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How Personal Prayer Hurts Corporate Prayer

In most churches in the western world, only a small fraction of believers participate in expressions of corporate prayer. This is a sad statement, and it is the reason why the American church is virtually powerless.

One of the most significant reasons why many do not participate is that corporate prayer in most churches is not corporate prayer, but personal prayer done in a group. By that I mean, usually everyone brings their own prayer practices into the larger group. This can make the prayer time dull and frustrating for many participants.

Here are two personal prayer practices that hinder true corporate prayer:

1. Long Prayers that Remember Everything. Many people forget that they are praying with others. When they launch into prayer, they pray as long as they would if at home (5 to 15 minutes or more) and remember everything on the prayer list. So the prayer time becomes only four or five people filling the hour, each praying a long prayer that goes over everything again. This group can never grow because there isn’t time for more people to pray. It also is intimidating to newer believers who aren’t used to praying long prayers. Powerful corporate prayer should cover one topic at a time and people praying only about that theme.

2. My Agenda Should Be Your Agenda. Many prayer groups are killed by people who refuse to accept that the group is to focus on a specific prayer topic (for example: community transformation). Those people bring up what they would pray for in their own prayer time, the things that are on their own hearts, their cousin’s health need, a missionary they support, etc. In most prayer groups, the leader doesn’t stop this, thinking it would be cruel not to pray for whatever is brought up. But this weakens the group dynamic and says that everyone’s agenda is more important than that of the church leader who is given the responsibility of leading the prayer group. I have watched many prayer groups start well, only to eventually die out because they reverted to being a session to pray for everyone’s agendas.

If a church wants to see a weekly corporate prayer time grow, it may very well need to address this issue. Is your group struggling because your prayer times are dominated by personal prayer practices rather than corporate ones?

-Jonathan Graf is the president of the Church Prayer Leaders Network. His desire is to see churches become prayer-based. He is available for prayer weekends and consulting with your leadership team. Contact him at

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Comment by Andrew R. Wheeler on September 24, 2010 at 7:50am
Steal away, Jonathan! I really appreciate your thoughts on this subject.
Comment by Jonathan Graf on September 24, 2010 at 5:52am
Love your thoughts Andrew. Your analogy of a worship service where everyone starts their own song is spot on. I may have to steal that for my seminar on the subject!
Comment by Andrew R. Wheeler on September 21, 2010 at 9:07pm
From a personal prayer standpoint, I agree. In fact, my personal prayer life sometimes suffers from overthinking the "system" - I can end up spending more time planning and thinking about prayer than actually praying.

But from a corporate or community standpoint, I don't think you can create a culture of prayer in a church without a widespread understanding of principles for praying together effectively. If everyone just prays as he or she sees fit - regardless of their level of conviction - the prayer time will lack unity and agreement.

The idea is much like Paul's instructions about orderly worship in the second half of 1 Corinthians 14. When the believers came together, each person was participating in the worship as he or she saw fit, with prophecies, tongues, hymns, etc. The resulting chaos neither honored God nor benefitted the believers, who were each more focused on using their own spiritual gifts than on learning from the gifts God gave others.

This is the way our community prayer times can be if there are no guiding principles established, if everyone is left to pray according to his or her conscience. It would be like a worship service where everyone picked their own favorite hymn to sing, regardless of what was being sung up front. For there to be meaningful worship, there needs to be unity of participation. The same is true of community prayer. Setting up a framework for the prayer time provides the basis for that unity of participation.
Comment by EMMANUEL ADETONA on September 21, 2010 at 10:40am
I think it will be awesome to first develop a praying culture in our Churches before we can develop a viable and thriving corporate praying Nework. Regardless of the time it takes to pray, having deep convictions about praying and praying effectively to the God of heaven is much more important than the system of praying and the length of our prayers.
Comment by Andrew R. Wheeler on September 20, 2010 at 7:50pm
Jonathan, I couldn't agree more! Praying long prayers in a corporate setting is a way of subtly communicating that what I have to pray is more important than what you have to pray, that I'm not interested in your participation. Community prayer should be seen as a group conversation, because that's what it is - the conversation of a group with God. Dominating the prayer time is much like dominating a group conversation - it's all about me, not about what others have to contribute. There's no agreement there - just one person praying and a few others dozing.
Comment by Dr. James Evans McReynolds on September 20, 2010 at 7:11pm
That's why our First Christian Church in Weeping Water, Nebraska divided into small groups of three.
We have prayed since Pentecost for God's guidance in our church setting. Dr. James E. McReynolds, pastor.

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