One of the pastor's important responsibilities is to build up and maintain the prayer meeting. It is a tragic fact that in altogether too many churches the ratio of prayer meeting attendance to the church membership is amazingly low. Where such a condition exists, there is something wrong, for the prayer meeting is the thermometer of the church's spirituality. Of all people, we who look for the Lord to come very soon should not be forsaking the "assembling" of ourselves together, "and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching." But I fear that a "so much the more" interest in and attendance at prayer meeting is not keeping pace with the swiftly approaching day.
Far too many members never come, and what is worse, never think of coming to prayer meeting. This is true, strange to say, in our city and institutional churches, shepherded generally by ministers to a much greater extent than in the country churches, where people are none the less busy, where the members must travel farther to church, and where there is no pastor.
The causes for decadent interest and nonattendance need not consume our time. After all, may not 90 percent of them be summed up in the words, "I pray thee have me excused"? Rather, let us consider briefly how our prayer meetings may be made successful.
In a church of 200 I have seen prayer meeting attendance grow from 6 to 60; in a church of 400, from 20 to 100. Yet I do not consider this really successful —not when churches in other communions, who have neither access to the counsels of the Spirit of prophecy, nor the clear vision vouchsafed us of the nearness of the end and the judgment hour, now begun, can report 900 in attendance out of a membership of 1,000. This is an exceptional percentage, of course; but for Adventists it should not be.
Where lies the cause of such unsatisfactory attendance? And what can be done to change the situation? The following suggestions have appeared to bear fruit;
I. What the Pastor Can Do
1. Himself see the importance of this service as an indispensable aid to victorious Christian living.
2. Stress its importance upon new members.
3. Preach a sermon or two yearly on attending prayer meeting, securing pledges for faithful attendance.
4. Give the prayer meeting an unusual announcement at the Sabbath service.
5. Arrange and advertize a series of special Bible or Testimony studies for the midweek services.
6. Conduct a question box at prayer meeting, reading some of the questions to be discussed at the previous Sabbath service.
7. Announce that those who come to prayer meeting should each bring—
a. Clipping giving most startling fulfillment of prophecy or confirmation of Bible truth read during the week.
b. Best missionary experience of his own during the week past.
c. Report on favorite Bible character, favorite text, most helpful Testimony quotation, or most stirring personal answer to prayer, etc.
8. Plan some wholesome surprises for prayer meeting.
9. Vary the order of the service.
10. Make your own talk not more than twenty minutes at most.
11. Pray definitely for the sick and discouraged. Encourage requests for prayer, and prayer lists. Plan for definite Christian help work for the needy and poor.
12. Study at prayer meeting what the Spirit of prophecy says about prayer meetings and how they should be conducted.
13. Avoid lifeless songs.
14. See that the ventilation is properly regulated.
15. Personally invite young people to come.
16. Urge prayer meeting attendants to tell others what they are missing; some Sabbath have them testify what the prayer meeting means to them.
17. Have meeting in smaller room until attendance outgrows it.
18. Combine prayer meeting with evangelism class or correspondence band.
19. Try district prayer meetings, if the congregation is scattered.
II. What the People Can Do
1. Make no appointments for the night when they have this appointment with their Lord.
2. Form prayer meeting habit, because it is right. Urge them to go whether they feel like it or not.
3. Bring something to meeting—your voice of prayer and testimony, your own contagious enthusiasm.
4. Be ready with your testimony. Do not wait for others.
5. Have something to say when you testify or pray. Think about it beforehand.
6. Be a prayer meeting booster; talk about it, invite folks to it, bring someone with you.
7. Don't testify long, or preach when you testify.
8. Pray at home for the prayer meeting; pray for those who do not attend.
9. Give to the pastor or elder your suggestions on how to build up the prayer meeting.
The spirit of the Week of Prayer should ever be with us. It is my observation and conviction that the church whose prayer meetings are maintained at a high standard, will not fail in reaching its goals.