As the sermon begins at First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, a group of fifteen men and women sit huddled in a room nearby.
Around the circle, hands go up and people voice prayers with deep passion. A man prays for God to meet with that person “who is closest to hell this morning.” An older man’s voice cracks with emotion as he asks God to raise up workers from the congregation, to call out young men and women for the mission field. A young father in the room responds to that call—he asks God to send him and his family anywhere.
The room falls silent. Then with fervor and lifted hands, Phyllis Ingram asks God to lay their hearts bare.
“Without repentance, brokenness, and clean hearts, we won’t experience God’s presence and power,” she said. “God, please call us to repentance.”
This is the War Room. For the past two years, it has happened every week during both Sunday morning services and on the first Wednesday of the month.
And Ingram, a member of First Baptist and the SBC Executive Committee, said she and her church haven’t been the same since it began.
“We just feel the weight of the importance of standing in the gap and interceding on behalf of our pastor and the lost and others,” she said. “We’ve looked at the stats before we started and the stats after (of decisions being made), and the numbers have really increased significantly. I have to believe it’s the power of prayer moving some of those people.”
Pastor Jay Wolf agrees. In the early 1990s when the church began to ramp up its missions efforts, it ramped up its prayer ministry too. Dozens of intercessors signed up to staff a prayer room faithfully over the years.
For the past five years, Ingram has been a part of that prayer ministry. And a few years ago, while she was out for a walk, she felt the Holy Spirit tell her it was time to expand it even more.
Church member Donna McClinton had the same burden, as did Jo Hancock. And the War Room was born.
The church has around fifty Sunday School classes, and each class takes one week per year to pray during Sunday services. A deacon from that class leads prayer in the sanctuary and then crosses the hall to the War Room to join the rest of the class in intercession.
And when the church holds special events like evangelistic outreaches or seasonal programs, groups will meet to keep the War Room going then too.
“Our prayer ministry was strong, but it tripled in strength when God aligned Phyllis Ingram, Jo Hancock, and Donna McClinton as the leaders of our intercessory endeavors,” Wolf said. “Our Sunday prayer efforts have further amplified our quest to create a culture of prayer within God’s First Baptist family. We constantly remind each other that prayer is not a part of our strategy, it is the heart of our strategy.”
Ingram said it’s been incredible to see how even long-time church members have been moved by their time in the War Room.
“It’s amazing,” she said. “We have people join us who have been in church forever, and they will just start weeping and say they didn’t know we were in here praying like this. It’s really changing people’s hearts to see the power of prayer.”
Ingram says that’s the way her own experience with intercessory prayer started—by getting a taste of what it looked like to intercede for others.
“I didn’t know how to get in God’s presence until nine years ago,” she said. “That year, I started to experience the power of prayer and spent weeks and months just cleaning out my heart.”
That’s what she prayed that day in the War Room too—for God to clean out hearts all over the church, starting with hers.
“I want the fire and power to catch on with all Christians,” she said.
McClinton said the prayer ministry only gets better as more and more people get involved.
“We’re all called to pray,” she said. “This is where things happen. When people come to the War Room, we give them a plan of how they can pray through the Word while they are in here, but they are free to pray however the Holy Spirit leads.”
Wolf said the ministry has helped to transform First Baptist into even more of what Jesus wants the church to be—a house of prayer.
“The current of prayer, like electricity, is running strong through our church and enhances our ministries of worship, evangelism, disciple-making, restoration, and missions,” he said.
Neal Hughes, director of missions for Montgomery Baptist Association, said that has spilled over into the greater Montgomery area too.
“You can look at First Baptist Church and what they are doing there and around the world and see that they are leading from their knees,” he said. “As Montgomery Baptists, we owe a debt of gratitude to them for the way they are leading out in prayer and modeling that for us. It’s nothing but wonderful for First Baptist Church and for the Kingdom at large.”
Hughes said Kingdom churches that are Spirit filled have one thing in common—they’re also filled with prayer warriors. Ingram is one of those, he said.
“The leadership that she brings to that prayer ministry is phenomenal,” he said. “I celebrate what the Lord is doing in and through it.”
Ingram says she just wants one thing—for more people to get into God’s presence.
“I’m convinced pride, busyness, and other sin has snatched the Church’s power because we have become prayerless in a lot of cases,” she said. “I’m praying that He shakes us up and wakes us up. Can you imagine if this multiplied and every church started praying?”
Grace Thornton is a freelance writer based in Birmingham, Alabama, and is a member of The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham.