Prayerwalking lifts church's heart for its community

GREENWOOD, S.C. (BP) -- Members of Abney Memorial Baptist Church have prayerwalked every street within a five-mile radius of the church.

Members of Abney Memorial Baptist Church prayerwalk a street in Greenwood, S.C., as part of a two-year initiative to cover a five-mile radius.
 
The South Carolina congregation's two-year outreach has encompassed 2,000 homes and businesses, praying for the people living or working inside.

It has become a meaningful ministry that affects residents and church alike in Greenwood, S.C., pastor Brent Bennett said.

"Prayerwalking has opened our eyes and helped our church catch the vision that there are lost people all around us," Bennett said. "If we can catch the vision to go into their communities, then we can catch the vision to go to the ends of the earth."

Prayerwalking is an intentional form of prayer in which a person prays spontaneously or with pre-written prompts for people and places as they walk around them. The prayerwalking idea came to Bennett several years ago after Abney Memorial made the decision to relocate to the opposite side of Greenwood.

"If our congregation was going to move from one side of town to the other, then we needed to reach people for Jesus in that community," Bennett said. "First, we needed to get to know the people. One of the best ways to do that is to get into the community."

Stopping for prayer, a member of Abney Memorial Baptist Church intercedes for the residents of a home in Greenwood, S.C.
 
A core group of 10 church members met to pray about how to organize the prayerwalking. They looked at a map to identify their ministry area, then obtained physical addresses through public county records.

It was important to have a personal touch in its outreach, so the team sent handwritten notes to each address. The church began Sunday Prayer Nights, when members met to write the notes to be sent to the next month's addressees.

The note communicated that a team from Abney Memorial would be walking by their home and praying for them. A stamped postcard was enclosed in the note, inviting homeowners to respond to the church with specific prayer requests. When a homeowner included a phone number, the church followed up with a call as well.

"We initially wrote 768 letters, with about a dozen church members addressing them," Bennett said. "By June 2017, we will have prayerwalked everywhere in the community -- every house, every street."

Methodical planning went into the details of the walk routes. The team divided the northwest area of Greenwood into four zones, with smaller sections within each zone, drawing two-mile routes for each prayerwalking group.

Church members meet one Sunday every month for the prayerwalks and divide into groups of four to eight, depending on the routes set for that day.

Church member Lena Sprouse said the ministry has brought all generations of the congregation together, providing a way for everyone to participate.

"We have had little children place stamps on the envelopes," she said. "Older adults, who may not write well, place the letters in the envelopes, and children and youth have handwritten some letters."

Bennett said Lander University Baptist Collegiate Ministry students also have played an important part in the prayerwalking efforts. The BCM group partners with South Carolina Baptist churches in its association through the Lamp Lighters ministry, which pairs students with churches for longer-term service and ministry support. Lander BCM director Scott Smith said the students have been amazed at Abney Memorial's compassion and concern for the community.

"Abney Memorial has taken our Lord's mission of praying for the lost in a big way," Smith said. "By using two years of prayerwalking all the communities around the church, by sending prayer cards to every house, and by following up with each of these, they truly have been an example of sharing hope."

Bennett said he can think of only one negative encounter experienced church members since they began the initiative. They were turned away from prayerwalking in a gated community. The team prayed for those neighbors anyway.

"I've never bumped into anyone who, when I asked how I could pray for them, said they have nothing to pray for. Even non-believers will share something to pray for," Bennett said, adding that prayerwalking has opened doors for many Gospel conversations.

During the very first prayerwalk, a woman stopped the group because she saw them praying. Her daughter was considering aborting a pregnancy, and the group was able to pray for her and offer words of encouragement. The outreach also paved the way for Bennett to meet and share the Gospel with a news reporter.

Sprouse, a member of Abney Memorial church for 20 years, said the ministry has opened her eyes to the needs around her. "I have been given the opportunity to pray for community members on the spot, and I would never have met these people or known how to pray for their needs if we had not been out walking the community," she said.

Prayerwalking also has stirred the hearts of Abney Memorial members for missions. For the first time in the church's history, it has formed local, state, national and international missions partnerships, Bennett said.

"God is working through sending our people out, and the prayerwalks were the first step in doing that," he said.

Julia Bell writes for the South Carolina Baptist Convention.
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