Envision yourself as a small group leader with people who don’t know how to pray or are intimidated by prayer. You are not going to start out with deep, joy-filled times of prayer. It can be extremely awkward at first, but with practice you will find prayer can be the part of the small group that people look forward to the most. Here are some suggestions related to what you can pray for and how you can initiate group prayer:
■ Deciding what to pray for. To start with, you could occupy your time praying for each member of the group, asking God to help you grow in Christ. Most groups don’t do this enough because it feels uncomfortable at first, but you should seek to strengthen each other by name in prayer. Then, you could pray for any of the following:
☐ personal needs shared in the group
☐ family and friends of group members
☐ the needs of your church or fellowship group
☐ sick, shut-in, suffering and/or bereaved people that group members know
☐ non-Christian friends, family and/or neighbors
☐ missions and missionaries
☐ and don’t forget worship!
You might also go back through the sections on worship, confession and petition and make your own list of possible prayer items.
As you pray for these and other requests, you may want to keep a “prayer notebook” so that you can record answered prayers and further enhance group worship.
■ Initiating group prayer. As you think about how to introduce prayer into the group, remember that, no matter what you try, it could be very awkward at first. Fears about prayer are often based on what others think, rather than on what God thinks. As the group begins to feel more comfortable together, prayer will come more easily.
To start, you can open and close your meetings in prayer. When you open group meetings in prayer, you are consecrating the time to God and inviting his presence. When you close, you are offering yourselves to God and asking him to go with you. In the beginning, the burden for these prayers will often fall on the leader. You don’t need to impress anybody with your prayers, least of all God. If you keep prayer simple and yet genuine, others will pray much more readily when given the opportunity.
If you want others to pray, make sure that you ask them before group time. Some people are embarrassed when asked in public. Rather than being a scary experience, group prayer should be an affirming exercise.
There are other ways to encourage prayer, especially in a group prayer time that comes as a scheduled part of the evening. For example, try holding hands when you pray as an expression of unity. Then, you can pray around the circle, allowing some to squeeze the hands of the person next to them if they don’t want to pray. Alternatively, allow free, conversational prayer so that those who want to can pray while others choose to pray silently. Or you can ask volunteers to pray for specific requests. And you can just start the prayer time and let the Holy Spirit lead. However you choose to pray, try to allow the group to develop its own unique ritual of prayer, one that stimulates freedom of expression in relationship with God.
Practice Makes Perfect
Prayer in the small group will more readily become a reality if the leader is a praying person. If you worship God, keep the lines of communication open through confession, and find freedom to bring your requests to God, then you will be the kind of person who encourages others to pray. Start now. Become a person who knows God in prayer. — Arnold, J., & Black, S. (1992). The big book on small groups. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.