Note: This article has been excerpted from the SmallGroups.com training resource Revolutionary Prayer in Your Small Group.
At first glance, Nate and Melissa's small group looks like the perfect model for any person to follow. They kick their Tuesday evenings off with a theme dinner, and there is always plenty of food to go around. After dinner, everyone gathers in the living room for a short game, which always provides some opportunities for laughter. During the Bible study, Nate and Melissa lead their group through some great discussions. They are gifted facilitators and know how to ask thought-provoking questions that spark conversations. The evening is wrapped up with a closing prayer. After each gathering, Nate and Melissa go to bed feeling like the time was successful.
One morning, though, Nate received an email that really took him by surprise. A group member expressed an ongoing frustration with the weekly gatherings. For the past two weeks, she had some important prayer requests to share with everyone, but felt the prayer time was rushed at the end of the evening. So she didn't voice her requests. She hoped that Nate and Melissa would create some positive changes so that prayer would become a higher priority for the group.
That email opened Nate and Melissa's eyes to a missing ingredient within the life of their small group: quality prayer time. Even though they closed in prayer every evening, it was normally short and often seemed rushed. But as Nate and Melissa examined their evening agendas, they didn't see much available time. Dinner was important to their group's life because it helped everyone connect through conversations. The game served as a transition into the Bible study time. And there was no way they could cut out their Bible study! So they faced an obstacle—where would they find the time to pray more with their group?
Many small-group leaders are facing a similar obstacle. They would like to have more prayer time with their small groups but do not know how to practically make it happen. I believe this happens because these groups have not made prayer a priority. But they can do so, and the following steps can help.
Seek God's direction
The first thing to do is pray and ask for God's guidance. Ask him to show you his heart's desire for your group. Patiently seek him with all your heart. Proverbs 3:6 says, "In all yours ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight." He will show you how to lead your group toward revolutionary prayer!
Set Your Goal
Nobody knows a small group better than its leader. Before making any plan of action, make sure that you understand your goal. Every small group is unique and made up of people with different levels of spiritual maturity. Some groups have several seasoned prayer warriors and would likely benefit from a longer time of prayer. For other groups, prayer could be a brand new concept to the members. They may agree with the purpose of prayer but lack the discipline to follow through consistently. These groups may become discouraged if the bar is set too high in the beginning. So know your group well.
When setting your goal, begin with the end in mind. Try to imagine what your group's prayer time would look like if everyone were an experienced prayer warrior. This will be your long-term goal and will provide direction, much like a compass. If your group's prayer time were a race, the long-term goal would serve as the finish line. When a race has a finish line, the runners make steps in the same direction toward their goal.
After setting the long term goal, you can create a starting point with steps toward growth. The key here is to set realistic goals that promote growth. For example, if prayer time is a relatively new concept for the life of your group, don't try to have a long period of prayer time immediately. That would be unrealistic and your group may become discouraged. Developing a prayer time with a group can take time and requires patience for growth.
As you set your goal for prayer, here are some questions to consider:
- What is your long-term goal for prayer in the life of your group?
- How often will your group pray?
- How long should the prayer time last?
- What will the prayer time consist of?
- What will be your group's first step?
- When will you begin this step?
Cast the Vision with Your Group
It's important to communicate with your small group in order to maintain a high level of trust. Let them know the importance of prayer. The key here is to be biblical. Don't just share your thoughts and feelings. Thoughts and feelings can be good when they line up with Scripture, so provide your group with verses from God's Word. Set a special time to share what God's Word has to say about the topic of prayer. If your group sees the biblical vision for it, they will likely be on board with you.
Create the Time
This is where the rubber meets the road. You must intentionally create the time to pray with your small group. Look at your regular agenda and find the time. It is there somewhere. You may have to take some time from an activity or discussion, but it will be worth it in the end. Having a revolutionary prayer time requires creativity and intentionality.
As you create time, remember that the average person requires four minutes to share their requests. Simply multiply the number of group members by four and you will get a better idea of the amount of time you are looking for. If people feel rushed, they will not share an intimate request. This step will be more difficult for those with a higher number of group members.
If you find yourself crunching for time, consider the following ideas:
Subgrouping. Divide your group into smaller prayer circles of 3-5 participants. Appoint a leader for each prayer circle and have the leader report the requests to you. After gathering the requests, you can share them with the whole group through email. Subgrouping will help you get even more accomplished in a smaller unit of time.
- Prayer theme nights. Devote an entire evening to prayer once per month. This will quickly establish prayer as a priority in your group, as well as providing some quality time to pray.
Once you have created the time to pray, you need to make good use of that time by establishing some needed guidelines. A wise man once said, "Wisdom is the quality that keeps you out of situations where you need it." Guidelines will help you stay on the prevent side of things. They will serve as powerful tools in keeping your prayer time focused. Guidelines will also help you intentionally guard your group's prayer time.
Here are some guidelines to help you get started on the right foot:
Set the ending time. Let everyone know when the prayer time will end. This will help keep everyone focused and prevent unneeded frustration from dragging things out too long.
No distant requests allowed. As your group shares prayer requests, challenge them to share a need that is close to them. Do not allow them to share requests about distant relatives, friends, or circumstances. Challenge everyone to keep their requests focused on either themselves or their immediate family.
Allow time for all requests. Make sure everyone in your group has the opportunity to share their requests. Let everyone know that each person has a set time to share requests. This time will vary depending on the size of the group, but I recommend giving people between 2-4 minutes. Without this guideline in place, the people who enjoy talking will naturally dominate the time, and those who are quiet will not have the chance to share.
- Establish the plan for prayer. Make sure that you communicate the expectation for the actual prayer time. No matter what you decide, your group needs to know what you want to happen. Here are some questions to consider while setting up your plan: How long will the actual prayer time last? Do you want everyone to have the opportunity to pray? Will you appoint people to pray? Who will be the first to pray? Who will be the last to pray?
It takes up to 30 days to form a new habit. Make sure that you are consistent in following through on your prayer time. This will require discipline. And be on the guard for anything that may take away from this time—distractions come when we least expect it. So be consistent by closing the door on any interference.
Measure Your Progress
After 30 days of praying with your group, see how things are working. Get feedback from group members. Remember your long term goal? See how the group is measuring up to it. This is a great time to create any further steps or adjustments. Share the progress with your group, too. Help them see their spiritual growth. And celebrate together! This will fuel everyone's passion toward even more spiritual growth in the future.
—Seth Widner is Family Pastor of The Journey Church in Fernandia Beach, Florida. Copyright 2010 by the author and Christianity Today International.