Prayer is a powerful part of Christian community. Many small groups can get stuck in a rut of “go around the circle” to share requests and then have one or a few people pray aloud at the end. While groups have successfully prayed that way for decades, it’s not the only way to pray as a community. If your group is finding that prayer requests are getting less personal, closing prayers more rushed, or prayer time is just feeling a bit drowsy consider changing up your prayer method every now and then.
You know your group best. Some of these variations may work better than others. You can even make up your own! Remember that there is not one way to approach God. As you encourage your group members to have different kinds of conversations and prayer time with God individually, you can model the impact of mixing things up as a group.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
Slow down Prayer
Group prayer time may be one of the few times during the week members take a dedicated, undistracted time to pray. It’s a great idea to try to foster their personal connection to God through prayer instead of falling into a pattern group prayer time/prayer requests. For slow down prayer, explain that you are going to have a few moments of silence for people to pray to God themselves. You may give a prompt based on the discussion like “take a moment to talk to God about how to best love the people in your life” or whatever follows the topic flow. Choose someone who can break the silence after a set amount of time (2-5 minutes) by praying aloud for the whole group. Consider entering into your time of silence by reading scripture or playing a song that is related to your theme.
It is really helpful for some people to write their prayers out. Some people may feel uncomfortable praying, but understand how to journal or write a letter. You may have a one minute “journal dump” where you invite people to feverishly write down everything that is on their mind or weighing on their heart. You could also have people write out a letter to God with a specific theme in mind, like for the Hope series our group wrote out letters to God about their unfulfilled hopes and dreams. When they are finished, give everyone a moment of silence to show their paper to God and listen for his response, or simply hand over their journal or letter to God in prayer and ask for guidance. You can either send the letters to heaven in smoke by burning them, or seal them in envelopes and wait until the end of a series to return them to them. Sometimes it can be amazing to look at an old journal entry (even from only a month or two earlier) and see how God has moved those thoughts or circumstances.
If you are running low on time after people share payer requests with the group, instead of just having one person do a summary prayer, invite people to do a cacophony prayer. Everyone just all prays aloud at once. At first it is a little odd and distracting, but it ends up being a really neat sound picture of what prayer may sound like in heaven. It also removes the pressure of sounding eloquent when praying aloud.
Not everyone is comfortable being touched or touching others, this should always be optional. If there are a few people with big requests or needs for the week, consider gathering around them and laying hands on them as people pray for them. You could have people split into groups of 3-4 and all share their requests, then ask them to choose one person in the group to focus on all together and pray for, while the other requests people can pray for during the week in their own prayer time. This has been very powerful in our group, tear jerking even, as people felt covered or commissioned going into a tough week of job interviews, test results, etc.
A great way to build connection and take praying out of a large group context is to have people split into buddies (let them choose their own, but encourage them to get to know someone new). They can share prayer requests with one another and pray. Suggest that they exchange some sort of contact information with one another and pray for each other at least once before the next group gathering, sending a text or email to let the other person know they are praying for them.
Praise Check In
Every once in a while (if not every week) open prayer time by checking in on prior prayer requests. How has God shown up in those areas? Take time to praise him, and even come back to him to ask again if not everything is resolved. You may even consider doing a praise or gratitude prayer time altogether where instead of taking requests, everyone takes a moment to think of something they are thankful for or creates wonder in them and those become the basis of the prayer time.
Take a famous prayer from the Bible (Matthew 6:9-13, Ephesians 3:14-21, Luke 1:46-55, 2 Samuel 22, Habbakuk 3, your favorite Psalm, etc.) Read it through once, noting significant points or explaining/expanding the scene where necessary. Read the scripture aloud a second time, verbatim straight through, inviting people to close their eyes and connect to God through the prayer or imagine the heart of the person who prayed, and how their tone demonstrates their attitude towards or perception of God. Leave a moment of silence for reflection and silent prayer after the reading.
Jack Bauer (24) Prayer
Ask for people to share prayer requests for something that happened or occupied their thoughts in the previous 24 hours or something they are anxious about or thinking about that will happen in the next 24 hours. This brings an immediacy and usually an intimacy to the requests.
If you’re tight on time, instead of taking requests invite each person to simply pray for themselves. The request should become obvious to those listening in. This is not only a time saver, but keeps the focus on prayer and encourages people to seek God themselves for their needs.