Worshipers raise their hands in the prayer room at the International House… (Mitchell Landsberg / Los…)
Reporting from Kansas City, Mo. -- It was just before 3 a.m. when Ruth and Shady Abadir walked through the double doors that lead into the thumping heart of the International House of Prayer.
Outside, the rolling suburbs of south Kansas City slumbered beneath a moonless sky, the roads empty except for the occasional deer. Inside, more than 100 people worshiped to the sound of an 11-member Christian rock band, fulfilling a commitment to keep prayer going 24 hours a day.
"We've just shifted our schedule to make it work," said Ruth, raising her voice over the pulsating beat.
In 12 years, the music has never stopped at the International House of Prayer — a leader in a small but growing movement dedicated to perpetual prayer.
Young people have flocked here from as far away as Britain and South Korea, convinced that their prayers, joined in a never-ceasing stream, can push back evil forces that threaten to overwhelm society.
"It's probably one of the fastest-growing movements within the broad evangelicalism," said Brad Christerson, a professor of sociology at Biola University who studies charismatic Christianity. "They're really engaging a new generation of young evangelicals."
The idea draws from a movement that seeks influence over "Seven Mountains" of secular power, such as business, media and government — realms that the devil is thought to have infiltrated.
Those outside the movement call it Dominionism, from the biblical injunction that man should take dominion over the Earth.
IHOP, as the church is known, sees prayer as a form of "spiritual warfare," battling demons who keep a constant hold on parts of society. Continuous prayer is a way of extending that struggle around the clock.
"What we do opens and shuts doors to angels and demons," founding pastor Mike Bickle said recently.
IHOP gained attention in August when it was chosen to play a central role in the prayer meeting Texas Gov. Rick Perry held at Houston's Reliant Stadium a week before he announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination for president. Such political connections have led to talk of the movement's rising influence, although Bickle laughs at the idea that his church will ever have "dominion" over society.
"Like we're going to take over Bill Gates," he scoffed. "C'mon people, get a grip."
Outside Kansas City and some evangelical circles, IHOP's main claim to fame until recently was that it had been sued for trademark infringement by the International House of Pancakes, which eventually backed off.
In the city, IHOP has a higher profile. Its headquarters is in a converted shopping mall, with a former supermarket housing the prayer room and offices. The parking lot is always full, or nearly so. One recent night, near midnight, license plates represented 27 U.S. states and Mexico.
As the church expanded, it bought an apartment complex for its staff and students and another former shopping mall for its four-year bible college, IHOPU. More recently, it bought a 125-acre property once owned by President Harry S. Truman, with plans to build a $100-million center there to replace the church complex.
The heart of the enterprise is a large, windowless sanctuary inside the old supermarket, where robotic cameras — operated from an adjacent production trailer — are in constant motion, broadcasting the worship on the church website and on television channels around the world.
All IHOP staff members, interns and students are expected to spend about 25 hours a week here, organized in shifts. There is a special esprit de corps among those assigned to the 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. "night watch."
To keep the music going, the church has 25 bands playing throughout the week in two-hour sets. Some are given over to devotional music, others to "intercession" — a call for God to intercede on behalf of some place or cause.
"Father," a young Korean woman said during one of the prayers, "would you save souls in Seoul, Korea, tonight?"
Instantly, lead singer Misty Edwards, a waif-like woman with a powerful voice, picked up the theme. "We cry on behalf of the poor and the needy, we cry on behalf of these broken ones in Seoul, Korea," she improvised. Her voice rising, Edwards poured it on: "May justice roll down like a mighty river, may justice roll down for the sake of the needy, for the sake of the poor."
The 24-hour prayer movement claims roots that go back centuries. In the 20th century, it was a hallmark of the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles that launched the Pentecostal movement.
Bickle estimates that there are thousands of round-the-clock prayer groups globally, most established in the last decade. IHOP began praying without a break on Sept. 19, 1999.