But this year, local leaders decided to shake things up.
Instead of just gathering to talk about King's missions, they want people to live them.
For the first time, the Ministerial Council and the United Way launched several volunteer projects after the three-hour breakfast at the Crown Expo Center so people could - in the words of King's widow, Coretta Scott King - "take a day on, not a day off."
The initiative, called the Cumberland County Day of Service, began with several organized service projects, including visits to jails and rest homes and cleaning up Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Hall Street.
Stephon Ferguson, a local performer and radio personality known for his authentic delivery of King's speeches, emceed the breakfast and performed an excerpt from a King speech on service:
"Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love."
Dr. Allen McLauchlin, outgoing president of the Ministerial Council, said the emphasis on community service on the King holiday is not a new one, but it's just now making its way to Cumberland County.
"We're hoping companies and individuals will get more involved in the future, and it will truly evolve," he said.
But those who can't serve on the King holiday shouldn't be concerned, said Deborah Tew Godwin, mayor of Godwin.
"Don't worry if you don't have four hours today," she said. "We will take a rain check on community projects."
During the prayer breakfast, ushers distributed pledge cards and asked attendees to fill out the type of volunteer projects they planned to do in the next three months.
Cumberland County Commissioner Jeanette Council, who attended the event, said the service initiative was a great idea.
"I think that will be a more fitting tribute than for us just gathering together," she said. "I hope this is a catalyst for change, for permanent change. I think people are reticent. They think they don't have what we need, but everyone has something to share."
Council was one of more than 1,200 people who attended the prayer breakfast. Local dignitaries, politicians, prominent businesspeople and community leaders also were on hand.
Chancellor James A. Anderson of Fayetteville State University was the guest speaker.
Anderson said King's expectations of people would be the same now as in 1963, when he gave his historic "I Have a Dream" speech.
The gathering was an opportunity to publicly state the community's common pursuits, dreams and vision of purpose.
The breakfast also honored Moses Mathis, better known as The Bicycle Man, as the Person of the Decade.
For nearly 20 years, Mathis has repaired old bicycles and distributed them to children before Christmas. He also formed the Tiffany Pines Community Outreach Center, with his wife, Ann, to help fight drugs and other criminal activity in his community.