Kevin and I spend a lot of time visiting churches to sing and play our music. We rarely get to visit the big thriving churches you hear about. The churches that God has sent us out to speak to, are the ones that probably don’t feel they can afford for musicians to travel and spend time with them.
They’re tired, often dispirited, and wondering where their congregations have gone. They sometimes have no incumbent minister, because they can’t afford it; so someone coming in to do three songs and three stories in the sermon slot, or to sing after the service is over, can provide welcome refreshment and encouragement.
And we always get asked about the church we attend at home – How do we attract new members? How do we bring in, and keep, young people? What is so special about our church that results in about 450 worshippers coming through our doors every Sunday?
Church PCCs up and down the country can discuss the problem of dwindling congregations ad-infinitum. All over the UK, there are churches who watch their congregations age and die, one by one, and thus they grow ever emptier until the day they finally have to admit defeat and close their doors for good.
But among the struggle with church finances, the rights and wrongs of differing styles of worship and what it takes to engage and keep the next generation, they often miss the one great thing that they really do have – the tenacity that the older generation can have for on going, long-term prayer.
At St Andrews we’ve just started a prayer group that focuses entirely on healing. A group of about ten people meet at six o’clock every Friday to pray for anyone that we’re asked to. Not always the same ten turn up. There are probably about twenty of us in total, but in among the complexities of life, there always seem to be about ten of us who actually make it along. And we’re witnessing miracles.
But the prayer group that is raised by our thriving, all age church has no-one under the age of forty-five, because that’s what the older generation can be really good at. With some notable exceptions, young people tend not to be quite as good at committed, on going, day in, day out intercession as their older counterparts. Not a criticism. Just the way it tends to be.
And I have absolutely no doubt in my mind that without that tenacity, from just a small group of such people, the church Kevin, Jamie and I enjoy would not be what it is today.
About twenty-five years ago, it was just another dying church. Every week, the same group of people met to attend Sunday worship. There were probably about forty of them, and numbers were dwindling. Until, in 1993, three men started to meet every Monday night to pray for revival. They have continued to do so ever since. When asked about what happened during those years, they tell the story with humility; they emphasise the importance of prayer through the Holy Spirit. And persistence.
If, you walk into any church and state that prayer works, you will be met with sage nods of agreement. But in spite of that, we’re also rather good at devising reasons as to why it didn’t work in a given situation, rather than – well – asking again. And again.
Holy Trinity, Cheltenham has a similar story. This was a church that was about to be closed, when a group of women started to pray. Now it’s a rare Sunday if fewer than 650 worshippers walk through its doors.
Perhaps my favourite story about persistent prayer is the one about the great Preacher, D.L.Moody. Apparently he carried a list of one hundred non-Christians that he prayed for every day of his life. Every time one of them became a Christian, Moody would cross that name off the list, until, when he died, ninety-six of them had been crossed out. The last four people gave their lives to Christ at Moody’s funeral.
I’ve talked about ’prayer warriors’ in previous blogs, and if we really want to see revival in our churches, then that is what we need to be – on the front line praying daily, month after month, year after year, for each step of ground won for Jesus.
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