Traditionally believers shared prayer requests and answers often. In the southern U.S. a generation or so ago, a Wednesday night prayer meeting, often combined with a spaghetti buffet kept congregants informed of needs and praises.
Now, many churches rely on Facebook or other social media to share such intimate details. While that renders the communications more timely, it can also potentially compromise a sufferer in unexpected ways. Posting a missions trip or even a funeral can let burglars know you won’t be at home, perhaps for an extended period. Less disastrously, reporting on your flooded home can garner prayers and volunteers, but also shady, unwanted contractor solicitations.
Several programming ventures have attempted to address these and similar needs by creating secure spaces—on your smartphone. Choyr and iPray are two of the most popular, but each app store has others designed for prayer sharing.
Giancarlo Newsome, the executive director of iPray, explained the goals of the app in an extended interview. It turns out that he’s not just the leader of the company, but the catalyst behind its creation.
“As I share with people: prayer saved my life,” Newsome said. “I had a traumatic event in my life where I lost everything overnight except my faith. In time, through prayer instead of other negative coping options, I realized neither I nor God was going to restore my loss and I needed to humbly accept the situation, receive and share God’s grace, learn and move on. Biblically-based prayer was my peace from all the well-meaning but conflicting advice I was getting even from my own church community.”
Recovered, he set the goals for iPray to have both security and engagement. The app allows supplicants to share requests with selected groups of persons that they know and trust.
“In iPray, when an individual creates a prayer, no one in the public or even other users of iPray can see that prayer,” Newsome explained. “The individual has exclusive control as to whom they share their prayer with. Even those whom they share a prayer with can not see the other people that the prayer has also been shared with.”
In addition, all the popular apps support groups, which might entail a choir, small group, or specific ministry team.
“In iPray Groups, a group can be private or public,” he said. “In a private group, access to the prayers in the group is only possible by being invited or by having the group password. Whether a public or private group, all individual prayer requests only become visible to the group after the group owner or administrator approve the prayer request.”
The only mildly controversial point that came up during our interview concerned just who to ask for prayer. Newsome holds that most special requests should be restricted to those you know.
“In addition to the security risks you raised with public and open prayer boards we also believe they motivate unhealthy prayer behaviors and expectations for all participants,” Newsome offered. “Submitting prayer requests for anonymous people does not build any depth of community for either the requester or the prayer giver. We feel these prayers are more of a short term feel good exchange with long term consequences given no one has ‘any skin in the game.’ We want to help stand-up digital houses of prayer. We want to reverse the trend of depression that other social media platforms create. We believe prayer is God’s original social media platform for staying meaningfully connected.”
Confidentiality for such apps can extend beyond the individual. Do any local churches employ iPray? No one knows, not even the app creator.
That said, are there other apps you’d like to see investigated? Online Bibles, commentaries, prayer journals, Scripture memory aids, Muslim prayer time calculators and much more are extant. Please let us know what you’d like to read about.
Next week in Our Faith: A behind-the-scenes look at how church planting works in today’s fast-moving culture.