Does your small group have trouble saving time for prayer? Most do. You get involved in a great discussion and suddenly it's time to leave. Or members share lengthy requests and there's no time left to pray. Or everyone becomes a junior therapist and tries to solve problems rather than praying for them. Once again, you close the meeting with a reminder to pray for those requests at home.
You'd think it would be harder to make time for prayer in the early stages of the group when people are getting acquainted and need to give more background to their requests. But I've found the opposite. Early on, people are tentative. They share a bit, see how it's accepted, then share a bit more the next week. It takes time for people to open up.
But the better the group members know one and trust another, the more they share. And as members pray for a specific need, they crave more details so they can pray more effectively. When they care about the person, they want to know how this issue is affecting other parts of his or her life. So it's easy to go from conveying a need in a few sentences to becoming a storyteller.
Yes, depth is good. We want people to feel free to share their lives, in detail if needed. We want members to care about the concerns of others. We want to be open, honest, transparent, and vulnerable. But if your group meets weekly for two hours and tries to incorporate all elements of a good small group, it's tough not to run out of time. And the part that usually gets short-changed is prayer. What are some specific ways to cope with the time crunch?
Ask for Wisdom
Let's not forget that our God is a problem-solver. James 1:5 reminds us that, "If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him." When you're stumped about how to save time for prayer, ask God for wisdom. He'll show you creative ways to accomplish your goal. After all, no one is more interested in having your group pray than him!
Ask for Help
I always admit to the group when I'm having trouble saving time for prayer. Of course they know it's a problem. We haven't had time to pray for three weeks—or is it four? But simply speaking the need out loud helps make everyone aware of how they're contributing to the problem—or to the solution.
You don't want to stifle requests, but be honest by saying: "I'm concerned that we haven't had time for prayer in the past few weeks. Let's make an effort to get through the study and the sharing in time to allow at least ten minutes for prayer today." Members will more carefully edit their comments to the essentials, and you'll have time to pray (that week anyway).
Keep Prayer Requests Immediate
Make a ground rule to limit requests to the needs of the group members and their immediate families. During the first meeting suggest that while members may want to pray for great-aunt Martha in Cleveland, it would be helpful to share those requests outside of the regular group time. Group time should be saved for personal needs. Most people are pretty good about honoring that request. If requests start expanding over time, I'll mention it again or speak privately to a chronic abuser.
Keep Prayer Requests Pertinent
Sometimes it's appropriate to limit prayer requests even more. If your group has a specific mission—a recovery group, for example—you may want to limit sharing and prayer to issues related to that mission. Or the study may suggest the limits. Again, you can handle prayer for additional needs before or after the meeting or on the telephone.