4 in 10 Protestant churches invite people to post prayers on websites
Need prayer power? Try the World Wide Web.
More than four in 10 Protestant churches with websites now invite people to post pleas to the Lord on the main church site so volunteers and staff can chime in on the soulful call, according to a new survey.
It’s the latest cyberspin on religious life, updating traditional prayer rooms and supplementing other familiar prayer request paths such as e-mail or social networks.
“People today are accustomed to public sharing. Now, churches are giving public sharing an eternal purpose,” says Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research, a Nashville-based Christian research firm that surveyed 1,003 churches on use of technology.
Most (78 percent) had websites, including all the churches with more than 500 members and more than half of the smaller churches. That’s up from 53 percent overall in 2006.
Scott McConnell, director of LifeWay, says many “use their website like a steeple in a small town” to point people to the church, but offering prayer requests at the website is rising fast in popularity.
One such site, mobberly.org/ministries/prayer_ministry, invites people: “Please pray with us for the following prayer requests. You can add your own prayer request by clicking on the ‘add prayer request’ button.”
People can post a prayer publicly, such as a recent posting in which a teacher asked for spiritual help for students badly hurt in a car accident. Or they can be private, seen only by staff and the volunteer prayer team at Mobberly Baptist Church.
The 2,500-member church in Longview, Texas, added online prayer requests to its website six weeks ago. Tammy Whitehurst, director of Mobberly’s prayer ministry, says, “People need to be listened to — online or by any means. We always follow up, praying for them in our church prayer room and sending them notes of encouragement.
“We had one request from a lady who lost her husband. We have never seen her face. But we know from an e-mail that these prayers confirmed to her how much God loves her,” Whitehurst says.
Prayer room regular Cliff Desain, 80 and Internet-savvy, gave Whitehurst the Web idea because, he says, “a lot of us older folks can’t drive so much, so we thought it would be good if we could pray from home.”
Other church sites keep Web-submitted prayer requests private, as if you were clasping hands with a pastor or volunteer in person.
Vince Marotte, Internet pastor for the non-denominational, 5,000-member Gateway Church in Austin, launched its website two years ago. It invites people to submit a 400-character prayer (slightly less than three Tweet-lengths), by first name only, at gatewaychurch.com/help.
The site has handled more than 300 requests so far.
It promises, “Share with us where you are struggling to connect with or follow God and Gateway Church will pray for you.”
“Our Web page is an extension of everything we do,” says Marotte. It also offers live chat online prayer available a few hours a week, “just like when you go to church and there’s someone there to pray with you.”