Praying in Mid-Sized Groups
The size of any social construct normally affects the way we speak. A conversation with a friend or family member will differ in both substance and style from a small group conversation that includes a number of people with varying degrees of relationship. Prayer is a conversation. It can take place between God and one individual, between God and two people, or between God and a group of any size. How should we pray in a mid-sized group — let’s say in a prayer meeting of 15-40 people?
Follow the Leader
A conversation in a group this size will usually have a leader. A good leader will try to find a balance between providing direction for our prayers and allowing the Holy Spirit to lead the conversation into unexpected places.
Identify a Theme
In general, we will want to identify a theme and follow it in our conversation with God. Often the leader will suggest a theme. At other times, a theme will emerge spontaneously under the leading of the Holy Spirit.
It’s good to stick with a theme, to explore it thoroughly, avoiding distractions and tangents. Allow other participants to contribute until the leader moves us on or it becomes clear that we are finished with the topic. This requires us to discipline our minds, to listen carefully, to avoid abrupt transitions, and to refrain from speaking our every thought.
Pray for People and Situations Familiar to the Group
A meeting of this size is normally not the ideal context for praying aloud our personal concerns. Unless the leader has encouraged us to do so, this will not be the best place to pray for the varying needs of our relatives, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances. We should avoid referencing people or situations that are unknown to most of the other participants. Those concerns are better addressed in smaller groups.
Consider Your Tendency to Dominate or Withdraw
Finally, the care we should take in a smaller group to avoid dominating the conversation will be even more important in a mid-sized group. We would all do well to consider our own tendency to dominate or withdraw in these settings. If you’re someone who tends to pray lengthy prayers when you’re in a group, consider holding back a bit and making room for others. If you tend to be more reserved, challenge yourself to speak up and pray aloud.
The Constraints of Larger Groups
If there are more than 40 people in the prayer meeting, it is almost inevitable that a smaller percentage of the participants will pray aloud. Those who do should primarily see themselves as praying on behalf of the rest. The constraints created by the appropriate question, “What do those present know about this matter?” will become narrower. This will lead us to pray for broadly shared concerns, for representatives we all know, for leaders we all acknowledge, or for situations in which we are all invested.
These are not hard rules to be enforced but principles for building effective prayer environments. Try them and see what happens!