When Christians say they participate in prayer walks this can bring up an array of interpretations in one’s mind. Prayer walks can be personal experiences between the individual or it can happen in group. Personally, every time I take my dog for a walk around the neighborhood, I use that as a time to connect with God through personal gratitude and prayer for my neighbors. Some churches participate in group prayer walks around their cities and/or neighborhoods to pray over the community in general. Other people take it a step further by actually praying for people and reaching out to strangers they encounter on their way. I have participated in all kinds of prayer walks, and every type has caused my heart to stretch in a way that’s inspired me to do more outreach in my own community.
I have been trying to encourage my teens to practice their faith outside of our own church space. Our church is conveniently located next to a large park. I love to use this space for teens to connect and engage with God through a personal quiet time of reflection and prayer while out in nature. This is how I first introduced the teens to the idea of a prayer walk. Once teens got more comfortable with the idea of a personal prayer walk, I then planned a youth group prayer walk in downtown in the city. However, just saying we were going on a prayer walk downtown didn’t entice many teens to show up. I had to throw in some fun events with the prayer walk to sweeten the deal like ice-cream, and a visit to the arcade. Although, I never hid the fact the main purpose of the event was about doing some outreach in our city. After the ice-cream and arcade games, I invited teens to spend time in a group but silently praying for the city on their own. We live in a University town, so for the next step I invited them to pray out loud in our small group setting for college students. After a while, we moved to other areas of the city and prayed as a group aloud. I then invited teens to take another bold step by actually asking someone they didn’t know if they had any prayer requests they could write down and pray for. I then coached teens to ask people if they could pray with them in the moment or if they preferred for them to pray on their own. I only had a few teens willing to actually talk to people and pray with strangers, but I still consider this a big win.
Here are some other tips for leading a prayer walk in your community:
- Let teens know the full plan of what you are doing and why. It’s OK to add fun events too, but make sure they know the main purpose and what they are really signing up for.
- Don’t pressure them to do something they are not ready for. Give them an out by saying something like, “Some teens will choose not to pray out loud today, and that’s perfectly OK. We are just glad you are here to be part of the experience.”
- Hopefully, you know your teens well enough to know which ones need a gentle nudge of encouragement to take the next step, and which ones need to feel completely free and empowered to make that decision on their own.
- Offer the next steps, but leave it up to them. Model to them by showing how to do it first. If teens have a hard time being bold, give them a goal of just asking one person for a prayer request today and call it good.
- Don’t let your adult leaders take over. Remind them the goal is for teens to take the lead. Adult leaders can model a few times by praying for others, but ultimately to let teens take most of the lead. Let them know, silence is perfectly OK in prayer.
- Let them now ahead of time to stay together as a group. I make my teens stay with an adult leader at all times. Remind them to never give out personal information to anyone no matter what.
- I tell my teens not to feel obligated to give money to people if they ask, but if you want to go for it or offer to buy food.
- Take time after the walk to debrief. Ask them why does this matter? What good do you think can come of this? What’s the point of outreach in community?
- Prepare them for rejection or possible negative responses from others. Encourage teens to always be kind and gracious even if they face rejection or mockery.
- Remind them the goal is for them to do this on their own time and not just for a church activity. Encourage them they can do this at their schools, in their neighborhoods, wherever and whenever. Even if they are just taking their dog for a walk around the neighborhood, or walking down the hallways at school.