Prayer is one of the foundational practices of the Christian faith. Praying with a group of other believers is one type of prayer that can bring great blessing and encouragement to everyone involved.
Some main barriers to ‘group prayer’ are:
Shyness: many people are very shy when it comes to praying out loud in front of others, regardless of whether they have an outgoing personality. They feel they are not ‘good at praying’, they are afraid they will say the wrong things, or that others will laugh at them. This can be due to inexperience, lack of self-esteem, or the need to keep up a certain image in front of the rest of the group. It may also be due to the fact that the group is not close relationally so they are not confident praying aloud in front of people they don’t know very well.
Introversion: rather than necessarily being shy, some people naturally process things internally and so they need a lot of time to think things through before they share it publicly (or they might never want to share it publicly). Therefore when it comes to group prayer they struggle to express out loud what they could easily pray privately.
Apathy: depending on the group, there may be individuals (or the whole group!) who don’t realize the importance/value of prayer. Because of this they might not enjoy these group prayer gatherings. There will also be times when even the most committed disciple just won’t feel like praying.
Tips to overcoming these barriers
Teach on the topic of prayer: this will help the young people see the importance, blessing, and power of prayer both personal and corporate. Preach or have discussions about why group prayer is important instead of just praying privately.
Instead of just announcing “we’re going to pray now”, begin by giving young people a vision for the prayer time: you could share a Scripture, or a testimony related to answered prayer, or get the group to imagine what could happen as a result of the prayer time.
Plan your group prayer time in advance: in the same way that you might plan a game or a bible study, plan your prayer time. You can always be flexible during the prayer time, but think of creative ways to pray together. Ask yourself questions like, is there a focus for this prayer gathering eg praying for each other, praying for families etc? Is there Scripture you want to read? Is there a structure for the prayer time?
Try and include and encourage each individual in the prayer time without being forceful: you might want to assign a prayer need to each person to pray (giving them an out if they really don’t want to), or encourage each person to pray for the person on their left
Remember that the introverts often need more time to think through what to pray before they pray it out loud: don’t jump in with a prayer or call the prayer time to an end when you get to a quiet patch.
Model praying out loud as the leader: pray naturally, don’t use Christian jargon or old-fashioned phrases. Pray short prayers. This encourages people who are not used to praying in a group setting to pray short prayers.
Establish some rules for the prayer time if you need to: no one may laugh at or mock a person who is praying. Any needs that are shared amongst the group should be kept confidential. If someone does not want to pray in a group setting don’t make an issue of it in front of the group. Talk to them privately and encourage them to participate. If there is someone who dominates the group prayer time, talk to them privately so you can encourage them to let the other members of the group participate. If someone prays inappropriate prayers address it publicly, interrupting them gently, and explaining to the group why the prayer is inappropriate.
Written by Dion Fasi, as part of the Diocese of Auckland’s “How to” Series. Edited by Simon Greening.
You can download a PDF version of this training resource here. Feel free to print and hand out these notes to your youth leaders.