As a pastor, I often ponder how my church can be more effective at sharing the love and gospel of Jesus with our community. Ours is not a large town. We are a community of roughly 1700 people in a county of around 18,000. This presents certain challenges to evangelism: many people are commuters, we don’t really have a “town center” where large numbers of people regularly gather (well, maybe the football field in the fall), and many people said a prayer and were baptized as a kid in VBS or the likes, so they don’t think they need anything else despite the fact that little in their life resembles a follower of Jesus.
At the foundation of everything we have attempted as a church, we have prayed about reaching those without Jesus, but at the start of 2017 I was convicted that we need to refocus our prayers: We need to pray, specifically and by name, for individuals to come to know Jesus.
This is something that I had encouraged on a private and individual level in the past, but I decided we needed to do more together as a church. So, I put the following plan into motion.
First, I preached on the need to pray for people to come to faith in Jesus. For the better part of 2017, I have been working through John 13-21 in my sermons as we lead up to Easter. Halfway through John 14, Jesus said:
Truly, Truly I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. ~ John 14:12-14 (ESV)
I am convinced that these “greater works” relate to the mission to see people come to know Jesus. Despite thousands showing up to hear his teachings and see his miracles from time to time, at the end of his ministry Jesus was only left with 100 or so followers and a core group of 11 (Acts 1). Once the Holy Spirit came on the scene in Acts 2, this quickly ballooned to 3000 and growing (Acts 2). But, from a numbers perspective, Jesus’ ministry was not all that impressive, especially for one who claimed to bring salvation to the whole world.
We must remember, however, that Jesus’ purpose wasn’t to complete this task in his three-year ministry, but to provide the means of salvation. He then gave the command to us as his followers to go out with his gospel and disciple the nations.
If I have John 14:12 correct, then it adds focus to 14:13-14. To ask in Jesus’ name is to ask according to his character, purpose, and will. That also involves the salvation of a “people for his own possession,” as Paul would say. So, many of our prayers should be related to our mission. I forget who said it, but I love the quote: If you look at most of our prayer lists, it seems we spend more time praying to keep people out of heaven (health concerns) than to get people into heaven (salvation). There’s nothing wrong with us praying for people’s health, family situation, jobs, or finances; but in the end a person’s soul is far more important than their broken leg. We should be zealous about praying for people’s health and we should be even more zealous about praying for their souls.
Second, I challenged my congregation to commit to pray for the salvation of at least two people they know who are not followers of Jesus. These could be their coworkers, neighbors, classmates, or family members. For three weeks, we provided a sheet of paper in the bulletin. The top half contained room and instructions for writing down and committing to pray for these names. On the bottom half, they could duplicate these names and turn them in to me, so that…
Third, we took the submitted names and produced a 4-week, 28-day prayer calendar. The submitted names were divided alphabetically across six days each week. The seventh day was set aside to pray for a specific unreached people group, in our case the Turkish-speaking Kurds of Turkey. I got the URPG information from www.joshuaproject.net (a site I highly recommend as a prayer resource. They even have a prayer app you can download). Then over the next three weeks, these names and URPG were repeated.
Each week was given a different set of verses and a theme to pray. Week 1 is Romans 10:8-17 with the theme: “That these might hear the gospel, and in hearing turn to Jesus in faith.” Week 2 is 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 and John 10:10, “That these would find liberty from sin and come to have the fullness of life in Jesus.” Week 3 is John 3:3-8, “That these might experience a new birth by the Holy Spirit.” And Week 4 is Colossians 4:2-6, “That God would open a door for us and others to share the gospel with these.” When the 28-days are up, we can use days 29-31 to catch up on any days we missed or pray for new people God has laid on our hearts, and when the next month begins, we start back at day 1.
Altogether, we had 70 names turned in for our calendar. That’s not yet two people per attendee, but it’s a start.
The beautiful thing about this list is that, even though no one person in the church knows everybody listed, everybody listed is connected to at least one person in the church. These are specific and known people that we are praying for.
Fourth, I am having the deacons pray for 5 or 6 of these names during their Sunday Morning prayer time. We incorporate several periods of prayer in our worship gathering. We have an opening scripture reading and prayer, we pray before the offering, I pray before the sermon, and we have a responsive prayer after the sermon. Also, planned into this is a time of intercessory prayer, usually led by one of the deacons. Like in many of our Baptist churches, this list typically is dominated by health concerns. Now, they include names from our 28-day prayer calendar.
So… Here’s my question for you: What are you doing in your own life and church in order to pray specific prayers for individuals in your life and community who are without Jesus? If the answer is not much, then I challenge you to start. Maybe the example from my church will inspire something similar at yours. I’ve also attached a copy of our prayer calendar here, so you can see what it is that we are doing.