How To Biblically (and effectively) Pray For More People To Come To Christ Through Your Church
Updated: Jul 17
I was at a conference recently where a number of church leaders mentioned to me that they had been praying that they would see God move and bring souls to the church.
It was encouraging to hear many anecdotal testimonies of how they had seen some remarkable salvations that they directly attributed to their prayers. These were the kind of stories of people walking in off the street asking for God or individuals running up to the front to be baptized.
While I was encouraged with the anecdotal examples of individual salvations I was frustrated with the fact that the testimonies were always about the one or two. I was hoping and longing to hear about churches that are seeing people saved and established on a consistent and measurable basis.
I wanted to hear the echo of the original church experience that '...we are seeing God adding converts to our church daily'.
As I reflected on these stories I couldn't help wonder if, as good as the testimonies were, that something was amiss. My mind quickly centred in on the foundation of prayer. The first wave of salvations in human history began in the upper room with prayer. And the foundation of effective prayer is still the most basic and essential requirement for a breakthrough in reaching the lost.
I used the phrase effective prayer because I discovered in my own journey that how you pray is as important as how much you pray.
The writer of the epistle of James touches on this when he says (4:3) our prayers are often ineffective because we pray 'amiss'(kjv). Later he reverses the statement (5;16-18) to tell us that the prayers of the righteous are 'powerful and effective'. There are ineffective prayers and there are effective prayers.
The greek term for amiss is interpreted as improperly, poorly, or wrongly. James believes our prayers are not as fruitful as they could be because we often pray with the wrong focus, or for the wrong things, or from the wrong emotion.
This is a staggering 'stand alone' statement about prayer that would take a lifetime too unpack.
When applied to the question of 'why we see so few genuine conversions in our churches' James forces us to firstly ask ourselves if we are even praying in the right way for the lost.
In my own personal journey of seeing our church transform into one that would grow by conversions I soon learnt the first thing I would need to change was the way I prayed. I realized we were going to have to develop an intercessory team that was focused, consistent, and effective in prayer.
So what did I change in the way our church prayed?
1. Stop putting the onus on God for the harvest.
For many years, as a pastor, I would pray using phrases such as 'move on the lost Lord...'. "bring in a harvest Lord...' 'bring us souls Lord...', 'draw them in Lord...'
This approach was partly based on my revivalist heritage but it also came from a mindset that it was way more convenient for me if God would do all the heavy lifting. In my crazy fantasy I would see streams of people coming into our church without lifting a finger. This meant we could focus on making our church better for the saved while waiting on God to 'make the move' on the unsaved.
I was like a fisherman going out and praying 'Bring the fish to us, Lord'. 'Have them jump into the boat, Lord'. It sounds spiritual but the truth is that it is a lazy mans prayer.
Jesus took a very different approach when it came to the lost. He actively sought out the lost and gave many parables to reinforce this the idea of going and seeking rather than waiting. And when he called the disciples it was with the mandate to teach them to be 'experts at fishing for souls ' like him. He was calling them to be actively involved in the 'going and seeking' part.
Our prayer needs to change from 'Lord, do the fishing for us' to 'Lord, teach us how to fish'. If you teach a person how to fish then they will never want for new disciples entering their ministry.
We changed the style of our prayer from a revivalist form to a missional form.
I noticed as we began to pray the missional way we found ourselves becoming empowered. We began to recognize there was so much opportunity and possibility lying in front of us whereas before we felt incapacitated because 'God was not moving'. We realized reaching the lost involved growing in skills, strategies, and anointing and started to take personal responsibility for this. We realized that a huge part of how many clearly hear the gospel is directly related to how effective we are at connecting with the lost and our gospel communication skills.
God saves through the power of the gospel but we are fully responsible for how many, and how well, they get to hear it.
We need to seek God for guidance, training, and wisdom so we might become brilliant fisherman.
2. Pray for workers
We still get it wrong.
We still think Jesus said 'Pray for the harvest' when, in fact, he actually said 'don't pray for the harvest because it's already ripe. Instead, pray for workers who are able to gather in the harvest'.
If we want to see converts added to our churches daily then we need an army of evangelists in our congregation.
The word 'evangelist' has unfortunately been hijacked by a certain stereotype. The image that comes into our minds when thinking about an 'evangelist' is most often the street evangelist. They are usually very bold and quickly share the gospel with people they have only just met. They are often a bit 'intense' and might be what others would call 'socially awkward'. Yet it is these qualities that make them so bold and forth right.
I am not sure you want a congregation full of this gift set unless you are a street church.
So what is an evangelist in the modern context?
If converts are going to be added to our church daily it is not going to happen by just programming or an online campaign. We are going to need a bunch of people in our church who are 'networked', or 'connected', or 'influencers' with the lost. And these people need to have a sense of mission about them so that they are not afraid to talk spiritual matters or direct people towards the gospel.
I was talking with a pastor recently who was sharing how they had a member in their congregation who was a real influencer in his community. People listened to him and he brought at least 50 people to the church over the course of a year of whom many got baptized.
That is the kind of harvesters we need.
Now imagine if you had 10 people in your congregation like this who had varying degrees of influence (the 1, 3, and 5 talents) in their communities. And imagine you had a readily accessible program set up through the church where the gospel was clearly presented. The combination of a dynamic group of 'networkers' with the tool of an 'accessible gospel presentation' opens the door to some very real transformations.
In most churches 85% of the congregation grew up in a christian world. They have little contact with the lost and an even smaller amount of influence.
The harvest is ripe but we need people who can connect and direct the harvest to Christ.
Your youth group needs two or three kids (who are not in christian schools) who have the kind of following that they are able to bring two or three kids each to camp. Your young adults need two or three networkers who can bring two or three millennials each to the volleyball night or youth alpha. Young families need two or three couples who naturally connect with families and have that kind of influence that brings them to a marriage night or small group. The ethnic group in your community needs two or three attendees from your church who will naturally bring people to a gospel encounter.
When I look back on the seasons we saw an ingathering of souls in our church I can identify the names of the people who were responsible for 80% of the 60 baptisms we saw that year. One worked with people in recovery, two with the Mandarin speaking Chinese, two with the youth, and two or three others who seemed to consistently bring people in from a variety of backgrounds.
The harvest is ready now but we simply don't have enough people connecting with it. We need to focus on praying in the workers rather than praying the lost in.
3. Pray Continually and on Point
Two of Jesus parables on prayer emphasize the idea of consistently bringing the same need before God till you see the answer. I am speaking of the parables (Luke 18) of the 'widow and the unrighteous judge' and the 'neighbour needing bread from another neighbour in the middle of the night'.
Both parables seem to be teaching that consistently seeking God again and again, to the point that it almost feels like belligerence, is key for prayers to be effective.
I have attended many charismatic prayer meetings (in fact I have lead quite a few). They are wonderfully spiritual experiences where we focus on what ever the Spirit is leading us to focus on. This week it might be the Canadian government and next week it might be a call for holiness in the church.
The challenge with this style of prayer is that it is a little like the widow asking the unrighteous judge for help with one problem this week and then asking about another next week. The change in request would have negated the effectiveness of the widow just as inconsistency in our prayer focus is why the exponential power of intercession is often lost.
True intercession is the grappling with God over one issue, that He has put in your heart, and not letting go till you see God speak and declare that it will be done.
We prayed for two years, every Tuesday, with a team of about 15 people on a very focused and narrow list of things God had put into our hearts to see accomplished in the church. One of the things we prayed religiously for is that we would become a church that grows by conversions.
Through intercession God engaged us in a process and a journey.
We never deviated from this overarching goal of being a church that 'grew through conversions' but we did, over the two years, find the Spirit refining 'how' we prayed. It was in this process of wrestling with God that we changed from 'revival' styled prayers too 'missional' prayers and from praying 'for the harvest' too 'praying for the workers'.
It is in the process of seeking God again and again that we are changed and conformed to His will and ways. And when we pray 'His will' and 'His ways' our prayers are effective.
It is on this issue of consistency that most churches fail. They start interceding for a harvest but soon the prayer withers and dies. They are like the King whom Elisha got mad with because he only struck the ground 3 times with the arrows rather than 5. He did not push through. If you want to become a church that grows through conversions you must commit to a long term, and on point, intercessory prayer meeting till the heavens are opened.
When I coach churches to become 'conversion growth' churches one of the things I quickly zero in on is the corporate prayer. I make it a priority to develop an intentional, and biblically based prayer meeting specifically focused on 'becoming a church that grows through conversions' with the partnering church because I know it is in this secret place that the future ingathering is birthed.
If we can pray in an effective manner that God aligns us with God's plans, and in the spirit of Jacob we don't let go till blessing is promised, we will be amazed with what God will do.