|Prayer and the Health of the Church|
Church Growth Today
This is a surprise to most Christians in the Global North (i.e. Western Europe, North America, and Australia). If anything, we tend to think of this as the great age of martyrdom within global Christianity and a time of waning influence on culture. People who hold to premillennial eschatology often portray our age as the time of the “Great Falling Away” preceding the coming of the Antichrist.
It is true that more Christians were martyred in the twentieth century than in the rest of church history combined, and the beginnings of the twenty-first century look even worse. Nonetheless, it is also true that the church in the Global South has been exploding. Consider the following statistics:
The examples can be multiplied.
In contrast, Christianity in the Global North has stagnated at best. In many ways, it seems like it is in full retreat. The question is, why?
Why There and Not Here?
All of these explanations view the success or failure of the church’s mission in secular terms: the church’s impact depends first and foremost on the cultural and societal conditions, and the church’s failures come from not adopting the best methods or not adjusting the message to suit the culture’s interests, felt needs, and desires.
There are two problems with this way of thinking: it results in a secularized Gospel, and it ignores the spiritual dimensions of the church’s work, substituting techniques drawn from the culture for reliance on the Spirit.
The failures of these explanations point to the real explanation: Christians in the Global North are far more likely to rely on our own resources rather than prayer to get things done. In the Global South, they don’t have the resources to do any of that; they have no choice but to rely on God for their needs. Where we tend to make plans and pray that God would bless them, in the Global South, everything begins and ends with long, serious, intense prayer.
To put this in perspective, consider the prayer schedule of one network of churches and partner ministries in Anglophone West Africa, specifically in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Gambia, Northern Nigeria, and Ghana.
Prayer Calendar in Anglophone West Africa
On a daily basis, there are prayer chains at 40 prayer centers around the five countries; people take 90 minute shifts praying throughout the day.
Also each day, all ministry teams, offices and schools stop for 30 minutes of mid-day intercession and worship.
Throughout the year, the churches spend every Wednesday (or Thursday) in fasting and prayer and break their fast together in the evening with Bible study and corporate prayers.
They also spend a half or a whole night of prayer in every church one Friday every month.
The last day of every month, all Christians are encouraged to leave their houses and engage their neighbors in prayer for their needs.
Prayer Mobilizations (meetings to pray for open doors for disciple making) are held quarterly.
Upper Room Meetings are also held quarterly. These are prayer gatherings for the senior leaders in Disciple Making Movements (DMM)[ii] in the region.
Periodically, the churches hold Daniel Prayer Meetings focused on spiritual restoration, including for the church in the Global North.
The churches also hold Victory Weekend Retreats for people who are in spiritual battle. People receive personal attention at these retreats, which also includes intercession for prayer requests from around the world.
To finish the year, the churches spend the last three days of December in thanksgiving, prayer, and fasting.
In addition to the prayer calendar and the regular prayer events, a few thousand dedicated intercessors are on 24 hour call to fast and pray for urgent matters that come up in the life of the church.
Objects of Prayer
They also pray for God’s favor on other African ministries and churches that partner with them in disciple making, for blessing on their financial partners, and for the work of key disciple making pioneers and leaders around the world. They also pray regularly that Disciple Making Movements would start in the Global North to help restore the church here.
These are the constants. Special prayer needs always come up as well of course, and these are distributed throughout the month to all the churches and prayer centers.
Is it any wonder that God is at work there?
Every major advance of the church and every revival throughout history was preceded by an often lengthy period of widespread, intense prayer. There is no reason to think that the church in America and Western Europe will recover in our day without a similar commitment to prayer.
So here’s a proposal heading into the New Year: spend one day a week in fasting and prayer about a particular issue that God has placed on your heart. It could be for the start of a Disciple Making Movement, or revival, or for the persecuted church, or abortion, or whatever other cause moves you. If you are new to fasting, I suggest starting small—skipping breakfast and lunch but drinking whatever you would like during the day—and increase the rigor over time. And don’t do this by yourself, but invite others to join you. This is far less than our brothers in Africa are doing right now, but it will be a start.
Although we cannot control the Spirit, if we dedicate ourselves to prayer and learn to make disciples the way Jesus told us to, we can trust that God will bless our efforts since he wants the growth of His Kingdom even more than we do. But He will only provide that growth if we rely on Him and do things His way.
[i] David Garrison, A Wind in the House of Islam, 18.
[ii] A Disciple Making Movement is a large scale, self-sustaining movement similar to a revival but more externally focused: whereas revivals occur within churches, DMMs emphasize outreach with a particular focus on obedience-based discipleship rather than simple conversion.
How about it—are you ready, finally, to begin a prayer discipline? Why not take up Glenn’s suggestion of one day per week of fasting and prayer, and use the resources below to help?