Communal prayer is when two or more people gather together to raise their minds and hearts to God. A prayer service is a form of communal prayer that follows a set order with designated parts (Leader, Reader, All).
In general, prayer services follow a basic pattern.
Gathering/introduction—song, greeting, opening prayer
The Word of God—Scripture reading, response, silence
Shared prayer—petitions, traditional prayers, litanies, composed prayers, and so on
Conclusion—closing prayer, blessing, song
In addition, a prayer service may include nonverbal expressions such as gesture and ritual.
The Holy Spirit guides all prayer. Prayer leaders do not perform, but offer themselves as a vehicle of the Spirit for those at prayer. Pray to the Holy Spirit to guide and inspire you.
Prayer services should always involve the Word of God so that participants can listen to God speaking to them.
Singing and instrumental music are not just frosting on the cake. They are essential ingredients in prayer services.
Introduce elements into the environment to create a greater awareness of the sacred. Consider candles (when appropriate), dimmed lights, enthroned Bible, cross, and objects from nature such as flowers, rocks, and shells.
Don’t think of what just you are doing during prayer. Ask yourself what the assembly is doing. Be sure to involve the assembly as a whole in the prayer, not just those taking the Leader or Reader roles.
Consider the elements of movement and gesture (procession, bowing, venerating the Bible, outstretching hands, laying on hands, blessing) and of symbols (water, oil) as well as of silence.
Follow and borrow from the prayer of the Church (Roman Missal, Liturgy of the Hours): introductory rites, psalm responses, antiphons, penitential acts, collects, intercessions, and blessings. These prayers are rich and evocative and therefore, powerful.
Pay special attention to the time of the liturgical year (Advent, Lent, feasts, solemnities) when selecting themes and prayers.
Be aware of the age level of your assembly and their faith development as well as their level of maturity.
As when planning a session, be sure of your focus, theme, and goal. Envision the prayer, feel the flow, get a sense of space, time, sound, silence, and so on. Select Readers and assign roles ahead of time. If possible, rehearse with those chosen to read.
Our lives are noisy already. Much of our prayer is too wordy. Allow for periods of silence. Be sure to include silence during the prayer service, perhaps after a prayer or a reading.
There’s nothing worse than interrupting a prayer to give directions such as “the left side takes this part, and the right side takes that part!”
Consider using appropriate visuals (video, DVD, slides, PowerPoint, and so on).
Not everyone is comfortable with spontaneous prayer, but it is a form of prayer that needs to be taught and fostered.
Throughout the prayer service speak clearly and slowly. Proclamation is more than merely reading the text and less than a dramatic performance. As you speak, try not to bury your head in the text; look at the assembly as much as possible. Speaking in this way will help to involve the participants.
Moving with reverence means moving not too quickly or slowly, and not stiffly, but with ease and regard for what you are doing.
By following these simple suggestions, you can involve yourself effectively and wholeheartedly in a prayer service so that others will follow.