“This is your house. You’ve got the floor to pray if you want.” I whispered to my friend as we gathered together in his kitchen, people spilling into the dining room, stirring prior to small group. Lots of people showed up that night, eager to engage in each others’ lives, catch up on the week, and dig into the homemade meatball subs simmering on the stove top.

image credit: CreationSwap user Stacey Lewis

Facial expressions speak much louder than words. Unless, of course, you are screaming into a megaphone, in which case those words speak louder than your facial expressions. But in most instances in life, knee-jerk facial expressions speak what’s on your heart loudly. In this moment, I knew I’d inadvertently put my friend in an awkward spot.

“Umm…ok. Let’s do this” he whispered back, shrugging his shoulders to shake off that nervous feeling of inadequacy and I-have-no-idea-what-I’m-doing.

He positioned himself so that the full group could see and hear him, and began to tie the laces of the new “spiritual leader” shoes he was taking for a spin around the block. “Well, guys, welcome to our home,” he squeezed through a forced smile. “We’re glad you’re here” he said as he communicated genuineness, making eye contact with everyone looking up. “I’ve never done this before…well, out loud, anyway…but let’s pray.”

He prayed the most simple, God-honoring, easy-going, authentic prayer I may have ever heard.

There was nothing profound about his prayer. Nothing particularly to note from an outsider’s perspective.

But knowing the internal battle of his heart, combined with the fact that he’d never taken the spiritual lead publicly like this before, it was beautiful. I believe this step of faith he took into unknown (for him) territory has set his family on a pathway to spiritual growth like he’s never known. Though the prayer may not have sounded radical to you, it was a risky, wall-shattering step towards Jesus.

It was our small group that got him ready for this. And I know how we did it.

There’s a way to structure prayer time that encourages prayer. And there’s a way to structure prayer time that encourages people to think you’re amazing and eloquent. One way honors God. One way honors you and your flowery vocabulary.

The more you use theologically technical, complicated words when you pray out loud, the more you’ll encourage people to shut down during prayer time. Why?

Because they don’t have that vocabulary.

At some level, praying out loud is like public speaking. Glossophobia (fear of public speaking) strikes 3/4 people, and we as a culture are deathly afraid of speaking in public. Maybe it’s a twisted form of pride that we need to work through, but the truth remains: speaking publicly strikes a fear into most people’s heart. Combine that with the fact that people don’t know the words you’re using, they’re afraid to appear “immature” spiritually in front of other people. They don’t know what to say, and it’s easy to shut people down during group prayer time through the words you use.

The leader sets the tone

You, the leader, can lead group members to take radical steps of faith by the way you pray out loud. Pray simply. Pray as if you’re talking to a friend…because you are, right? God’s not impressed by your theologically charged language. He wants your heart, not your words that seek to impress hearers. In fact, when you use words that don’t encourage others to unite with you in prayer, you sound a lot like the hypocrite from Matthew 6. You’ve gotten your reward already, and the reward isn’t that God heard you.

Want to encourage others to begin praying?

Pray simply. Use normal language. And keep your prayers short. Pray for a specific request, thank God that He showed up, and move on.

It’s in that process of simplicity that group members begin to think, “This prayer thing…it’s not so hard. Maybe I can try talking to God, too.”

Last time I checked, talking to God for the first time is a radical, beautiful step of faith.