Pastor Louis Rosenthal sits at his desk, praying through a list of one hundred names from his neighborhood in McKinney, Texas. He had printed the list from Pray4EveryHome.com, a tool his congregation uses to pray specifically -- by name -- for all their neighbors.
Afterward, Pastor Louis makes a lunchtime run to the store. As he stands in the checkout line, he notices a woman nearby is crying softly. Pastor Louis asks if he can help.
After a few moments' earnest conversation, he leads the woman to faith in Christ. As Pastor Louis heads back to his office, he is praising God for the unexpected "divine appointment."
Along the way, however, the woman's name keeps bobbing around in his head. Why is it so familiar?
When he gets back to his desk, he realizes: She was one of the one hundred people for whom he had just been praying.
Stories like this are surfacing continually in McKinney, ever since Collin Baptist Association launched the Pray4EveryHome (P4EH) tool two years ago, said Vince Smith, the association's director of missions.
Smith was new in his role, and the association's 135 congregations had just finished a self-assessment exercise with the North American Mission Board (NAMB) that showed the churches had two crying needs: implementing vision and prayer.
"And that was true in not just the life of our churches, but in the prayer lives of our pastors," Smith said. "Of course, we know prayer is what moves the hand of God. I saw that as something we needed to work on."
'Born out of desperation'
It was no mere coincidence, Smith felt, that at the same time Collin Association was confronting the need for better prayer, Southern Baptist Convention President Ronnie Floyd was leading his own congregation, Cross Church in Springdale, Ark., into intensive prayer for revival in America and challenging 46,000-plus Southern Baptist churches to extraordinary prayer as well.
"I looked at our churches in McKinney, and you can't really 'do church' much better when it comes to getting people to come in," Smith said. "But in order for us to reach 700,000 lost people in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, we needed God to do something only He could do. I guess you could say P4EH was born out of desperation. If you are doing everything you know to do, and you are still being overwhelmed, then we need to pray."
Smith already understood the value of NAMB's "God's Plan for Sharing" (GPS), a strategic framework that helps churches reach a Great Commission goal of "every believer sharing the Gospel and every person hearing the Gospel by 2020." In the spirit of GPS, the Collin Association team began planning their strategy: canvassing door-to-door, mapping the city, and prayer walking every street.
Then they had an "aha!" moment.
"I would say it was a God-coincidence that, at this same time, we were working with Mapping Center for Church Growth and Evangelism and they had data available about who lives in each of these homes," Smith said. "We asked the question: What happens if we can generate for every church member the names of the people who live around them, so that eventually we will pray for every household in the city by name?"
In that moment, the GPS strategy from NAMB intersected with the power of GPS technology.
A vision of praying by name for every home in McKinney suddenly was overtaken by a vision of praying by name for each of the 300,000 households in Collin County. In conversation with leaders of the two Baptist state conventions in Texas, Collin's leaders raised their eyes to that great harvest field. Before long, however, they realized God wanted them to say yes to an even bigger vision: praying by name for every home in America.
"Each step of the way, we said, 'Imagine what God might do if we prayed for all of these people by name,'" Smith said. "Let's face it, Amazon and everybody else knows where everybody lives already, how much more so does God? And we want each of them to have a living witness to Jesus Christ."
Now in 40 states
As church members have prayed by name for their neighbors, doors have opened for spiritual conversations and people are coming to faith in Christ.
Collin Association leaders met with a group of Christian businessmen whose work involves extracting data to understand neighborhoods and design marketing campaigns, Smith said. Alongside those men's donated efforts, Texas Baptists invested significant time and dollars to help create a church "dashboard" that helps congregations launch every-home outreach campaigns.
As church member addresses are added to a campaign, a database generates neighborhood maps with household-level attributes, including names, addresses, age groups, marital status, presence of children, education level, ethnicity, language spoken in the home, and length of residence. Individual church members can use the lists to pray by name for their neighbors, and the congregation can leverage the information to efficiently promote church outreaches like food drives, backyard VBS, block parties, or neighborhood Bible studies.
A pastor can see a real-time view of prayer coverage by church volunteers, as well as identify strategic neighborhoods -- mission field "sweet spots" -- where church member homes are clustered.
Each church pays a flat $120 annual fee for its dashboard. Individuals interested in praying for their neighbors on their own can join without cost.
In the six months since the P4EH platform was rolled out, the network has grown to 40 states and the District of Columbia.
Pastor Rosenthal leads a 300-plus member, predominantly African American congregation in an area of McKinney that includes both housing authority apartments and $500,000 single-family dwellings. He likes the way P4EH complements his congregation's Tuesday night S.H.O.P. (Sweet Hour of Prayer) gathering, plus how it supports their evangelism efforts.
"Church members may have apprehensions going into a community," Rosenthal said. "Now we can pray for the people by name before we even knock on the door. This gives people the strong feeling they are going somewhere God is already at work."
"The most rewarding part are the stories that I am hearing back from the street," Smith noted. "As people begin praying for their neighbors, their neighbors -- even the ones they never knew before -- are coming and talking to them, and that is opening the door for spiritual conversations.
"We are hearing about more and more people who are coming to have a personal relationship with Jesus, and it all started because someone in their neighborhood started praying for them," he said.