I've had two conversations in the past couple days about the importance of prayer in the life of the church. In light of those conversations, I thought I'd post these thoughts about praying in a small group.
Prayer should play an important role in the life of every small group. Some groups do a great job of emphasizing prayer, but others struggle a bit to make it a piece of their community. Often, prayer is an intimidating thing for people to do in a group. Here are a couple ideas that might help make prayer less difficult and that might help your group become more "prayer-focused" in the process:
1. Silent Prayer.Choose a soft (preferably prayer-focused) song and tell the group you're going to play this song and while it plays everyone is going to just engage in silent prayer. Once the song is done, the prayer time will be over. If you want, suggest a pattern of prayer that might be helpful for them. One possible pattern is the "ACTS" pattern (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). Another pattern is to focus on the 3 Relationships Christians have (with God, with other Christians, with those in the world). After the prayer time is over, take a minute to let people discuss how they felt about the experience.
2. Speak to the Chair.Place a chair in the center of the room and tell your group to imagine God is sitting there. Without bowing heads and closing eyes, have people simply talk to God. Let them say thank you or ask questions or make requests. Remind everyone that the goal is to focus on God, so they must resist the temptation to respond to what others are saying. After a while, thank everyone for participating and give them a moment to pray silently and bring closure to the time.
3. Thanksgiving Statements.Instead of having everyone pray, just spend time having people thank God for things. Allow anyone to speak, and allow them to speak as often as they like. But limit the prayers to one sentence prayers of thanksgiving. Before you start let everyone know how you will signal the end of the time.
4. Scripted Prayer.There are some good prayers in the Bible. Sometimes it can be beneficial to read them aloud as a group. Many of the Psalms will work for this. The Lord's Prayer is also great to read as a group. If you want something a little more different, find a prayer in the "Book of Common Prayer" and make enough copies for everyone. Encourage people to consider the meaning and depth of the words as they read them aloud.
5. Written Prayer.Give everyone 5 minutes with a pen and paper. Have them write out their prayer. After you are finished have anyone who desires read their prayer aloud. Encourage everyone to keep their prayer with them and refer back to it throughout the week.
6. Prayer for One AnotherGo around a circle and have each person pray a short prayer of thanksgiving and encouragement for the person to their right (or left). They can say something as simple as "Lord, please bless ____________ as they go through their week." It might be helpful to give a couple minutes to people to talk to one another prior to doing this so that their prayers can be more informed.
7. Week Long PrayerHave each person in the group commit to praying for one other person in the group for an entire week. Have them set aside time each day to specifically pray for that person. Give people an opportunity to talk to one another about their prayers before and after the week.
8. Scheduled PrayerSet aside a time during the week when everyone in the group is going to stop what they are doing and simply pray for 5 minutes. Try to set it up so that it happens at a time when everyone can participate. The following week, have people share how this exercise impacted their day or their week.
9. Focused PrayerIf someone in the group is in need of prayer, and if they are willing to share that with the group; have the group gather around and lay hands on the person. Choose 3-4 people to pray while everyone else prays silently. Make sure you follow up the next week to find out how the situation is working out (sometimes an exercise like this will alert a group to things beyond prayer that they need to do for one another. Read James 2:15-17).