The Role of Prayer in Evangelism

This is an excerpt from Lausanne Occasional Paper 42:  Prayer in Evangelism which was published in connection with the 2004 Forum for World Evangelization, and is republished here with permission from the Lausanne Movement.

Prayer is fundamental to evangelism. It is fundamental because the work of redemption is the work of God the Holy Spirit (‘God the Evangelist’) even as it is focused on the glory of Christ: the Lamb that was slain for the sins of the world.

Prayer acknowledges God’s primacy in the saving of lives, human inadequacies (‘Not by might, nor by power …’) and fulfills God’s command that Christians ask him to act. In Ezekiel 37, for example, the prophet is commanded to proclaim the promises of God to the dry bones, but Ezekiel is also commanded to pray to the wind—the Spirit. The latter is commanded so that the bones can indeed live. The praying and preaching in Acts 1–6 reflect the same.

Prayer is both a form of, and a tool to support evangelism. Many have come to Christ through a dream, a vision or a revelation without direct human communication of the gospel. Although very often there has been a person praying for the one whom the Lord has spoken to through the dream or vision and usually the Lord in the dream directs the person to a man or a woman to go and see. This is the sovereign work of God in response to the cry of God’s people, through prayer, for the lost of this world.

Others, whose hearts have been prepared by the prayers of the saints, come to Christ through hearing or reading the word of God. There is an increased understanding that the sooner prayer is introduced into the planning stage of evangelistic activities the greater is the impact and the fruit that emerges from that activity. Evangelism that is birthed out of prayer produces much fruit, but evangelism without prayer is largely sterile.

If the church is to be effective in evangelizing the community it serves, it must first commit to a strategy of prayer that will prepare the individual hearts of people to receive and positively respond to the gospel message, as well as impact the spiritual soil of a whole city, thus creating an environment of openness to the gospel in the hearts of the unsaved.

Strategies for effective prayer, as with effective evangelism, usually come from mature, passionate leaders trained and motivated by the biblical examples of the life changing nature of prayer and its impact upon the lives of people. There are today too few leaders who have learned and experienced the power of prayer themselves, hence the not uncommon assumption prevalent across the church that prayer is a worthwhile optional support for evangelism, rather than a strategic tool for effective evangelism.

A theological understanding of prayer and its impact on aligning the hearts of people with the purposes of God in the salvation process, would do much to encourage more believers to commit to prayer as a strategy and evangelism as an activity worthy of their time and effort. Local pastors must also take responsibility to instruct and lead their congregations in the development of new understandings and the implementation of new strategies in prayer, directed towards focusing the whole church back to the importance of engaging in the Great Commission.

One of the best methods of instruction and motivation for people is the modeling of strategic principles by their leaders. If the leaders do not pray it is unlikely their congregations will pray. If they themselves are not committed to evangelism then neither will their congregation be. If leaders do not have and/or cannot inspire a vision for the church to impact their whole community, the people will not be motivated to work towards the extension of the kingdom of God. Their commitment is not likely to go beyond the day-to-day running of their church programs.

Most pastors understand today that the task of evangelization of a whole community is beyond a single church or individual to achieve. Past efforts, which have been largely unproductive, are encouraging pastors to look to other pastors for relational and co-operational support. Pastors prayer groups are springing up in many cities and nations to provide the opportunity for the first time in many years for combined church initiatives to be initiated thus providing greater momentum and support to the task of evangelism.

Church leaders must assist their congregations to expand their vision to also embrace this ‘city mindset’ that longs for people to be added to the kingdom rather than looking only for more people to be added to the membership of their church. Our experience is that people are quick to respond to a clear vision presented by responsible and trusted leaders. They are simply waiting like sheep for a shepherd to show them the way.

Prayer alone does not do the work of the evangelist. It is an essential and vital part of a process without which evangelism will lack power and fail to produce results. Prayer, however, is not passive and strategies of taking prayer from the pew into the city must be developed. Such strategies will include:

1. Formation of citywide and local church intercessory prayer teams to focus on specific issues of prayer. These teams will require proper training, mentoring and mobilization to enable them to engage in effective prayer ministry in their community.

2. Undertake research in an endeavor to discover “hidden” hindrances to the reception of the gospel within given communities and the development of strategies to counter and/or remove those hindrances through prayer. There are many examples of places which have become known as “hard” places to evangelize. To ask the question why is to begin a process of understanding that brings much enlightenment to many unanswered questions of the past. Yesterday’s “defeats” are being turned into today’s “victories” as an ever increasing understanding of spiritual issues affecting cities and nations is being gained by a church hungry to reach the lost.

3. Taking spiritual responsibility for their community by prayer walking the streets of the city, praying for every home and ultimately for the salvation of every person. Our media is daily full of the needs of our communities which require a spiritual response not generally available to our community and governmental leaders. This provides the church with a wonderful opportunity to, in a spirit of humility, become part of the answer for the communities felt and expressed needs.

Strategies to match the prayer resources of the church with the felt and expressed needs of the community open up almost unlimited opportunity for the church to regain lost credibility with the world we seek to reach.

The Lausanne Movement connects influencers and ideas for global mission, with a vision of the gospel for every person, an evangelical church for every people, Christ-like leaders for every church and kingdom impact in every sphere of society. This article originally appeared on Lausanne.org.