Prayer is the Spiritual Electricity of Congregational Revitalization


Sue Nilson Kibbey says a robust prayer life can be a powerful catalyst for congregational renewal. It can shift a church’s gaze “up and out,” countering negativity and doubt. Leaders live into their prayers with an openness that powers transformation when they pray with the genuine expectation that it really does make a difference.

If your church or ministry is discouraged and seems stuck in the habit of perennially looking “down and in” with discouragement, an additive component of asking God in your mutual prayer life for new breakthrough possibilities to unfold is the most powerful and effective catalyst I’ve ever seen. It has the miraculous potential to shift your collective gaze “up and out” instead, finally seeing and anticipating where God wants to lead you next. It can transform a church refrain of “Woe is us” to “Wow, look at us!” — assuming of course, that when you pray you genuinely believe that prayer makes a difference.

Are you praying with low expectations?

You see, it’s entirely possible for a congregation, for its leaders, and for you personally to have only an intellectual belief in the importance and value of prayer. Prayer might open and close meetings in your setting, for example, including naming prayer concerns by those in attendance or asking God to bless ministry efforts already underway. Your weekly worship service typically includes prayer, perhaps led by the pastor or read collectively from your hymnal, worship bulletin, or liturgical guidebook. The Lord’s Prayer is a sacred, historic ritual repeated together in most churches. And you yourself likely have a prayer life, however informal and sporadic at times it may feel, when you ask God for help, calm, protection, safekeeping, healing for loved ones or yourself, and provision for a need you may have or see in the moment.

But once any of those prayers have been offered, do you really believe without question that there will be a Spirit-fueled response starting to unfold immediately on a divine timeframe, activated by the loving Almighty who is listening?

How easy it is unfortunately for a person, leadership team, or congregation to pray and then proceed with the reverse, low-expectation attitude that the prayer faces the unlikeliness that God will act. Those with only an intellectual belief about prayer may not even actively look, observe, or notice how and when God’s response starts breaking through. Those with merely an intellectual belief in prayer may even conclude, when God hasn’t followed the instructions in their prayers exactly, that God has not answered the prayers at all. In such cases, the expectations about the efficacy of prayer remain low.

Believing that prayer makes a difference

Here’s the difference between simply believing that prayer is important versus committing all you are — your heart, mind, spirit, and will — to the thoroughgoing expectation — even conviction — that prayer does make a difference.

It’s letting go of the assumption that God’s supernatural, all-encompassing transformational love should only manifest the way you want and as you request that it should. It’s instead surrendering to the profound, game-changing reality that God’s all-loving response to your prayers will be in accordance with a far greater miraculous Hand, fueled with redemptive intention beyond what you could ask, think, or imagine. And so, when we pray, we can ask God as specifically as we want for what we believe would be best while trusting that God’s response will be even better or different according to a renewing, reconciling, resurrection-infused redemptive wisdom far beyond ours.

Prayer as spiritual electricity

Are you willing to embrace your prayer life and the prayers of your team and congregation as “spiritual electricity” of a nature that cannot always be anticipated but carries that kind of supernatural power and energy directed by God’s Spirit? If you choose to make this your unshakable bedrock understanding of prayer, even when you have moments or seasons of human doubt or impatience, you will find yourself and your church living into your prayers with no-holds-barred openness. You will lean toward, grow observant of, and remain surrendered to God’s responses. And it will be the path to exciting and challenging spiritual adventures beyond your imagination in your own maturing faith, in your life as a leader, in your congregation, and in God’s ability to use you as a world changer for Christ.

This material is excerpted from Ultimate Reliance: Breakthrough Prayer Practices for Leaders (Abingdon Press, 2019) by Sue Nilson Kibbey. Used by permission. The book is available at Cokesbury and Amazon. Used by permission.

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About Author

Sue Nilson Kibbey is the inaugural director of the Bishop Bruce Ough Innovation Center at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. Previously, she served as Director of the Office of Missional Church Development for the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church. Since writing Ultimately Responsible: When You’re in Charge of Igniting a Ministry in 2006 (available at Cokesbury and Amazon), she has coauthored several more books, most recently Dynamite Prayer.

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Discovering God’s Future for Your Church

Discovering God’s Future for Your Church is a turn-key tool kit to help your congregation discern and implement God’s vision for its future. The resource guides your church in discovering clues to your vision in your history and culture, your current congregational strengths and weaknesses, and the needs of your surrounding community. The tool kit features videos, leader’s guides, discussion exercises, planning tools, handouts, diagrams, worksheets, and more. Learn more and watch an introductory video now.