If you’re looking for a Bible verse about group prayer, James 5:16 isn’t a bad choice:
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed.
The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
By God’s grace, praying with and for one another is powerful. I’ve experienced this in countless ways in the men’s group I lead. I often arrive at our group struggling in faith, motivation, or a particular life challenge, and leave with confidence in God and my burdens lifted. I wouldn’t trade our weekly prayer time for anything.
And yet I know such a time of prayer isn’t a guarantee. It might feel awkward or forced. You might fail to gain momentum if people don’t speak up or if their prayers are too short or superficial. You might be so into your conversation that you run out of time to pray. Or maybe some in the group use prayer request time as a personal soapbox to overshare about every detail of their life.
I hope the following ideas will help you foster small group prayer that brings God glory, blesses His people, and engages the group.
Ten Ideas for Cultivating Small Group Prayer
1. Begin your small group with prayer so you don’t run out of time at the end.
I often do this in our early morning men’s group since a couple men leave early for work.
2. Share a structure for people to follow.
It could be the 3-Rs (Rejoice, Repent, Request) for responding to a Scripture or truth, the similar ACTS pattern (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, or Supplication), or a custom template for your group.
3. Have two prayer times: one at the beginning and another at the end.
A benefit of this approach is that each prayer session can have a different purpose, and thus reminds group members that prayer is more than asking God for things, it is also worship, confession, and giving thanks.
When my group has two prayer sessions, we often focus on each other’s needs at the beginning and then spend the closing session asking for God’s help in applying the Scripture we studied.
4. Pray a Scripture passage together.
Focusing on a Scripture keeps prayer from being a laundry list of requests and reminds us that prayer at its simplest, is responding to what God has said to us in His Word. You might focus on a Psalm or even read and pray through an entire epistle like Philippians, Colossians, or Ephesians.
Learn more about the why and how of praying the Bible in the free Pray the Bible video course—a course designed for small group use.
5. Plan entire meetings dedicated to prayer.
You may do this randomly or on a monthly or quarterly basis. I recommend coming with a focus for your time, a set of texts from Scripture or relevant topics. Consider having printouts with a list of prayer requests to help guide your group. You could break your time into several different chunks and read Scripture or sing in between.
6. If your group is large, split into smaller groups.
It is small group prayer after all. If your group has twenty minutes allotted for prayer but ten people, that means that either not everyone can pray, or everyone can pray but just for a short period of time. When large groups are split, more people can pray for more time. And it’s a good thing when God’s people pray.
This idea can also work with encouraging group members to intercede for each other during the week. Instead of having each member pray for every person (which can get overwhelming), assign them one or two others to lift up in prayer. Smaller groups could even meet outside of small group for additional prayer.
7. Use Popcorn Prayer Prompts.
“In one or two sentences, thank God for ___________.” A simple prompt like that can spark a fruitful time of prayer in a way that invites those not always comfortable praying in front of others.
8. Rotate special topics for prayer times.
In my men’s small group, we will often focus extra prayer attention in a few directions: growth in godliness, the confession of sins, our wives, our families, our work, evangelism, the church and church leaders, our local community, world leaders and events, missionaries, and our enemies to name a few.
Rotating topics allows us to go deeper in one area instead of being tempted to neglect a topic or pray shallower prayers. You can’t pray for everything you need to pray for in every meeting!
9. Allow time for individual prayer.
Occasionally mixing in time for individual prayer can help those uncomfortable praying in front of others and allow the group to respond more personally to the topic or passage.
10. Learn how to limit and focus prayer requests.
The temptation with the question, “Does anyone have a prayer request?” is to give everyone in the group as much time as they want to share, eating all of the time for actual prayer.
Find a way to limit how long sharing prayer requests can take.
- One option to consider is gathering prayer requests before the group meets via text or email. This also allows the leader to show deeper one-on-one care and attention for group members who need it.
- Ask a question like “What are two things we can pray for you about?” or “In a minute or less, how can we pray for you?”
- If time is short, you can pause the sharing time and let people know they can add additional requests by praying for them during their turn.
These ideas work best for more routine prayer requests. More important requests need time to unpack and sensitivity in the response. When a particularly challenging or painful prayer need comes up, praying as a group with hands on the affected member is a great way to bring their request before the Lord and collectively bear a burden (Galatians 6:2).
The Church: A Greenhouse for Prayer
Like a greenhouse, the church provides us the ideal environment for prayer to flourish. A community of people dedicated to God’s Word and filled with His Spirit will offer God prayers that honor Him and work in the world.
Let’s take the privilege of prayer seriously!
 John Onwuchekwa used this illustration in his book Prayer.