Actually, there are lots of ways to kill a prayer meeting. You could display bitterness or hostility to someone just before you start praying; that’s sure to do the job. Or thoughtlessly rush into a prayer meeting, without any spiritual preparation, cracking jokes up until the moment you bow your head. That, too, has a good chance of killing a prayer meeting.
But there are other more subtle ways to deaden prayer meetings, even though many of us have trouble hearing the death knell. Here are three:
The First Way to Kill a Prayer Meeting: Share requests, and then ask for people to pray about those requests. This is the most common way for Christians to pray for other Christians in a group—and the quickest way to kill an intercessory prayer time. Now, in full disclosure, I gladly admit that I have seen this approach produce good spiritual fruit, but only in very small groups, say, of three—or at the most four—intercessors. Try this approach with more than four people…and your prayer time is likely to die.
Instead: Whoever is leading the prayer time should instruct people only to share a prayer request that is weighing heavily upon them and that they believe God wants them to bring for prayer at that moment. Then, and most importantly, everyone should pray until they’re done. Don’t change topics to pray about something else until there is a sense that everything that the Holy Spirit wants you to pray about has been prayed. Often this will mean multiple people praying about the same thing, and sometimes people praying more than once. This, of course, will necessitate that you cover far fewer topics during your time of prayer.
Another Way to Kill a Prayer Meeting: Pray long prayers. The longer the better… This will force people to mentally check out.
Instead: Whoever is leading the prayer time should instruct people to pray shorter prayers…unless there is a clear moving of the Holy Spirit in that moment that compels an intercessor to pray for a longer period of time. The key is that the person praying should pray about one thing. If the item for prayer is for healing for someone present, don’t ask God to heal her…and comfort her…and help the doctors have wisdom…and give peace to her parents, siblings, children, friends, neighbors, and everyone in outer Mongolia—all in the same prayer. Listen to what has already been prayed, and verbally agree in prayer with the requester on the same topic (assuming that the Holy Spirit is confirming that you should agree with what has been requested). But the rule of thumb if you don’t want to kill a prayer meeting is to keep your prayers brief so that numerous people can actively participate.
One More Way to Kill a Prayer Meeting: Uncritically pray about whatever someone has asked you to pray about. Don’t give space for the Holy Spirit to guide you or someone else in the room in how to pray. Rush headlong into praying about whatever has been requested.
Instead: Realize that it is common for people to bring requests to a prayer meeting that God has no intention of answering at that moment. The goal of your prayer time should be to get in line with God’s will (1 John 5:14-15), so you should seek to pray in the Spirit (Eph 6:18; Jude 20; Rom 8:26-27) taking time to ask God to show his will regarding a particular request. God may or may not answer your request to be guided into his will in this moment (he has the right not to, since he is, after all, GOD and you are not); but you need to ask, and be patient while you wait in prayer for an answer. Take your time as a group to explore what God might be doing in this situation. If you think that perhaps God is moving you to pray something in particular, then tentatively pray in that direction. If the Holy Spirit confirms it to others in the group, your confidence that your prayers are going in the right direction will increase. If not, change directions.
A Bonus Way to Kill a Prayer Meeting: Let someone who doesn’t believe in the wisdom of the three suggestions above lead your prayer meeting. In particular, allow someone to lead your intercessory prayer time who doesn’t believe that the Holy Spirit guides spiritually-minded people to collectively pray according to the will of God. Now, God certainly may listen to and answer that person’s prayers, particularly if he or she is a godly man or woman, but your prayer meeting, as a prayer meeting, is probably dead before it’s started.