Note: This case study is excerpted from our resource Meaningful Prayer in Small Groups, which is a Training Theme. Training Themes can easily be used to create a one-day training event for training small-group leaders and always contain two case studies.
It was the beginning of a new year of women's Bible study, and I was excited. We had a great study guide, great leaders, and great enrollment. What could go wrong?
Then Beth, a woman new to our church, took me aside one Sunday morning. "Pat, I'm excited about being in the Bible study, but I just wanted to let you know in advance that I don't pray out loud. Please don't ask me to and please don't call on me to pray. I just don't do that."
Her look and tone of voice told me not even to try to change her mind. It was already set in concrete. I smiled and assured her there was no pressure. I told her I wanted her to be comfortable, and I was sure that she would be just fine in the group. Inside, I wasn't so sure.
I wasn't sure how to handle the situation. I wasn't even sure if it was a major issue or a minor issue. So I prayed—for her, for me, and for the group. I was concerned that if she maintained this stance, it could affect both her growth and the group's cohesion. It probably wouldn't be critical in the beginning, but it could eventually create a rift—maybe not a huge one, but certainly a crack. And I sensed that Beth would miss out on something important.
What would you do?
- Would you just let it go and hope that eventually the group member would come around?
- Would you set aside a small-group meeting to teach on group prayer?
- Would you try to manipulate the environment so group members wouldn't have a choice about praying aloud?
I realized as I prayed and talked with other leaders that this issue is not unique to Beth. There are several reasons why people don't pray out loud in a group.
- Some have no experience with it. This is especially true of new Christians and those from a religious tradition that doesn't include audible prayer or conversational prayer.
- Some find it scary. To hear their own voices talking to the God of the universe may feel presumptuous.
- Some feel intimidated. They're certain that they aren't eloquent enough to pray with those who are more experienced. This is especially true if they've been in a group where someone prayed in perfect King James English or if there are wide educational, language, or cultural differences in the group.
- Some people are just naturally shy. They not only don't pray aloud; they do everything they can to avoid speaking in a group.
Based on my assessment, I took several courses of action that I hoped would avoid discomfort for everyone.
- I assigned Beth to my small group. We had a large Bible study with several smaller breakout groups, and Beth was assigned to my breakout group. I decided that because I was the teaching leader, I should tackle this problem rather than delegate Beth to another leader. At this point, I had the most invested in her growth.
- I let everyone know that they were under no compulsion to pray aloud. Before the prayer times in my first few meetings, I casually mentioned that I understood that not everyone was comfortable with praying audibly. I affirmed that silent prayers are as effective as audible prayers, but encouraged members to join in as they felt comfortable.
- I encouraged short sentence prayers. Just in case the long-winded prayers of others might intimidate Beth, I encouraged group members to keep prayers brief and to the point, even offering them a sentence to finish such as "Lord, I thank you for …" (This helped keep the group on time as well!)