In my previous post I tried to make the case that corporate prayer—praying together as a church—should be a higher priority for Christians because it is commanded in the New Testament and exemplified by the early church. I ended with a few suggestions for getting started.
In this post, I want to go more in-depth on the “how” of praying with others. Sometimes we desire to do what we should but lack the very knowledge of exactly what to do. What follows are some practical strategies that I’ve found helpful. They are not the end-all of what you might do, but enough to get you started in whatever context you find yourself. I’ve organized these strategies by the kind of prayer groups that are common.
Praying with a Formal Small Group / SS Class
The easiest and most common way to pray in this setting is by taking requests. This isn’t wrong, but in my experience, isn’t the most beneficial way of praying. Often the requests are distant from the group, dealing with people and needs with which many have little or no connection. Furthermore, after requests are shared, usually only one person prays for all the requests.
In my experience, there are a couple of other ways to better encourage praying together.
First, if the group is smaller, limit the requests offered. Ask people to share requests only about themselves or someone close to them. Only take one request at a time, then ask another member of the group to pray for the person who shared the request. This not only keeps the prayer time focused, it builds community as well.
Another option—one that works especially well with larger groups—is to tie the praying directly to the lesson or discussion. Save yourself 5–10 minutes before the end of class. When your lesson is done, ask “How should these things lead us to prayer?” If the group needs prompting, ask for three things: something to praise or thank God for, something to confess as sin, and something we need to live as God desires. Or, rejoice, repent, and request. After the group comes up with three things to pray about, ask three different people to pray, each taking one of the three items for prayer.
Praying with an Informal Small Group
In addition to the previous helps, consider that praying with a smaller group of people can be a wonderful experience as much as it can be bad one. Especially, at first, there can be a sense of awkwardness and praying goes short.
Try reading some Scripture first—maybe a chapter or half a chapter. Then, take turns praying. That seems simplistic, but the key is to keep praying. Those in the group should not be expected to pray long, but they should plan to pray more than once. Just start simply, praying over the passage. After the first person prays, another picks up. This keeps going with everyone feeling free to pray as many times as they like and in any direction. When the pause seems long enough, someone should be prepared say, “In Jesus’ name, Amen” to signal the end of the prayer time.
Praying with a Church Prayer Service
What about a formal prayer meeting at your church? Instructions here depend on how the service is run by the leadership of the local church. Some larger churches like Capitol Hill Baptist Church stay focused by having members submit request ahead of time. Then, after reviewing the most requests, certain members will be called upon to share their relevant requests.
My guess is that this is helpful for a large church, but pretty uncommon among more average-sized churches. In another post, I’ve outlined some ways to plan and lead a churchwide prayer service. I don’t want to run over that again, because I want to focus on those attending rather than leading.
If you’re attending a prayer meeting, the most important advice is this: plan to pray. I love Derek Prime’s testimony about his first visits at a church prayer gathering.
Praying with others may be quite strange and foreign at first, and even off-putting. Temperament inevitably enters into it, and if we are naturally shy we may be inclined to shirk participating audibly in a church prayer meeting, or when a group of Christians with whom we are meeting suggest praying for matters of common concern. If we do not overcome our hesitancy, non-participation may become a habit, and even a lifelong practice, detrimental to ourselves and others. I am grateful that after the first prayer meeting I ever went to, an elderly lady next to me asked, ‘Why didn’t you pray?’ Her question shook me somewhat! At the next prayer meeting, through her encouragement, I prayed, and began the establishment of the lifelong habit of never going to a prayer meeting without expecting to take part.
If the service has a particular focus, try to keep that in mind when you pray. Beyond that, I would encourage you to pray as naturally as possible. I outlined a couple practical concerns in the previous post. But the key is to show up, ready to pray. Even if it’s only for a few seconds. Your participation will invariably encourage others (not least the leadership!).
Getting More Advice
The ideas that I’ve offered come from my own experience as a leader and participant in church prayer meetings. But there are others who can contribute as well. Here are some good places to start for more practical helps.
“3 Ways to Incorporate Group Prayer into Your Bible Study” by Melissa Kruger
“3 Ways to Deepen Small Group Prayer” by Kristen Wetherell
Practical Prayer by Derek Prime
Prayer Coach by James L. Nicoderm