Shallow, inauthentic prayer is one of the biggest factors in undermining a group’s prayer life. Here are seven factors that kill authenticity and stunt growth, as well as some strategies for combating each factor.
- Too many prayer requests (multiple for each person in the group) When people share multiple requests or go into exhaustive detail about a request, it leaves no time for actual prayer. It also causes some group members to check out mentally. One thing you can do to avoid this is begin prayer time by asking, “What is one the one thing you most want us to pray for this week?”
- Shallow prayer requests (“Please pray for my neighbor’s grandmother’s cat, who ran away”) When people request prayer for things that seem trivial, that they just came up with on the spot, or that they aren’t praying about, prayer time starts to seem like a waste of time and group members check out mentally. Avoid this by urging group members to focus their requests on something personal. It’s okay to ask, “Is this something you’re praying about yourself?” or “Is there anything going on with you that we can pray about?”
- Group members who never have prayer requests When someone in group consistently says, “I can’t think of anything” or “I’m good” during prayer time, it sends the message to the rest of the group that he or she isn’t willing to be authentic and transparent. That makes everyone else hesitant to be authentic and transparent. One of the best ways to encourage people to open up is to use directed prayer. It provides focus. Instead of making a general request, ask something like, “What can we pray for regarding your relationships at work?” Another thing you can do is send out an email or text to let people know ahead of time that you want them to think about their prayer requests. Some people are contemplative. Some people need some time to think and dig into what’s going on in their lives.
- Lack of transparency Sometimes group members make personal requests, but they’re still “surfacey.” You get the sense that they’re probably holding back what’s really going on in their lives. One of the best ways to encourage others to be authentic and transparent is to model authenticity, transparency, and acceptance. Be vulnerable when you ask others to pray for you. Remind your group that respect and authenticity are values covered in the Group Agreement, and that they don’t have to worry about being judged.
- Prayer time dominators When the entire time allotted to prayer ends up focused on one person in the group (not because of an isolated situation requiring care), group members get resentful and bored. If this happens in your group, you may need to have a one-on-one conversation to remind the person of the purpose of group prayer: “I know you have a lot going on you’d like us to pray for, but others in the group also need the opportunity to share their concerns. I’d like you to try to limit requests to two minutes. If you have additional requests, you can send them out in an email.”
- Problem-solvers Sometimes, a group member will try to solve others’ problems rather than listening, acknowledging, and committing to pray. Remind your group that the purpose of prayer time is to share your burdens and take them before God. It’s not to solve one another’s problems. If a member continues to problem-solve, have a one-on-one conversation focused on how it makes other people feel and how it undermines the group’s prayer life.
- Repetitive prayer time Prayer time feels dry when group members offer up the same requests week after week. To avoid this, you can mix things up by changing the structure or format of your prayer time. The next post in this series will explore how to do just that.
- Skipping prayer time As the old adage goes, “Aim at nothing, hit it every time.” If prayer is not a priority in your small group’s schedule, either it will not happen or it will get tacked on the end as a quick formality. Practically, for leaders, this means that at a certain pre-set time, no matter what, you shift the small group to a time of prayer. It may be helpful to tell your small group, “we’re going to have discussion up until 7:30 and then start a time of prayer.” If you are not fairly time conscious by nature you might need to set an alarm or have a co-leader let you know when the time has come. If you won’t plan to pray, you won’t pray.