You might notice that I didn’t suggest we start the group time with prayer. This may seem odd to some. Here is what experience has taught me. If you start with prayer requests, it can take a long time, especially as the group gets to know one another well. If you are not careful you can spend half the hour talking about prayer requests. This kind of thing can ruin your group. (Notice, I did not say too much prayer can ruin your group; I said too much talking about prayer requests can ruin your group.) We want to spend some time discussing prayer requests, but not half the time. Thoughtful people will get restless and anxious for us to get to the lesson.
The solution to this dilemma is as simple as it is effective. Do prayer requests last. Leave five or ten minutes at the end for prayer requests and prayer. People are not nearly as apt to talk and talk and talk about prayer requests at the end of the hour as they are at the beginning of the hour. My practice, then, is to do prayer requests and prayer last.
The first five minutes set the tone for the rest of group time. The first five minutes after people walk in should be filled with greetings, introductions and small-talk. The first five minutes of the group time itself should be around a life exposure question–each person peeling back the layer of their lives just a bit. With this beginning, we are ready to get into the Bible study.
Excerpt from Good Questions Have Small Groups Talking: the book.