We were gathering in a church parking lot on a Saturday morning for a prayer walk. A man I had just met peered through steam rising from a styrofoam cup and asked:
“So, we’re going to mill around the neighborhood muttering to ourselves?”
“Yes,” I replied with a nod. “Yes, we are.”
He smiled, shook his head, and said, “OK.”
This kind of questioning observation serves as a healthy reminder to congregational leaders. It is important to explain why the church is prayer walking. Here are the four most common motivations for churches:
“As you are going, make disciples of all people groups…” (Matthew 28:19 my translation)
Bethany Lutheran Church in suburban Cincinnati holds prayer walks. There is a fair amount of turnover among the residents living in the subdivisions around the church. In addition, there is an apartment complex within blocks of the church.
Bethany’s prayer walks are designed to help members become aware of needs and opportunities for outreach right around the church. This reflects the most widespread motivation for prayer walks: A church wants to make disciples of Jesus among people who live close to the church facilities.
“Love thy neighbor(hood) as thyself.” (My editorial take on Matthew 22:39)
The following is a comment I have heard repeatedly from church leaders the past decade: “None of our members live in this neighborhood.” I call such congregations “commuter churches.” Members drive ten or more minutes, often passing numerous congregations, to attend their church.
In my experience, members of such churches primarily look for people similar to themselves from outlying areas to join their church. Because they have no relationships in the local community, the congregation rarely engages the local community.
The church should do both. If there is any doubt about this, remember “the church” is the members, not the building. The people in the community around the congregation are literally the neighbors of the “church” when the congregation gathers together.
This motivation for a prayer walk is to “love thy neighbor.” Participants intercede for people they see, take notes on needs the church could meet and ask people how the congregation could bless the community.
“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care…” (1st Peter 5:2, NIV)
The job of a shepherd is to tend a healthy, reproducing flock. Pastors and elders are charged with creating an environment where congregational members gain spiritual maturity and new disciples are brought to faith in Jesus.
For this reason, sometimes congregational leaders are motivated to hold prayer walks for the spiritual care of congregational members. Spiritual care includes teaching member how to live out the Christian life, such as a praying and witnessing and serving. Prayer walks provide great opportunities for members to “learn by doing.”
As a parish pastor, I had a sense of when members would benefit from taking a step in faith outside their comfort zone. For some members, praying aloud was a challenge. Others were stretched by talking about their faith or church with strangers. Prayer walking created such opportunities.
“(Jesus)…sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go.” (Luke 10:1, NIV)
Trinity Lutheran Church in Elmore, OH was discerning whether God was leading the church to support a new church in a neighboring community.
The congregation held a prayer walk in its own neighborhood so members could learn the process. Once members were trained, the church held Prayer Walks in the neighboring community. Ultimately, the congregation started a weekly Bible study in the neighboring community to further test whether God was starting a new work.
Prayer walking can help prepare for Gospel outreach. In a sense, it reflects Jesus sending out disciples in pairs to prepare for his arrival in communities.
What are additional motivations for prayer walks? Share your insights in the comments or shoot me an email.
If you would like a downloadable materials for prayer walking, go to the Resources page. For additional content about prayer walking, go to the following: