Pray In Twos or Threes
Sometimes it's effective to break your group into smaller units of two or three, either before sharing prayer needs or after. Have each small group pray for their own needs, and if there's time, have the groups pray for other needs. You won't want to use this technique all the time, but it's especially useful if there are several major issues needing prayer.
"You Have One Minute"
One technique that's unpopular but effective is to announce at the beginning of the sharing time: "You each have one minute to bring us up to date or make a new prayer request. If necessary you can add more detail as you pray and we'll eavesdrop."
Use this technique only when the group is cohesive and you know one another pretty well. The advantage of this approach is that it encourages people to carefully edit their sharing to the most pertinent points. The disadvantage is that it may limit someone who really needs to talk that day. But because the group is already caring for one another, it's easy to spot such a need and agree to break the rules. This approach also frees people from the need to talk if there's nothing new. I've heard people say, "No change from last week. Keep praying for my daughter. I'll give my minute to Linda so we can get more details on her health." Again, you don't want to use this technique all the time, but it's effective when you need a drastic change.
Share During Prayer Time
Sometimes our groups get into a rut where we share every detail of the need, then we turn around and pray it all back to God as if he hadn't been listening. While I prefer to pray for someone else, if time is short we can share and pray at the same time by praying for our own need and allowing the others to eavesdrop and get caught up. Their individual prayers bring us up to date and avoid the next problem.
Nix Problem Solving
One of the greatest tendencies of Christian groups is to turn prayer request time into a counseling session. That's one reason we often don't have time to pray. We're too busy trying to solve the problem ourselves. This is truly the work of the enemy to keep us from praying!
State the "no problem solving" guideline at the first meeting. Then, as soon as someone begins to offer advice, remind them that we need to pray about the problem, not solve it.
This is important for a couple of reasons. First, when we problem-solve, we're replacing God's perfect wisdom with our imperfect wisdom. It's a shortcut that results in idolatry as we, in effect, make ourselves "like God." Second, when we try to give a quick answer (even if we're sure we know it), we're not showing respect for the other person. We need to let people know that we have faith in them to come to good solutions on their own, with the wisdom that only God can give.
This prohibition doesn't apply to a need that can easily be resolved within the group. If John needs a car to commute to work because his won't run another mile and Henry happens to have a spare, of course he can offer it to John immediately, although they should work out the details after the group.
Devote an Entire Meeting to Sharing and Praying
If yours is an ongoing group, take an occasional break from the study and devote an entire meeting to worshiping, sharing, and praying. During this meeting, you can give more attention to each person and still have time for significant prayer—if you're careful. Of course you'll still be tempted to let a particularly needy person go on and on. Or to let everyone go on and on. Or to problem solve. Or to do anything but pray. Don't give in to that temptation. Make it your goal to assure that prayer is the focal point of this meeting.