Building Healthy Multisite Churches: Prayer

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from Multisite Churches: Biblical Foundations and Practical Answers
by Dustin L. Slaton

In his classic book on prayer, Andrew Murray writes,

And of all the traits of a life like Christ . . . there is none higher and more glorious than conformity to Him in the work that now engages Him without ceasing in the Father’s presence—His all-prevailing intercession. . . it is only when the Church. . . gives herself up to this holy work of intercession that we can expect the power of Christ to manifest itself in her behalf.[1]

He adds again, “Who can say what power a Church . . . could develop and exercise, if it gave itself to the work of prayer day and night for the coming of the kingdom, for God’s power on His servants and His word, for the glorifying of God in the salvation of souls?”[2] Sadly, prayer is something that has been significantly lacking in today’s church.[3] It is an indictment on the church, and a great challenge it must face, that something so essential to its very nature is something that is often ill represented in its ministries.[4] Much has already been said about prayer, specifically in the setting of the corporate worship service. This section will briefly address prayer as a ministry of the church.

Prayer among God’s people is not only a New Testament reality but an Old Testament one as well. The prayer practices of the leaders and corporate community present in the Old Testament were the foundation for the practices of the early church.[5] One essential aspect of corporate prayer is the necessity of a prayerful leader. Jesus prayed for and modeled prayer for his disciples (Matt. 6:5–13; John 17:6–26), the apostles considered prayer one of their two essential ministries (Acts 6:4), and Paul told the young pastor Timothy that prayer was a primary concern (1 Tim. 2:1–8).[6] The early church prayed as a part of establishing new churches (Acts 14:23), prayed over important actions (Acts 13:3), and prayed in times of great need (Acts 12:5, 12). They prayed for those within the church (Acts 8:15, 17), for leaders in the church (Acts 6:6), and for those outside the church (1 Tim. 2:1–3).[7] The New Testament church included prayers of praise (Col. 1:3), thanksgiving (Acts 5:41), confession (James 5:16), and requests (Acts 4:27–30).[8] Prayer was foundational to everything the early church did, setting the standard for how the church of today should function as well.

Historical Perspectives on Prayer

History has many examples of people of prayer and has highlighted the importance of prayer in the church. Charles Spurgeon emphasized the importance of private and corporate prayer, saying, “Yet, though we pray in the closet, though we get into such a habit of prayer and are so full of the spirit of prayer that we can pray anywhere, yet it is well to go and mingle with others.”[9] He said elsewhere about praying with others outside the church, “The hour of prayer is the hour of need, the hour of opportunity, the hour of desire, the hour when you can come together.”[10] John Broadus identifies the core aspects of prayer, writing, “He who leads a great congregation in prayer, who undertakes to express what they feel, or ought to feel, before God, to give utterance to their adoration, confession, supplication, assumes a very heavy responsibility.”[11]

A. T. Robertson compares the church gathering to pray to the disciples’ prayer in the upper room, saying, “It is certain that this attitude of united prayer is essential for a spiritual revival for any church and for any age.”[12] This points to the power of prayer, something Criswell speaks of, writing, “But if a church is to be filled with the flame of the Holy Spirit of God, it comes through the intercessory prayer of his people. He comes in no other way.”[13] William Carey credits prayer with powerful effects, writing, “The most glorious works of grace that have ever taken place have been in answer to prayer.”[14] W. A. Criswell attributed revival to a prayerful people, writing,

A revival will be blessed in proportion to the unity of effort and intercession that we pour into it. We agree in believing God will give us a revival. We agree in feeling the necessity for revival. We agree in regard to the importance of revival. We agree to the measures that are essential to the promotion of a revival—our own devotion, our own praying, our own intercession. The church must be agreed. We will not have revival without it.[15]

These quotations are just a small sample of historic statements that demonstrate that prayer has been held dear by believers, and that show that they attribute the success of the church’s ministries to its people’s commitment to prayer. Thus, even today, the effectiveness of a church can be tied to the prayerfulness of its people.[16] A healthy church will be committed to being a praying church.

Prayer of Multisite Churches

Multisite literature includes prayer as an essential aspect of a multisite church and includes it in the processes for launching a new campus. MCR’s “Should Your Church Go Multi-Site?” diagnostic tool includes prayer as one of the key factors to consider, stating, “There is widespread and prayerful agreement that now is the time to launch a new site or venue.”[17] The authors include prayer in the initial stage of launching a new campus, labeling it the “prayer and investigation” stage.[18] Throughout the book, they encourage “prayerfully” considering the multisite church model.[19] These examples show the authors value prayer as a part of the multisite process. However, they say little about prayer as a ministry of the church, except to mention it as one of many ministries.[20]

In MultiChurch, Brad House and Gregg Allison include prayer as a ministry of the multisite church. They specifically mention prayer as an essential responsibility of the lead pastor and local campus pastors. They include some theological considerations in their discussions, noting prayer is a place where the church thanks God for who he is, what he has done in them, and what he has made them as the body of Christ.[21] Allison, in his ecclesiology, identifies two general categories of prayer that should be a part of a church: prayers toward God and prayers for people. He encourages prayers of thanksgiving, praise, and request as a part of worship toward God.[22] He also encourages prayers of intercession for spiritual growth, tangible needs, physical healing, guidance, boldness, and clarity in sharing the gospel, as well as thanksgiving on behalf of other members.[23] Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears highlight the importance of a prayer ministry in the church, identifying it as a ministry of love. They write, “In the life of the church, prayer is to be naturally woven throughout the entire life of God’s people. . . In summary, a loving church is filled with innumerable spoken and unspoken prayers, continually prayed out of love for God and people.”[24] They, like House and Allison, also highlight the importance of prayerful leaders.[25]

Other multisite advocates have spoken, in general terms, about the importance of prayer in churches. Ed Stetzer and Mike Dodson mention prayer as one of three key ingredients in a church that seeks to overcome a pattern of decline and see revitalization.[26] Thom Rainer notes prayer is a core element of healthy churches and says intentional prayer is the key missing health ingredient in many churches.[27] He suggests ways a church can develop effective prayer ministries, and in doing so, increase the overall health of the church.[28] John Piper says the power of the church to accomplish the Great Commission mandate is found in prayer.[29] Ronnie Floyd, a former multisite pastor, highlights the importance of the pastor visibly and publicly leading the church in prayer.[30] Matt Chandler believes prayer should be a vital part of the worship service of the church, and often leads his church, corporately, in seasons of focused prayer.[31] All of these examples show that these multisite leaders, like many of their single-site counterparts, value the necessity of corporate prayer and ministries of prayer.

A multisite church must make prayer an essential part of the ministry plan of the church. This motivation must start with the senior pastor, and his staff must carry the same burden into their own areas of ministry.[32] In addition to prayerful leadership, a “prayer ministry” is a good next step, as it can effectively permeate a church with motivation and accountability for prayer.[33] In multisite churches, the prayer ministry should have two levels. The first level of prayer should highlight prayer needs of general interest to the whole church, such as seasonal prayer emphases, whole church ministry focuses, or service events that the whole church will participate in. The second level provides a prayer ministry at each campus to highlight needs specific to that campus, such as personal needs among campus members, campus-specific ministries, campus-specific events, or staff needs. In having two separate levels of prayer ministry, the church can maintain unity across the whole church while also allowing for specificity in prayer through the campus prayer ministry.

In addition to a prayer ministry, a multisite church must create opportunities for the church to pray with the whole church in mind in order to maintain the unity of the whole church.[34] One way of doing this is to have campuses pray for one another. As a campus corporately prays for another campus, it helps maintain unity across the whole church, reminding the body that they are one church participating in the same mission.[35] Another way is to emphasize prayer times that happen simultaneously across multiple congregations, or highlighting and praying for the ministries of the various campuses.[36] Finally, the periodic times of whole church worship should have a significant amount of time for the whole gathered body to pray together, as was the pattern of the early church.

[1] Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer, 9–10.

[2] Murray, With Christ in the School of Prayer, 112.

[3] Helopoulos, “Pastor, Include More Prayer in Your Church Service.”

[4] Grenz, Prayer, 1.

[5] Hamilton, “A Biblical Theology of Corporate Prayer.”

[6] Schofield, “The Bible and Church Prayer,” 276–79.

[7] Booth, “The Place of Prayer in the Early Church,” 285–87.

[8] Block, For the Glory of God, 215; Grenz, Prayer, 23–30; Grenz, Theology for the Community of God, 494–95; Smith, “The Aspects, Varieties, and Kinds of Prayer,” 83–89; Sproul, Does Prayer Change Things?, Chapter 14.4.

[9] Spurgeon, “The Blessing of Public Worship,” 31–32.

[10] Spurgeon, “The Lord with Two or Three,” 51.

[11] Broadus, A Treatise on the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons, 527–28.

[12] Robertson, Jesus as a Soul-Winner and Other Sermons, 103.

[13] Criswell, Prayer / Angelology, 16.

[14] Carey, “An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians,” 50.

[15] Criswell, Prayer / Angelology, 63.

[16] Floyd, How to Pray, 243–45.

[17] Surratt, Ligon, and Bird, Multi-Site Church Revolution, 57. MRT also encourages a similar set of questions that a church should “prayerfully” answer (Surratt, Ligon, and Bird, A Multi-Site Church Road Trip, 40).

[18] Surratt, Ligon, and Bird, Multi-Site Church Revolution, 87.

[19] Surratt, Ligon, and Bird, Multi-Site Church Revolution, 97. They encourage the same throughout MRT (Surratt, Ligon, and Bird, A Multi-Site Church Road Trip, 40, 185).

[20] Surratt, Ligon, and Bird, Multi-Site Church Revolution, 33, 39, 72; Surratt, Ligon, and Bird, A Multi-Site Church Road Trip, 40, 88, 171. In a report on multisite, Warren Bird includes “places to post a prayer” as a primary ministry of an internet campus (Bird, “Multisite Church Scorecard”).

[21] House and Allison, MultiChurch, 84, 99–100, 155, 160. Prayer isn’t specifically mentioned under the campus pastor section, but it is included under the lead pastor section. The campus pastor, however, is described as having “gifts and abilities that allow them to fulfill the duties of a lead pastor of a church.”

[22] Allison, Sojourners and Strangers, 427, 447.

[23] Allison, Sojourners and Strangers, 447-48.

[24] Driscoll and Breshears, Vintage Church, 207–8.

[25] Driscoll and Breshears, Vintage Church, 97.

[26] Stetzer and Dodson, Comeback Churches, 68–71.

[27] Rainer and Howe, “Pastoral Leadership, Prayer, and Church Health.”

[28] Rainer, “Five Example of Effective Prayer Ministries.” The five effective ministries are: (1) Prayer over the facilities, (2) Senior adult/retirees guided prayer ministries, (3) Worship service prayer ministry, (4) Prayer over guest cards, and (5) 24/7 prayer ministry.

[29] Piper, “No Prayer, No Power.”

[30] Floyd, How to Pray, 247–48.

[31] Chandler, “He Hears: How to Pray.”

[32] Floyd, How to Pray, 248.

[33] Helms, “Church Prayer Ministries and Prayer Rooms,” 342–46.

[34] House and Allison, MultiChurch, 195–96.

[35] McConnell, Multi-Site Churches, 206.

[36] House and Allison, MultiChurch, 196.

This post is adapted from Multisite Churches: Biblical Foundations and Practical Answers by Dustin L. Slaton. This title is set to be released on February 13, 2024. If you are interested in adopting this book for a college or seminary course, please request a faculty examination copy. We will also consider requests for your blog or media outlets.

Are multisite churches a healthy model for corporate worship?

The multisite church model has been consistently challenged by those who deem it unbiblical and incompatible with God’s design for the local church, but does Scripture support this claim? In Multisite Churches, pastor and church vitalist Dustin Slaton posits that congregational polity is compatible with the multisite model, dismantling critiques with both urgency and care for the local church’s future. At a time when church fostering and church adoption are predicted to increase significantly, the multisite church model is a solution that can support the adoption of churches.

Bringing in personal experience and erudite research, Slaton heuristically demonstrates a methodological approach of ecclesiology with a theological framework for the multisite model, fairly addressing both critics and supporters. Faithful

to the biblical examples provided, he evaluates the marks of a healthy church and how they can be applied to the multisite model. Attributes include, but are not limited to:

  • Preaching and Teaching
  • Leadership and Discipleship
  • Baptism and the Lord’s Supper
  • Stewardship Accountability
  • Church Membership
  • Evangelism and Missions

Multisite Churches is a resource for biblical ecclesiology with wide-ranging benefits for both clergy and congregant. Those prayerfully discerning whether they can transition to a multisite church in a biblical way and those who are interested in the topic will benefit from the guidance and insight provided in this timely resource.


About Author

Dustin L. Slaton (PhD, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Lead Pastor at First Baptist Church in Round Rock, Texas. He served for more than ten years in youth ministries in Arkansas, Colorado, and Texas before serving six years as the campus pastor at Green Acres Baptist Church in Tyler, Texas. In addition to PhD, Slaton has a BA in Theology from Ouachita Baptist University and an MDiv from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

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