Baptists don’t do congregational prayer. They want to, and they know how, but they don’t know that they know how.
This is my conclusion after a study of worship in some twenty Arkansas Baptist Churches that ranged in size from a tiny mountain congregation to the largest churches in the state. I profiled contemporary, blended, and traditional, but the result was always the same; Baptist worshipers are not being led to pray during their Sunday morning worship.
The Barna Research Group of
With prayer seen as the most important element of worship, you would expect it to play a dominant role, especially congregational prayer which actually engages the worshiper. Not so in Baptist churches. My study reveals that the sermon is 40% of the service; music is 23%; announcements use 6%; invitation, 5%; monologue prayer, 4%; but congregational prayer is less than ˝ %.
Before you say, “Well our church is different.” Let me define congregational prayer. In true congregational prayer, everyone is involved in the prayer. Other denominations (my study included eight) do this consistently. From liturgical churches that read prayers together to Charismatics with their extended prayer times, they all do it. The best Baptists can do is have someone say a monologue prayer while everyone else is expected to follow their lead. Even when we have altar-calls for prayer, we still lead it with a monologue prayer.
Why are we so inept at congregational prayer? I believe we’ve become prayer-paralyzed between the liturgies of our distant past and the Charismatic extremes that we don’t want for our future.
What should we do? We need a revival of congregational prayer. During the past few decades, the worship wars have revealed that Baptists have some of the most creative pastors and worship leaders in the world. We need to ask them to refocus their attention from worship styles to worship prayer.
My study reveals a good place to start: the invitation. Yes, the invitation. This is an area of worship where Baptists excel. Think about it. A good Baptist invitation almost always involves a time of guided meditation and prayer. We do it better than anyone, but somehow we’ve never applied these skills to worship.
How wonderful it would be if every Sunday morning Baptist congregations had a time of guided meditation and prayer right in the middle of the music service - a few minutes in which they were led into the Father’s presence for a personal encounter with Him in prayer.
Shortly after I started experimenting with this kind of congregational prayer, a young father shook my hand in the foyer and said, “Pastor, I don’t listen to your pastoral prayer anymore; you get me started talking to God, and I don’t hear anything else.”
I said, “Halleluiah!”