Ideas for prayer in small groups

  • Richard Sweatman
  • 19 August 2019

Recently our church’s small group leaders met to think about improving prayer in the life of our groups. I thought I’d share the ideas we came up with since they’ll be good for group leaders and helpful for group members as well.

Firstly, though—‘improving’ prayer is not really a thing. Our prayers are not a meritorious work: they are received and mediated to our heavenly Father by our perfect high priest, Jesus Christ. The fanciest theological prayer is no better than the simple cry for help. Having said that, we know that our small group prayer could often be more open, more God-centred, more wise and so on. This is what I’m writing about.

Secondly, ‘prayer tips’ have little value without a solid biblical and theological understanding of prayer. At our training night we actually spent a lot of time thinking about the Lord’s Prayer and what that teaches us. So please be regularly learning what the Bible says about prayer (e.g. Matt 6:5-15; Eph 1:15-23; Col 4:2-4). Great resources are You Can Pray by Tim Chester; Prayer and the Voice of God by Phillip Jensen and Tony Payne; Growing in Prayer by Stephen Shead; and Praying with Paul: A Call to Spiritual Reformation by Don Carson.

Here are the ideas we came up with (in no particular order):

1. Begin your study with a psalm

Choose a short psalm (e.g. Ps 117) or the first few verses of a psalm (e.g Ps 103:1-5) and begin your study by reading it and praying in response.

2. Do group prayer at the start so you don’t run out of time

Try this every week, or alternate weeks just to change things up.

3. Record prayer points as they are shared

Write things into your phone or prayer diary. Chromecast them (or similar) to your TV screen so everyone can see them. Pray for them during the week. Recap how they went the following week.

4. Share prayer requests during the week

Use some sort of closed group like WhatsApp.

5. Try ‘popcorn prayer’

Share points (or not) and let everyone pray in no particular order, like corn kernels popping. Choose someone to finish.

6. Choose a theme for prayer time

Something to try occasionally. One week’s theme might be inviting everyone to share and pray for one thing they’re thankful for. Other possible themes: one of your church’s ministries, one of your mission partners, something from our world, or a non-Christian friend/family member.

7. Use the ACTS acronym

Get people to pray one of the categories of adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. I suggest that confession be more of a collective confession of something e.g. selfishness with time and money.

8. Set an example of openness as a leader

Share something a bit deeper from your life that you’d like prayer for.

9. Set an example of brevity in prayer point sharing

Don’t worry about the long story. Say something like: “Work’s been really tough this week. Please pray that I would be godly, patient and honour God in the situation. Pray that God might alleviate the conflict that’s going on at the moment.”

10. Encourage people to pray in their first language

If you have people whose main language is something other than English, invite them to pray in their own language.

11. Help people get to the point

Ask people during a suitable pause: “So what would you like prayer for in your situation?” Help them think this through and then pray.

12. Coach people on how to pray

Some people have little or no experience in praying aloud in groups. Meet with them and give them some guidance on how to pray in a small group.

13. Make up a box of prayers

Make a pretty box and write down a stack of prayer ideas on cardboard. Put them in the box and invite people to pull one out each week. Use this to provide lots of biblically based, God-centred, gospel-focused prayers.

14. Split into small groups to pray

Split into triplets or gender-based groups to pray. This will encourage quiet people to pray and also promote more honest prayer. You can do this every week or just occasionally. Keep the groups the same to promote trust, or change after a while to help relationships form.

15. Ask particular people to pray

Ask quiet people to pray, or else talk with them outside of group time to encourage them to speak up.

16. Keep your Bible open during prayer time

Don’t close your Bible after Bible study. Keep it open on your lap and model praying using biblical ideas and language.

17. Invite people to prepare

Give people a day or a week of notice to prepare something to pray during group time.

18. Print and bring missionary prayer emails 

As soon as you get the email, print it out and stick it in your Bible or on the coffee table. Pray through it at small group.

19. Allow time to discuss what prayers come out of the passage

Make one of your applications at the end of the study: “How would this passage shape our prayer life?”

20. Ban advice giving during prayer point sharing time

Enforce this one strictly.

I’m motivated to refresh and ‘improve’ my small group’s prayer time. I hope you’re keen for the same!

This article was first published online at Standing in Grace, and has been edited and republished with permission.

Being a Small Group Leader