Prayer Walking Connects Greenwood Church to the Community
Members of Abney Memorial Baptist Church in Greenwood have prayer walked every street within a five-mile radius of the church. Through this two-year intentional community outreach, the church has prayed over 2,000 physical addresses and, according to Pastor Brent Bennett, it’s become a meaningful ministry that affects members of the community and his church alike.
“Prayer walking has opened our eyes and has helped our church catch the vision that there are lost people all around us. 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,” says Bennett.
Prayer walking is an intentional form of prayer, where a person uses pre-written prompts or spontaneous prayers for people and places as they physically walk around them. The prayer walking 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. First, we needed to get to know the people. One of the best ways to do that is to get into the community,” says Bennett.
A core group of ten church members met to pray about how to organize the prayer walking and effectively reach out to the community. Bennett says they looked at a map to identify their target area, then obtained physical addresses through public county records. It was important to the church to have a personal touch in its outreach, so the team decided to send hand-written notes to each address. The church began Sunday Prayer Nights, where members met at the church to write the notes to be sent to the next month’s addresses.
The note communicated that a team from Abney Memorial would be walking by the recipient’s home and praying for them. A stamped post card was enclosed in the note, inviting the homeowner to respond to the church with specific prayer requests. Bennett says when a homeowner includes their phone number, the church follows up by phone as well.
“We initially wrote 768 letters with about a dozen church members addressing them. By June 2017, we will have prayer walked everywhere in the community. Every house, every street will have been walked by,” says Bennett.
Methodical planning went into the details of the actual walks. The team divided the northwest area of Greenwood into four zones, with smaller sections in each zone. They drew two-mile routes for each prayer walking group to take. Church members meet one Sunday a month for the prayer walks and divide into four to eight groups, depending on the routes set for that day.
Member Lena Sprouse says the ministry has brought all generations of the church together, providing a way for everyone to participate. “We have had little children place stamps on the envelopes. Older adults, who may not write well, place the letters in the envelopes, and children and youth have hand-written some letters,” she says.
Bennett says Lander University Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) students have also been an important element of the prayer walking efforts from the beginning. 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. BCM Director Scott Smith says his students have been amazed at the compassion and concern of this small church for its community.
“Abney Memorial has taken our Lord’s mission of praying for the lost in a big way. By using two years of prayer walking 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,” says Smith.
Bennett says he can only think of one negative encounter experienced since his church began the initiative, and that was being turned away from prayer walking 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, has said they have nothing to pray for. Even non-believers will share something to pray for,” he says, adding that prayer walking has opened doors for many gospel conversations.
The ministry paved the way for Bennett to meet and share the gospel with a news reporter. During the very first prayer walk, a woman stopped the group because she saw them praying. Her daughter was considering aborting a pregnancy, and the group was able to pray over her and offer words of encouragement.
A member of Abney Memorial church for 20 years, Sprouse says 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 would have never met these people or known how to pray for their needs if we had not been out walking the community,” she says.
Also, prayer walking has stirred the heart of Abney Memorial Church members for missions. Bennett says that, for the first time in the church’s history, it has formed local, state, national, and international missions partnerships.
“God is working through sending our people out, and the prayer walks were the first step in doing that,” says Bennett.