One of the challenges of leading a Bible study group is managing the time dedicated to prayer requests. We’ve all been in a group when prayer requests took the majority of the group study time.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m a big fan of prayer! The Lord’s house is to be a house of prayer. But as group leaders, you and I must learn to manage the limited time we have with our group members. That includes managing the prayer time so that needs are lifted up to God, while also allowing time for the other important elements of group life.
Here are six ways you can more effectively manage your group’s prayer requests. These can help ensure that you are addressing people’s needs while still providing a well-rounded Bible study experience that is balanced and effective.
Assign the prayer requests. I will often write prayer requests on the marker board in my group’s meeting place at the church. One by one, people tell the group what kind of needs they have, and I list them one by one. I then ask group members to volunteer to take turns praying for the requests. Too often in groups, a list of requests are written on a marker board, but each request is not prayed for. Instead, someone offers a “generic” prayer and the study begins. I much prefer making sure that people’s specific needs are carried to the throne of grace.
Use “the basket method.” 3 X 5 index cards are perfect for gathering the prayer requests of group members. Use standard index cards (one per person) and ask group members to write down their prayer requests on one side of the card. Then ask them to turn the card over and write their name and contact information on the card’s reverse side. Cards are then placed in a basket (it doesn’t matter what type) as it is passed around the group. Once all cards are in the basket, reverse the process and ask group members to reach in and take one of the index cards. Ask group members to pray for the need on their index card throughout the week, and contact the person who made the request sometime during the week to let them know their request is being prayed for. In a larger group, this can save a significant amount of time, and all prayer needs will be covered. In addition, relationships can be strengthened as individuals receive messages from fellow group members that they are praying for the specific need.
Pray in smaller groups. It can be intimidating to pray out loud in a big group, so consider dividing your group into smaller ones. People who will not speak up in a group of 15 or more people will often talk in a group of 3 to 4 people. Breaking your groups into triads or quads may be just the thing to encourage people to pray out loud for their fellow group members. If your group is a virtual group, and if you use Zoom, don’t forget to use the “breakout room” feature to divide your group into smaller ones online.
Email requests after the group Bible study. After hearing your group member’s prayer requests (and writing them down, of course), set aside time after your group’s Bible study and send out the requests via email (when recording on a marker board, use your smartphone to capture a picture of the requests). This way everyone in the group will have a current list of the group’s prayer requests each week.
Use email to generate the prayer requests. On occasion when I can see that the Bible study is going to run long, I will say something like, “I’ll send an email to the group later today, and summarize the study for us and those who were not here today. If you have a prayer need this week, just ‘reply all’ and let us know what it is. We’ll jump into action and begin praying for you.” I then control the length of the prayer time by simply praying for the Lord’s blessing on the group, our study time together, and those not present. When I’m running short on time, this allows me to complete the Bible study, but still make sure that requests are known and prayed for during the week.
Use your Care Groups to pray for needs. Not every group is organized into Care Groups, but these are especially helpful when it comes to praying for the needs of group members. A Care Group is simply a subgroup of your Bible study members. These groups are typically 4 to 6 people and function best if the members are the same gender (husbands and wives will be in two different Care Groups). At the end of a Bible study, the group can break down into Care Groups to pray.
Other than serving as the manager for Lifeway’s ongoing adult Bible studies and as the Director of Sunday School, Ken is an 18-year church education staff leader and blogs regularly about Sunday School and groups ministry at kenbraddy.com.