Churches that are seeking to reach new people practice prevenient prayer.

Prevenient grace is a term with which Methodists are generally familiar. John Wesley offered this definition in his sermon On Working Out Our Own Salvation : “….the first wish to please God, the first dawn of light concerning His will, and the first slight transient conviction of having sinned against Him.” Prevenient Grace is that gift of God coming before our dawning awareness of God’s great love and offer of himself through Jesus Christ.

Prevenient prayer in the church is the practice of praying for people before they are aware that we love and care for them and before they come to know we want to be their friends and companions in the way of Jesus. We often are praying for people even before we meet them.

Prayer walks in the mission field to which we are called are a form of prevenient prayer. We walk through a neighborhood that might not be our own, listening, seeing, learning and praying. We  as yet may not know the people behind the walls of their houses, but we pray for them anyway. Our presence becomes a first taste of the love that Christ makes known through the Church.

Another form of prevenient prayer is when, before the worship gathering, a team prays at each empty seat or chair in the worship area. They are praying for the people, known and  not-yet known, who will be coming to worship the Lord in that space. They are praying for guests to be welcomed and for the members of the body of Christ to offer boundless hospitality. Their prayer opens the door for a newcomer to be amazed by the Spirit of Christ.

Bob Cutlipp, Pastor at Wilcox United Methodist Church, shares how this practice of prevenient prayer has impacted his church:

Ever since we heard of a church praying for each seat in anticipation of people being there on Sunday we have been doing the same. I have gloried in the faces of the guests when our Lay Leader tells them that we were praying for them expecting them to be here. When we first started it I made the announcements but then I thought it would be better if our Lay Leader made the announcement and told our guests that we were praying for them. This is something we will continue to do.

Another kind of prevenient prayer is that practiced by individual members of the church who are keeping someone in prayer who has not yet experienced that first dawn of awareness of Christ and His grace and love. They know who they are praying for – a clerk who serves them at a store, the person who picks up the trash, the servant-leader who teaches their child, the neighbor who lives down the block. They ask for God’s grace to be made known and for God’s spirit to guide them as they pray and love that person toward Jesus and the Church.

God’s grace is infinite and God’s love is unbound. These are just three particular ways that churches participate in the grace of Christ. How many more might we discover if we looked more closely?

What form of prevenient prayer are you called to practice?