Note: This article has been excerpted from the SmallGroups.com training resource Evaluating Prayer in Your Small Group.
It's the end of your group's Bible study time. Almost with a cringe (because you've become conditioned to what's about to transpire for the next 30 seconds or 30 minutes), you say something like: "Okay, time to shift into our prayer time. Anybody got anything we need to be lifting up this week?"
What follows is either:
A colossally awkward silence where you are thinking: Really? Nothing? Are your people dead inside? And your group members are thinking: Really? Share serious life stuff with everyone here? Are you stupid inside?
- A verbal cascade of prayer requests lasting 12 minutes each with tears, laughter, gossip, and maybe a little anger all wound up into such a mess that you have no idea what the bombardier who started this raid actually wants you to pray for.
Finally, after the awkward silence or the monologues, you say something like, "Who will close us in prayer?" This leads to a single prayer, probably by the unfortunate soul who made eye contact with you when you asked that question, and it lasts about 30 seconds. "God thanks for letting us meet, be with all the stuff we just talked about for 30 minutes, keep us safe this week, amen. No wait—in Jesus' name, amen.
Or maybe you go so far to say, "Let's have a different person pray for each one of those." This leads to five of the same nondescript prayers tailored slightly to the assigned requests.
Praying as a Small Group
Sound familiar? Hopefully that is a humorous picture that strikes one or two chords with your past experiences. What happened in that situation, and in a lot of small groups, is that prayer requests take far more time and energy than actual prayer. God calls us to be a people of prayer, not prayer requests. Seriously, if you aren't careful you can "prayer request" your group into spiritual demise.
So let's take your group prayer time through a boot camp of sorts. We'll start by asking a few questions, and then we will look at some ideas to help cultivate a rich, participative, belief-saturated prayer life among your group members.
For the sake of common language, this assessment will operate on the following definition of prayer:
Definition: Prayer is God's means for people to acknowledge their dependence on him for all things.
So when we praise him, when we confess to him, when we believe him for a brother's need, we put ourselves where God designed for us to be: dependent on his provision. A rich prayer life is one that regularly and unreservedly cries out "Abba, Father."
Assessing Your Group's Prayer Life
The easiest way to assess where you are is to simply interact with some questions designed to investigate your group's prayer life. This is not intended to beat you up. Like a workout routine, it should only hurt in the places that need the most work.
- Who is the main character of your group's prayer time? At first you may say: "God, of course." But who do most of your prayers really center around? God and his character? The nations? The orphans and widows? Or is it you and the people in your group?
Why this matters: You were created to be a part of something bigger than yourself. Most of the prayers in the psalms, for example, are filled with praises for God—with requests for his help coming only in the last verse or two. If we really are only here by God's grace, our prayer life should be fueled by a God-focused mind and heart.