ hour, 1 ½ hours, or the entire three hour time block. What matters most is that the pastors are praying.
We have six pastors in our church. Each pastor leads a three-hour interval to complete the eighteen hours. Here’s our example:
- 6-9 a.m.: Pastor 1 in charge
- 9-12 a.m.: Pastor 2 in charge
- 12-3 p.m. Pastor 3 in charge
- 3-6 p.m.: Pastor 4 in charge
- 6-9 p.m.: Pastor 5 in charge
- 9-12 p.m.: Pastor 6 in charge
I am not saying that only full-time workers can lead these prayer intervals. I do think it’s important, however, that key church leaders lead a prayer segment. Sheep follow the shepherd. If prayer is important in the church, the people with influence must demonstrate their commitment. Perhaps there is only one pastor in your church. If so, you could try to find key lay leaders who could fill each block. I would recommend that only cell leaders should fill these posts, preferably cell leaders who have multiplied their cells. As your church grows, you can then ask staff members to fill each block. It is essential that the senior pastor take at least one segment. He must not delegate this area. The senior pastor must lead the charge, practically demonstrating the priority of fervent prayer. Your prayer schedule may look like this:
- 6-9 a.m.: Senior pastor in charge
- 9-12 a.m.: Key leader in charge
- 12-3 p.m. Church board member in charge
- 3-6 p.m.: Key leader in charge
- 6-9 p.m.: Key leader in charge
- 9-12 p.m.: Church board member in charge
The three-hour prayer block can be divided into worship, prayer for individual needs, prayer for church needs, and prayer for the country, the nation, and the world. I like to keep the group together during the time when I lead. Other pastors divide the larger group into smaller groups. Wagner’s advice about praying in a group makes sense to me: “It is much wiser to stay with the least common denominator and keep the large group as a large group” (footnote 1)
Wagner acknowledges that breaking up for the purpose of sharing intimate prayer requests can sometimes be beneficial, but it can also make the prayer meeting seem mechanical and impose on people who would rather not break up in a smaller group (footnote 2).
There is no right or wrong way to lead these prayer segments. The right way is what works for you. I do, however, have some suggestions:
- It’s a good idea to make a list of prayer requests. These hand-outs can be distributed to the newcomers.
- Individual prayer requests can be shared in the group, but don’t allow the sharing time to become an end in itself. Limit the sharing time and concentrate on the prayer time. One way to avoid filling all of your time with personal prayer requests is to ask each person to pray their own prayer requests out loud and then recommend that one or two people mention those same requests in prayer. Be sure to keep moving on to additional requests. At all times, maintain the momentum of prayer.
- Make it the goal to pray 80% of the time and talk only 20% of the time.
- Try to pray and worship non-stop for at least 45 minutes. Before starting a non-stop prayer time, explain to those present that you will be praying without stopping for 45 minutes (sometimes it lasts longer). Grant them liberty to pick a song, read a Scripture, pray more than once, etc.
- After a period of non-stop prayer, allow newcomers to introduce themselves. Some people will need to leave at this time. Normally, there is a constant flow of people as some enter and others go. The one constant is that the key leader or pastor remains.
Initially, we offered a 24-hour prayer vigil every three months, but we craved more of God’s presence. If you plan to implement this strategy, consider starting slowly, meeting every quarter, and then easing into a monthly prayer time with the goal of providing a weekly prayer watch.
Let me warn you that you will not turn back the clock once you’ve tasted the benefits of a weekly prayer time. Since converting to a weekly prayer watch, we’ve experienced new growth, protection, and power in our church. You will too. God promises it: “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14). God will provide new protection, new liberty, and a new atmosphere. Revivals start when God’s people seek His face earnestly. God wants to do the same for you and your church if you will seek Him.
Again, effective leadership is the key to making this work. The foot soldiers will follow their commanding officers, but they lose heart when leadership disappears. We have made it a rule that our staff pastors must be present for their full three-hour block, unless sickness or death gets in the way. We believe strongly in delegation, but not in this area of ministry. Even if no one from the congregation shows up, the pastor is on his knees praying.
We tell our pastors to turn off their cell phones and cancel their appointments during this time. Intercession is a serious undertaking, and we know that Satan will do everything possible to distract, divert, and lead astray. We try to avoid being too rigid and under rare circumstances, a pastor might ask a layperson to replace him, but it’s definitely the exception and not the norm.
I like this prayer methodology so much because it maximizes freedom and flexibility. The career person who rushes off to work in the morning can pray in the evening. The housewife who needs the extra time to prepare herself and children in the morning can visit the church mid-day when the children are in the school.
We want as many people as possible to attend our day-long Friday prayer meeting and really emphasize the meeting in church, but this is one area that we emphasize quality over quantity. We are encouraged by the fact that even if only the pastor is in the church praying, we know that God will answer his prayers and that a new, fresh anointing will descend on our church.
We originally held these prayer meetings in the sanctuary but circumstances caused us to change the location. Now we meet in a designated room that we call the “prayer room”. It can hold approximately 20 people and there are normally between five and fifteen people praying during each three-hour segment.
I recognize that holding a three-hour segment of prayer can be daunting to anyone, especially a lay person. The leader of each part must be directive: asking individuals to pray, waiting in silence, singing praise choruses, sharing Bible verses, and allowing various people to express their burdens. The routinization of the prayer time is by far a great danger than the fear of the unknown. Part of the prayer process is to allow the dynamic of God’s Holy Spirit to break through.
Morning Prayer Meeting(s)
In 1996, I visited the International Charismatic Mission in Bogota Colombia for 10 days. The church allowed me to stay in a converted sound room in the main sanctuary. The sound room was rather large, so the church converted it into an apartment overlooking the stage. I could see everything and everyone in the church.
During those ten days, I didn’t need to use an alarm clock to wake-up in the morning. Every morning at 5 a.m. I woke up to worship choruses singing: “Jesus, I love you, I praise You I adore You,”in Spanish It did not matter when I got to bed at night. I was awakened at 5 a.m.
At ICM, the prayer meeting starts at 5 a.m. every day. Then another group of prayer warriors enter the church at 6 a.m.; another at 7 a.m.. At 10 a.m., the last group finally leaves. Back in 1996, there were probably 500 people who prayed every morning, although that number is much larger today. ICM also hosts an all-night prayer meeting every Friday.
The secret to the success of ICM is dependence on God through prayer.
At Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, Korea, the faithful arrive for prayer at 5:30 a.m. and they have a similar rotation to ICM’s .People are encouraged to come and pray every morning. I remember one April morning when I visited the YFGC prayer meeting. That Monday, it was below freezing, ready to snow. I bundled up and went down to the main sanctuary at 5:30 a.m.. There I saw 3000 Korean saints crying out to God, “Give us Korea for Your Son Jesus, dear Lord.” I was amazed. I realized the largest church in the history of Christianity was a praying church. This church was willing to pay the price in prayer, and God was mightily blessing them as a result.
The early morning prayer session is a great way to get your church praying, if you can mobilize your members to attend. The early morning schedule works well for many people, even if it means only staying for a short while.
Twenty-Four Hour Prayer Sign-up
One way to make prayer convenient for your church members is to allow them to pray at home in an organized fashion. A 24-hour per day sign up promotes personal prayer and ministers to the needs of the congregation.
This type of prayer is especially effective when you want your church to pray for specific requests—a harvest event in the church, reaching the goal of a specific number of cells, or just a fresh touch from God. Ask members to sign up on a list to pray for particular needs on a non-stop basis. I would recommend asking each cell member to pray for ½ hour, which means that you’ll need a total of forty-eight people praying. Administration of the various time slots is easier if the list is posted during the celebration service, preferably at the cell information table (footnote 3).
Spontaneous Prayer Chains
Prayer chains are an excellent strategy to promote in your church. They are easy to start and work well in the background. In other words, prayer chains do not require individual church members to come to the church in order to pray. They work just as well at home, at work, or at school. How do you make a prayer chain work? First, promote prayer chains at the cell group level. Each cell group will distribute names and phone numbers. Then, when a need arises, one cell member will call another cell member and the cycle will continue until everyone is contacted. Unlike the twenty-four hour prayer sign up, prayer chains are best administrated at the cell level.
All-Night or Half-night Prayer Meeting
All-night prayer meetings were quite common among the cell churches that I studied. Following the model of Yoido Full Gospel Church, most of the growing cell churches in the world hold regular all-night prayer meetings. There are a wide variety of formats for this model, so I suggest that you use your creativity. Here is a basic format:
- 8:00 p.m. Dynamic worship
- 9:00 p.m. Meditation from the Word of God
- 9:45 p.m. Individual meditation and confession of sin
- 10:15 p.m. Break into groups of four to pray for personal needs
- 10:45 p.m. Pray as a group for church needs
- 11:15 p.m. Pray as a group for the nations
- 12:00 a.m. Repeat the process until 6 a.m.
You might want to establish prayer retreats in your church. The focus of such retreats is fervent prayer. Everything is centered around seeking the living God for His blessing. Yoido Full Gospel Church has created an entire mountain called Prayer Mountain. They converted a cemetery into a place of prayer and carved out hundreds of individual caves into the mountainside. At the mountain they have a chapel—without seats (dedicated to prayer), lodging for those on prayer journeys, and a restaurant—to help you break your fast. YFGC takes the spiritual battle seriously and has prepared diligently to sustain the prayer dynamic over a long period. A bus leaves every half-hour from the mother church and transports prayer warriors (many who are fasting) to Prayer Mountain.
Promote Prayer in the Cell Group
Praying cell groups are effective cell groups. The first place to promote prayer is in the cell group itself. Cell group leaders need reminders that the cell group is not primarily a social time. Successful cell groups, rather, are flowing with the presence of God. The presence of Jesus Christ is the key to cell group success. Take a look at a normal cell group:
- Begins with prayer.
- The cell leader asks Jesus to fill the cell with His presence (or better yet, asks someone in the group to open in prayer).
- Worship time draws members into God’s presence.
- Worship is a deep act of approaching the living God. It is also a form of prayer.
- Prayer is interspersed in the worship and before the lesson.
- One of the best ways to get people praying is to ask them to pray between songs. Call on individual members, but not newcomers, to pray out loud between the songs.
- Try to vary this time. During a normal worship time in my small group, we’ll sing a few songs without interruption, I’ll ask different people to pray out loud, and then we will have a time of silent meditation. I never follow a rote order, but rather depend on the Spirit of God to lead the group.
- Members pray for one another after the lesson (God’s Word often pinpoints areas of need).
- Be careful not to shorten the prayer time because of a long lesson. I’ve discovered that prayer requests often naturally surface during the lesson time that you can later cover in the prayer request time.
5. Freedom for spontaneous prayer requests
I remember one cell that I visited. The leader asked each member to pick his or her favorite worship song. One member named Theresa picked a song about renewal. After singing the song, Theresa began to sob saying, “I picked that song because I desperately need renewal in my life. My non-Christian husband is talking about leaving me and he’s treating me like dirt. I really need all of you tonight. Please pray for me.”
Immediately, the cell surrounded her and began lifting her up before the throne of God. Theresa left the cell group that evening completely renewed.
6. Members pray for newcomers to attend the cell during the vision casting time.
Bethany World Prayer Center in Baker, Louisiana and Faith Community Baptist Church in Singapore have popularized the practice of writing down the names of non-Christians and persistently praying for them to attend the cell group. This is a helpful practice that I wholeheartedly endorse.
I recommend using a small white board to write down the names of non-Christian friends and relatives, but be sure to hide the white board when those non-Christians visit your group to avoid offending them.
Spiritually strong cell group leaders are the most effective cell group leaders. We must remember that it is not by might, nor by power, but by the Spirit of God. I constantly tell my cell leaders to stop preparing the cell lesson at least ½ hour before the cell meeting starts. Why? So that they will seek God and ask for His blessings on their cell groups.
True success in cell groups and cell churches comes from God. The secret is not the cell structure, the cell order, or the cell pastor—it is the blessing of the Almighty God upon the congregation. God spoke to Jeremiah saying, “But let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight,” (Jeremiah 9:24). I encourage churches to spot, develop, and release spiritual people—those who depend on God and know how to seek His face. Other leadership characteristics can help but spirituality is the chief requirement.
Some have accused the G-12 strategy as being nothing more than a Christian pyramid system. Nothing could be further from the truth. I remember talking to a very successful multi-level marketing man who had made millions. This man converted to Christianity and happened to come in contact with one of the largest G-12 churches in the world. He felt he could build a large church because of his experience. He soon discovered, however, that he lacked the spiritual power to make it work. It wasn’t about following the latest technique. When I spoke with him, he had failed miserably and was on his knees before God asking for His special guidance. He realized he had to pay theprice in prayer to gain the needed power.
Just Do It
After all of our struggles at the Republic Church, we had become experts at teaching on prayer without praying. We finally became tired of talking and decided to start doing. We had to commit ourselves to become doers. My advice is to start doing something. You might need to adjust along the way, but start doing something .
The key question that you must ask yourself is this: are we praying? If you cannot say yes to this question, I give you three words of advice—Just Do It. The most important thing is not that you do it right, but that you do something. Some people criticized D.L. Moody for his bold style of evangelism. The evangelist responded, “You might be right, but I prefer what I’m doing to what you’re not doing.” Prayer methodologies and strategies abound. But none of them matter if you are not actually praying as a church
Peter Wagner, Churches that Pray (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1993), p. 114.
Wagner, p. 121.
I recommend that every cell church has a cell information table. This table functions during the celebration service and provides the cell lessons, equipping track manuals, cell information (dates, times, locations), weekly cell reports, etc. A cell volunteer (preferably a cell leader) should be available at the table to answer questions. If you have a cell secretary, he or she should be available at the table during the Sunday worship services.