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A prayer meeting is a meeting of lay people for the purpose of prayer as a group. Prayer meetings are normally conducted outside regular services by one or more members of the clergy or other forms of church leadership; but they may also be initiated by decision of non-leadership members as well.
Prayer meetings may be held in public places, private homes, or small or large agreed-upon meeting places. Public prayer meetings may sometimes represent more than one religious faith, especially where the purpose for the prayer meeting involves a city or larger social unit.
The choice of venue depends on the intended participants, the purpose of the prayer meeting, and the size of the prayer meeting. Prayer meetings can consist of fewer than a dozen people. At the other end of the scale, the largest prayer meetings may involve several thousand people.
Prayer meetings are most commonly held at churches or mosques on days other than the normal day of worship. This is most common where only regular church or mosque members are expected to attend, although the public is usually welcome to attend a prayer meeting.
The smallest prayer meetings can be held at any agreed-upon place which is accessible to the group for religious purposes. Very large prayer meetings may be held in convention centers or arenas.
A prayer meeting may be held on any day of the week. Many churches and mosques schedule weekly prayer meetings. Wednesday evenings are particularly popular for Christian prayer meetings, as a time convenient to most church members and the date farthest away from Saturday or Sunday services. All of these prayer meetings are usually scheduled well in advance.
Prayer meetings may also be scheduled to coincide with breakfast or a related special event.
Special prayer meetings may be called on short notice during times of common crisis or concern. For example, a prayer meeting may be called if a church member is involved in a serious accident. A special prayer meeting on a larger scale is often called after a major disaster has hit the local community. In times of national mourning, small prayer meetings may be called all over the country during the following days, with one or more larger prayer meetings, possibly televised, near the location of the tragedy.
Prayer meetings provide social support to those who attend. The prayers during the prayer meeting sometimes ask their deity for a positive outcome in times of uncertainty.
Some prayer meetings are targeted at repentance, either of those attending or of another person or organization which is not in attendance. The latter type of prayer meetings are also a form of protest against the sinful behavior of the targeted person or organization.
In the years before widespread news media, prayer meetings were also a primary source of news and information (including firsthand accounts) about the events leading to the meeting being called. At the same time as the news was received, the prayer meeting offered ways to deal with changing circumstances. This still continues in modern times. However, the impact of such a prayer meeting is now much stronger among the worshipers than among the general public.
- Cowan, John Franklin (1906) New life in the old prayer-meeting. Fleming H. Revell.
- (1870). The Prayer-Meeting, and Its History, as Identified with the Life and Power of Godliness, and the Revival of Religion. United Presbyterian Board of Publication. OCLC: 5004714