So far, our team has interviewed about 30 churches in the Northeastern Jurisdiction for our Toward Vitality research project. The goal of this project is to discover how churches change their culture to be able to reach new people, younger people, more diverse people; in other words, to move toward vitality. Every one of the churches interviewed has told us about the importance of prayer as they discerned what it was that God wanted to accomplish through them in their communities.
Amberson United Methodist Church, a rural congregation in the Susquehanna Conference, formerly the Central Pennsylvania Conference, has grown from 30 to 130 in the past eight to ten years. This congregation attributes their growth to constant prayer in order to stay focused on what God desires. Over a significant period of time the folks of Amberson church covenanted together with their part-time local pastor to pray and gather regularly to share what they were hearing and experiencing as a result of their prayers. They gave up their old building and built a new one and took on significant debt and fear of failure to make more room for the people that God wanted them to reach. The leaders of this congregation built significant relationships with the public school officials and community leaders to learn of the needs in their community. Now there are more children involved in their congregation than they once had members! Amberson UMC celebrates an active prayer life!
Belfast UMC in Maine is a medium sized church that recently experienced a pastoral change – their pastor of 14 years was appointed to a different congregation and a new pastor was coming to Belfast. In obedience to their calling as Christian people, the Belfast congregation spent several months praying for the pastor who was leaving and the pastor who was coming. They prayed for the three congregations that would be impacted and for the families in transition. By the time that Pastor Jinwoo arrived at Belfast UMC, he was an old friend, and there was a smooth transition for all!
The leaders of Grace UMC in St Johnsbury, Vermont said during their interview: “We stopped and prayed often. We didn’t want this to be about us! Our focus is on reaching people for Christ – we had to do a heart check often.” The leaders of Community of Grace in Huntingdon, W.V. said: “We had no idea what we were doing (in the midst of change), and when you don’t know what you’re doing, you have no other resource than prayer”!
How does your congregation pray? Are you asking and listening for a sense of God’s desires for your church in your community? What if a group of your congregation’s leaders decided to make prayer a priority in the next three months? Can you even imagine what God could do through you if you prayed? God does promise to forgive our sins and heal our land – if God’s people will pray.
2 Chronicles 7:14 – “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray… I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and heal their land.”