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Does prayer make a difference?


There was an experiment conducted several years ago by a church in Phoenix, AZ. Intercessors randomly selected 160 names from a local phone book. They divided the names into two groups–and prayed regularly for one of the groups, ie for 80 homes. The other 80 homes were not prayed for. After 90 days they called all the homes offering to stop by and pray for the family. 

Of the 80 homes they didn't pray for, only one person invited them to come in. Of the 80 homes that were prayed for, 69 invited someone to come over and 45 invited someone into their home. (Doug Kamstra, The Praying church Idea Book)

Prayer makes a difference.

We have friends in India who conducted a similar experiment. They picked two villages. One of the villages they prayed for and the other they did not. When they later went in to proclaim the good news of Jesus, the village they had not prayed for threw them out. In the other village, the one they had prayed for, 45 families became believers.

In the story of how we started a church in the low-income housing projects, the first thing we did was to pray. In the next post, I'll talk some more about prayer walking.

Have any of you ever seen something similar?

10 replies on “Does prayer make a difference?”

Hello Felicity,
These stories sound great and I am glad that people were responsive to the gospel after prayer. And I too have seen prayer work and believe we should pray always in all circumstances (Philip 4:6). Yet, being an academic myself, I would be hesitant, however, to make any “scientific” conclusions or present this in “scientific terms” using such stories because it is not clear who did the random selecting (was it the same folks that did the praying?), how the random selecting was done (by the people praying or someone else?), i.e. whether it was truly a double blinded randomized control trial or not. There have been several large scale scientific peer-reviewed studies in this regard each with conflicting results, depending on the methodology. Most Christians probably don’t care about such detailing, preferring to just go with ad hoc and anecdotal evidence and personal experience, without fact checking. There have been abuses in the Church because of such sloppy thinking. But the Lord wants us to love him with all our minds too (Luke 10:27). And so, with due respect, I thought I would put this cautionary note out there for readers.

Dear Felicity and friends,
This is a quick follow-up to my earlier comments about “proof” and “evidence” for the prayer experiments mentioned. To avoid sloppy thinking, reliance on mere anecdotes, and removing potential biases, here are some basic questions I would ask about any supernatural stories or claims.
-Double Blindness – were the same people selecting the test group and then praying for the test group, or were they different? Who knew the names and who did not?
-Selection Method – was the selection method really random or was there a bias introduced (e.g. drawing names out of a hat vs. choosing every second name from the telephone book)?
-Sample Size – were there enough people selected for each test group, so that they will be truly representative of the larger group they supposedly represent (i.e. a village, an ethnic group, an age group, etc.)?
-Group Equivalence – were the two test groups equivalent to one another in all other factors (e.g. average age, gender mix, racial background, etc.) other than prayer or no prayer?
-Repeatability – will the results of the prayer experiment be the same if they are repeated in other situations and at different times?
Again, we are to love the Lord with all our minds too (Luke 10:27) and do a careful investigation of all reports concerning the Way (Luke 1:3). Then we can, with all honesty, be a reliable witness to all who ask us about the reason for our hope in Christ.

I too am interested in these results, thought they raise a few questions too.
As Rad says, they are not scientifically valid unless proper sample selection, unbiased raying & visiting, statistical randomness, etc, have been sorted out. When this is done, the results, at least for medical healing, are not so clear. I have summarised the outcomes of two dozen scientific studies in “Studies of intercessory prayer” (“”), and summarised the conclusions in “Can prayer assist healing?” (“”). (I’m sorry these aren’t direct links, but the software doesn’t seem to allow it – you’ll just have to cut and paste the URLs.) More of these studies show positive results than don’t, but the largest and perhaps most rigorous study didn’t show any positive result for prayer.
But I’m not sure I would be wanting that to be the case. I know we cannot pray for everybody except in the most generic way, but I still have a few problems about praying for one group but not another, and also about expecting God to answer experimental prayers like that.
I’m inclined to take Felicity’s examples as a great encouragement without quoting them as anything more than that. I already believe prayer is important, so while encouragement is good, I shouldn’t really need or expect “proof”.

A friend and I have been prayer walking around a brothel near my home (I live in a European country where prostitution isn’t persecuted). Sometimes I catch myself thinking, “I should be DOING something for these suffering women besides praying” . However, at the moment deep down I sense that is the DOING the Lord asks of me, different jobs might come later- but for now, it is an effective work.

Thanks for the encouraging illustration.
I believe the key is doing what you see the Father doing. Whether the intercessors mentioned in the illustration use that terminology or are familiar with the concept (John 5:19), or not, is immaterial. God’s promise is to “guide us until death” (Ps 48:14).
Whether we choose to step into the flow of God’s guidance or not is up to us. Jesus continually lived in the flow of God’s guidance. He wasn’t Spirit-controlled but rather Spirit-influenced (Spirit-led) throughout His life, and the miraculous was commonplace for Him. Nowhere in Scripture does it instruct us that God is in control, or that He even desires to control us. His plan is to guide and influence. If He influences you to select 80 names out of a telephone book to pray for and then to follow the prayer up with a phone call and a visit…then step into what you see Him doing. And if your greeting of peace is not welcomed, brush off your Nikes and move on to a home where the Holy Spirit is moving already (most likely due to the prayer of the saints).
Discover what God is already doing around you, and jump into that, rather than pulling God into your own plans and you will experience fruitfulness.

Kevin, you say “Discover what God is already doing around you, and jump into that, rather than pulling God into your own plans and you will experience fruitfulness.” This is what I’ve long believed, but when I read it today in what you texted, it just leaped into my heart. Among my last conscious thoughts last night was te inquiry toward God — “Okay, what do You want? Who is here (i.e. in our neighbourhood) that you are speaking to? Who do you want us to find, to take us to?” That inquiry came after feeling some discouragement that the extension of His reach into the lives of our friends and neighbours seems so slow. But when i read your words, having long thought and taught such a principle, there was a flood of deep confirmation — Jesus doing only what he saw the Father doing, Peter being taken into the household of Cornelius, Philip plopped into the path of the Ethiopian, Paul called into Macedonia. What it takes, of course, is such a fine sensitivity to the voice and works of God Himself, a way of so living in Him that His voice and activity are what we are most tuned to. That’s what we want, more than we want a strategy. That IS the strategy!
I’m glad to have read your response on this blog today.

I want to second Ken’s suggestion to do Canning Hunger in the neighborhood. Besides collecting food for a really good local mission/rehab center, it opened doors that had not opened any other way. Canning Hunger built trust, familiarity and finally conversations, and when we asked people what we could pray for them, it became a bridge into 6 real friendships and many acquaintances. Before we ever knocked on any doors, though, we prayer-walked our neighborhood many times. After some time, 3 or 4 of the families would meet in our home for a meal, conversation and Bible study (which in retrospect perhaps we pushed too hard? it’s hard to judge, you know?) Our vision was for a real community to develop, and it did sprout…but we had to move recently due to financial hardships. But we’re sure the Lord will keep watering that garden 🙂

Thank you everyone for the comments. My apologies it has taken me a while to respond. We’ve been in Russia, and now currently in the UK, and life has been busy to say the least!
Rad, you are right. I shouldn’t have couched this in scientific terms. It hadn’t even crossed my mind when I wrote it that is how it would come across. I simply wanted to write some stories that encourage people to pray. If we don’t believe prayer works, then what is our Christian faith about?
UnkleE, thank you for the great resources on the various studies that have been done on prayer. While I haven’t studied these particular ones, in the past when I have looked into one or two of such studies that appeared neutral or negative, I haven’t been impressed by the people who were asked to pray. I wasn’t even sure that they were necessarily Christians praying to the Judeo/Christian God.
Trying, I am totally persuaded that the prayer walking you do is going to yield long-term results for the Kingdom. As Kevin commented, in every situation we do what the Father guides and leads us to do. Thank God, as Jim says, we are not in some cookie-cutter, “this is the way to success” program.
Janet, thank you for the story. I love the fact that Canning Hunger gave you an inroad int a needy community. I pray the work you began there will produce much fruit.

This is a fantastic testimony to how strategic prayer is crucial in seeing church planting movements. One suggestion is to replace the picture of the girl at the top of the article as it appears she is simulating the yoga lotus pose called “Padmasana” as opposed to praying to God.

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