This article was originally published on Humorality, on August 31, 2009.
For Divine Inspiration, Press One; For Sports Teams, Press Two
Since the Mayflower first landed on Plymouth Rock nearly 400 years ago, prayer has played an important role in the lives of Christians across the American continent. But believers in the twenty-first century are finding it difficult to set aside time for prayer, and supernatural answers to life’s problems seem scarce.
Although the slide away from prayer has been gradual, today’s churches are looking for quick and effective solutions for their spiritual communication needs. Many congregations have found the answer by partnering with the business sector. It’s called “prayer outsourcing,” and it’s quickly becoming the business of choice for entrepreneurs looking for the next big thing.
Churches have traditionally used annual retreats and prayer vigils to spiritually stir up their members. But results have been mixed. By outsourcing prayer to the business community, churches are relieved of the burden of prayer, and can better focus on their core strengths. George Frederickson, president of Prayer People, LLC, explains. “It’s all about meeting the needs of your customers. Businesses are looking to capitalize on new markets by providing a basic level of service. Parishioners seek the comfort that a prayer-free church provides. Prayer outsourcing is a win-win situation for both sides.”
Just a few short years ago, there wasn’t even a prayer industry in America. But with approximately eighty percent of the American public holding a belief in a personal God, the potential customer base for prayer outsourcing franchises is well over 250 million. That’s why even multinational corporations are entering this fast-growing field. While these international businesses cannot provide the “local touch” that regional prayer organizations offer, they are still able to compete in local markets through lower per-petition pricing.
When asked about the price differential, Abdul Suzuki, CEO of Pervasive Prayer, International, responded, “We offshore, plain and simple.” Suzuki, whose company’s slogan is, “We’ll Pray for You,” doesn’t apologize for the Pervasive business model. “By moving prayer offshore, it frees Americans up to do the things they would rather be doing, like feeding the homeless, or watching Desperate Housewives. And our worldwide prayer centers are available 24/7/365, something that even Wal-Mart’s prayer division can’t match.”
While prayer outsourcing has been a boon to many churches and communities, not all believers are satisfied. Pastor Jose Alvarez, who leads an active non-denominational congregation in Phoenix, blasted the new trend as pure evil. “Jesus said that his house—the church—was to be a house of prayer. But these companies are turning prayer into a 1-800 number.” His reaction was typical of leaders in growing congregations in both urban and rural communities.
For others, the core problem with prayer outsourcing is not in its spiritual aspects, but in how it affects America’s competitive advantage in the world. The fear is that the citizens of other countries may eventually outperform Americans in the area of prayer. And the recent availability of pay-per-prayer services that use illegal immigrants at call centers in America’s heartland has only worsened an already volatile situation. “Harvest only comes once per year,” said Karen Polanski of Prayer Harvesters. “What else are we going to do with these faithful family-loving undocumented workers?” The strong backlash to such sentiments has grown into public demonstrations, with some churches voting to stop congregational and individual prayer altogether in an effort to force these groups out of business.
Despite the localized turmoil, prayer providers remain unfazed. Suzuki quips, “We weren’t sure how American Christians would react to having foreign Buddhists and Muslims praying on their behalf. But it has turned out pretty well. I mean, if you are going to bow down and face Mecca five times per day anyway, why not have it serve both a spiritual and a financial purpose? And it seems that Americans are willing to pay any amount to outsource activities that aren’t considered to be at the heart of the culture.”
Whether these outsourcing and offshoring practices are here to stay is anyone’s guess. But the reduction in prayer time by individual Christians seems to parallel an overall reduction in spiritual fervency within churches. And the pattern looks so very different from the practices of those first American pilgrims, and of the early church believers recorded in Acts 2:42, who “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Pastor Alvarez sums it up this way: “We can outsource our relationship with God, but if do so, we may find God offshoring us all to hell.”