We sat in a circle, with eyes closed and heads bowed, listening to Sally, a fellow ministry leader, spout eloquent paragraphs. The group seemed to track with her for the first few minutes, but after a while, I began a mental inventory of my freezer, hoping to dream up something for dinner that night. By the time Sally finished her prayer, a long pause hung in the air. I had forgotten what I wanted to pray about when the meeting began. I sensed the shifting of bodies around me and wondered if others had grown impatient with the prayer monologue. No one dared speak next. Perhaps they’d also lost their focus or felt under qualified to follow a long-winded pray-er who’d been interceding with Scriptures for over thirty years. The next few times the group met, the numbers dwindled, until only a small core remained to continue the one-sided prayer meetings.
Prayer meetings like this happen regularly in North American churches, and yet, when we examine the prayer rhythms of the Acts church, they are far from boring. When fresh-out-of-prison Peter knocked on the door of Mary’s house, where “many were gathered together and were praying” (Acts 12:12), I highly doubt their gathering resembled Sally’s meeting. Acts 1:14 states, “All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.” Another translation reads, “they all joined together constantly in prayer.” The Greek root word for one accord, homothumadon, meaning “with one mind, unanimously, at the same time,” reveals more about the atmosphere of these prayer times. Praying with one accord was a habit that this vibrant community of Christ followers embraced. It was part of their regular rhythm.
We can’t be completely certain what these prayer meetings sounded like or what format was used. But it’s safe to assume these new believers were anything but bored as they implored God to send angels to open the prison gates for their brother, Peter. I’m certain things really ramped up when Peter knocked on the door!
If you’re ready, as I am, to breathe some life into your small group prayer times, why not change up the format of your times of prayer? Here are some ideas to get you started. Try a few and see what works for your group!
Circle Prayer: Pray around the circle. Squeeze the hand of the next person to pass.
Jump Start: Begin (rather than end) your group meeting with requests and prayer time.
Index Card Swap: Each person writes a personal request on an index card. Then, each member of the group draws one and prays for that person through the week. Add names and contact information for more bonding.
Prayer Buddies: Split up into twos or threes. Each person shares one specific need, prays for the other’s request, and commits to pray throughout the week.
A to Z: Pray God’s names and attributes from A to Z. Each person prays one: Abba, Beautiful, Caring, Deliverer, Everlasting, Father, etc.
Prayer Walk: Walk around the church or the neighborhood where you meet, praying as the Holy Spirit uses visual prompts to bring topics to mind.
Pray Scripture: Insert “I” or “me” or the person’s name for whom you are praying. Type up Scriptures before your group time or email them ahead to give timid pray-ers a chance to prep. For example, praying 1 Thessalonians 3:13:
- “Dear Lord, may you strengthen my heart so that I will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.”
- “Dear Lord, please strengthen my heart so I will do what is right. Give me your grace to make decisions that lead to holiness.”
Journal: Purchase a prayer journal, and appoint a prayer captain. Record requests and answers. The prayer captain updates the journal weekly and sends out a monthly praise report to the group.
Hot Seat: Group members with a specific burden or need are invited to sit in the center of the group. The group lays hands on that person and prays, listening for the Holy Spirit and keeping prayers brief so all can take a turn.
Pray the Bible: Choose a biblical prayer, read it aloud, and then enter into conversational prayer. For example, a prayer for blessing: 1 Chronicles 4:10; a prayer for protection: Psalm 91; a prayer of worship: Psalm 8; a prayer of repentance: Psalm 139:23–24.
The Lord’s Prayer: Divide Matthew 6:9–13 into several chunks and pray weekly from the corresponding phrase. For example, Week 1: Our Father in heaven—Praise God for who He is and name His attributes together; Week 2: Your kingdom come, your will be done—Pray for God’s rule and reign in each life and circumstance.
Conversational Prayer: Converse as a group with Jesus, each taking turns and listening to one another.
- Stay with one topic at a time, allowing someone else to add to that topic before proceeding. Build on the prayers of others, as in a conversation. Stay on the topic until everyone who wishes to contribute has had an opportunity.
- Proceed topically. When a topic is complete, someone—not just the leader—can move on to the next topic.
We’ve also created a free printable pdf to make these ideas easy to review and distribute. We hope your group is blessed!