Why is it so important?
It models the importance of prayer. If we say that something is spiritually important, we should do it with others in a regular way (e.g., Bible study; outreach). In corporate prayer, we come together to express our dependence on God, our confidence in his promises, and our zeal to serve him. Over time, answered prayers make it clear that all truly fruitful ministry is birthed and bathed in prayer.
It helps to create an ethos of other-centeredness and outreach. The prayer focus on evangelism builds convictions over time. The commitment to serve others rather than get consumed with self is also transmitted. New Christians who join us are invariably impressed that they have been prayed for by the group—and they quickly see how important this is.
It is an important way to get new Christians off to a good start. The sooner new Christians join us in corporate prayer, the better. They “break the corporate prayer barrier.” They learn how to pray by listening to other more mature Christians, and by being encouraged when they pray. They are immediately introduced to the ministry mission of the group and are able to be a vital part of it through their prayers.
It creates a healthy corporate vertical experience. Praising and thanking God together is profoundly edifying. People are lifted up and spiritually inspired as they talk to God and listen to others do the same. It is important to model this kind of healthy spiritual enthusiasm. There is something about talking to God together that is profoundly unifying. People will often be more vulnerable in this setting than in one-on-one conversation. When men and women are both vulnerable to God like this, this both expresses our unity and strengthens it.
It enables us to see what God is doing in and through our home group. This is the best way to discern what God is doing, how people are responding to God, etc. We often receive specific insights and leadings from God in this context—sometimes directly related to what people prayer about, but sometimes unrelated to what was said.
It helps strengthen weak individual prayer lives. Few of us can pray alone for sustained periods of time. But in corporate prayer, we can pray much longer because one prayer keeps lighting off another. Corporate prayer helps promote discipline in our prayer lives. It is scheduled and others will be there. Even if we have had a poor week of individual prayer, we still have these points along the week where we pray with others. This helps prevent us from drifting into prayerlessness.
What happens at a healthy corporate prayer meeting?
Don't worry about getting a big group together to start with. Start with a few committed people and stay with it. God will honor your commitment by drawing others to pray with you. Share your excitement about what you are doing, and invite people to join you. Those who respond to your invitations will be blessed by what they experience.
It's best to have a mix of newer and more mature Christians. The newer Christians learn a lot from hearing more mature Christians pray, and the more mature ones get motivated by the zeal and appreciation of new Christians.
Pick a place where you will be undisturbed. Meet at the same time and place preferably every week (or at least every other week).
Try to allow for a full hour of prayer. It usually takes some time for us to get focused and in the Spirit, and prayer is work that should be thorough.
Have people face each other and speak loudly enough that all can hear. You may have to ask people to speak up so others can participate in their prayers.
The ideal size is 6-12. This is big enough to stimulate ongoing prayer, but small enough that everyone can pray several times. If the group gets bigger than 15, break it into 2 groups—and have some experienced prayers in both groups.
"Just do it." Don't waste time talking about what/who you should pray for. Just start praying, and trust that God will bring up what needs to be prayed about. (This request is a good opening prayer.) Occasionally you may want to begin your time by sharing a scripture to set the tone—but avoid making this into a teaching.
Leaders should be catalysts during prayer. Get it started or ask someone to start, pray as needed to keep on track with God’s priorities, stretch vision to other areas, etc. But don't pray too much—the goal is to get everyone else praying.
Model short, specific prayers. A minute or less is plenty. The idea is to get everyone involved. Long and flowery prayers are unedifying and discourage newer Christians. Speak privately to those who pray long-winded prayers.
Prayer should focus on the home group’s ministry—but stretch beyond it. This is the “nerve center” of our home group. After we pray thoroughly for the people and issues related to our mission, leaders should also stretch people's vision outward beyond their group to other ministries within Xenos, unreached peoples, etc.
Focus on thanksgiving, evangelism, intercession for one another, and sanctification concerns. Spend some time (especially early on) focusing on God’s power, love, faithfulness, etc. Pray especially for the people to whom you are witnessing, and for the new people in your group. Pray for the deepening sanctification of all present: that we will love God and others more and love self less, that we will learn to suffer with a thankful heart, that we will develop perseverance, etc. These should be constants, although the emphasis will vary according to the situation.
Model other-centered prayer coupled with personal vulnerability. Pray for your own needs so you can serve the Lord and minister to others. This models healthy (rather than self-absorbed) vulnerability. Pray for others who are there toward the same end. Rally around those who are suffering and pray for them on the spot.
"Amen" all appropriate prayers—especially newer Christians and new people at prayer. Inappropriate prayer can be ignored, redirected, or even re-prayed correctly—as the Lord leads. If someone is a “prayer hog,” ask them privately to make room for others.