I’ve never been part of a congregation that had a functioning prayer chain. Usually this was because the “phone tree” was hopelessly out of date, and even the numbers that were correct tended to direct prayer requests to /dev/null. In all these congregations the proposed “solution” to the problem of the non-functioning prayer chain was to announce to people, “If people would just be more dedicated about passing on messages, this will work fine.”
Not surprisingly, this approach has never worked.
In all these congregations, however, changes to the prayer chain were resisted because, “Not everyone has a cell phone, but they have home phone” or “we have some people who don’t have e-mail.” Thus, we always stuck with the non-functioning prayer chain – and complained when people didn’t pass messages down the chain.
The “everybody doesn’t have…” mentality, however, actually illustrates a larger problem in these congregations I’ve been part of. People are still living in the mentality that everyone has to be using the same tools in order to accomplish tasks. In everything from worship presentation to something as simply as the prayer chain, people are living under the false assumption that the only way we can “be together” if we all going about our ministry tasks in the same way. So, if everyone doesn’t have, or like, a particular tool – then we simply don’t use it (this is still an issue for many congregations when it comes to web-pages for churches).
It doesn’t seem to occur to people to ask the question, “Wait a minute, why do we all need to use/like the same things?” Think about it, when it comes to something like a prayer chain. If many people aren’t answering their home phones any more because their cell phones are the number of choice, then why not switch those people to a cell phone tree? If people prefer to be contacted through e-mail, then why not a mailing list? If people are used to text-messaging, why not set up a twitter account for the church to use (I just did this, by the way)? If people want to follow prayer requests via RSS, why not set up a feed from something like Joomla’s prayer center?
Here’s the thing, since we have people who are at different places regarding communication tools, why not set up multiple points of contact? Why do people need to all “connect the same way?” It takes very little effor to set up multiple connection points, and something like an e-mail list or twitter are a heck of lot easier to maintain than keeping a phone tree in order. To be honest, I think if congregations can get used to the fact that people can use different tools for the same task in something as “small” as a prayer chain – then they might get used to this idea for “bigger” things as well.