This guest post from Jay Campbell, Director of Youth Ministries at Fairfax UMC in Virginia, offers this adaptable plan for inviting your youth into a night of prayer by exploring the whole church, learning about what ministry is taking place in each space and offering prayer for God's work in those ministries.
I love offering students different ways of prayer and I love helping youth see what the church is and what it can be. Prayer Journey Through the Church is a night of prayer that gets youth to pray, learn about the life of the church, and to pray and imagine for what the church can be.
We gave each youth and adult leader a journal/guide for the night to direct them to various places in the church. One time we had prayer stations present at each spot they visited. Another time the prayer stations/guides were in their journal. As they walked from one space to the next, they were reading about what happens in the life of their local church in each space.
After taking a minute to consider what ministry is happening in and through the local church, they are given prayer points to spend a minute or two praying for the ministries that the particular space represents.
Both times I have done this the youth have shared how eye opening it was to learn what all was happening in the life of the church and it helped them see some of the spaces differently. It has also helped them see that the church can be more and to imagine new possibilities.
Here are some examples of the places we used:
Staff offices – Explore the offices and perhaps conference room. This is where the staff spends a lot of their time praying, planning, dreaming, and preparing for works of worship, spiritual formation, community building, active transformational mission in the world, counseling, visioning, handling all the administration and communication, developing resources for congregational spiritual growth, continuing to learn about theology and practices of ministry, and much more.
Prayer Points – pray that God would lead all churches throughout the world; pray for the staff of this church, that they would be led by the Spirit in all that they do; pray that God will raise and build up authentic church leaders who are humble, dedicated, passionate, willing to learn and servant hearted.
Christian Education Rooms (where adults, children and youth meet weekly)
This is the space where spiritual formation, education, community, and growth happen. (Share a little bit about what unique discipleship opportunities are available in your church in these spaces. Also consider any other groups that meet here such as: AA, ESL, etc…)
Prayer points – offer prayers for multiple generations to continue learning and growing in their faith through conversation and study. Pray for immigrants and people who may have struggled with addiction to find healing, community and their needs to be met and cared for by this congregation. Pray for who is not meeting in these spaces and how God can use us to connect to new people.
Let’s be honest, not all church libraries are that great (if they even have one). But in theory they point to something powerful. The church has a responsibility to point people to resources that will nurture and equip them on their spiritual journey. A church library is a reminder of this and a call to provide meaningful resources whether books, devotionals, online resources, or also connections to groups and organizations where church members can live into their passions that God has cultivated within them.
The space where community and building friendships really seems to take place. People gather here to share food, hugs, laughter and life stories. It’s a central place many in the church gather.
Prayer points – pray for this to be a space where life is shared and community is strengthened. Pray for events to be offered that are meaningful and meet people’s needs that are in line with the mission of the church
Space where your committees meet
Share about what church committees meet here every month and why they are important.
Prayer Points – pray for the decisions that will be made here that effect the church will be guided and led by the Spirit. Pray that decision makers will be focused first on the kingdom of God.
Invite them to step outside of the church through one of the main doors. This reminds us that we do not gather for the sake of gathering, but we gather to be sent out into the world. The church should be at the forefront of alleviating poverty, helping victims of abuse and violence, work to eliminate unjust and oppressive social systems all on the name of God’s love and worship should remind us of this each time we prepare to step outside the doors of the church.
Prayer points – invite the youth to pray for various social issues that affect people all around the world (gun-violence, poverty, war, the environment, refugees). Invite them to pray for how the church can respond and how they can be apart of the movement of God in the world
The Outside Ramp
The ramp reminds us that a church strives to be a place that welcomes people of all abilities. The ramp serves as a reminder that the church is called to be an inclusive church that welcomes all people regardless of sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, economic status, physical or mental abilities, or any other barrier and wall that we put up.
Prayer Points – Pray for your church to be a leader in ending discrimination and that your church will work to eliminate racism, sexism, heterosexism and all other isms. Pray for the church to boldly welcome all people. Pray for those who have been hurt and outcast by the church. Pray for your church can be more inclusive and what work you can do to make inclusion a stronger reality.
The space for communal worship – we worship God through song, we hear teaching through the proclamation of our sacred scriptures, we join together with our church family and also in spirit with churches all over the world. We join together in congregational prayer to the world. We partake in the mystery of God’s grace through the sacraments. We give an offering to God as an expression of worship and devotion. People seek to find a healing word of comfort and hope from God, and also we listen for challenging, prophetic words where God calls us to change and work for change in the world.
Invite them to go the baptismal font and dip their finger in the water and make the sign of the cross on their forehead to remember their baptism. Invite the youth to spend time praying by kneeling at the altar, listening to the worship music overhead. For their prayer points invite them to pray for spirit-filled worship, for worship that will inspire and shape lives for holy living.
I usually have everyone end in the sanctuary and we end with a time of sharing communion together. After communion we share in a time of reflection to see how the experience was for them.
The night is a movement of prayer around the whole church. In some places I have worship music playing in the background, in other spaces I have instrumental music playing and then in some is just silence. I think each of these avenues adds a certain dynamic to the worshipful experience. Please adapt this to fit your context. These were powerful nights for us and I hope it will be for you too.
Written by Jay Alexander