Teenagers were sitting at my kitchen table for dinner. I knew one had a church background and followed Jesus. The others, I had no idea. They were along for the ride and came over because they had nothing else going on, and free food tends to draw a crowd of hungry teenagers. I placed chicken nuggets and waffle fries down on the table. And then I wondered, is it weird if we pray? I almost felt bad for thinking that. Was I the very worst youth pastor ever? Wanting to skip the mealtime prayer to avoid making it weird for the teenagers I had never met before. We prayed and dived into the waffle fries. It was fine (I think).
This got me wondering, how do you handle prayer in your ministry environments when someone is new?
Especially when it’s a small group setting and time to close, open, or share in prayer requests. Would a new person visiting your ministry environment for the first time even know what a prayer request is? How do you teach about this important spiritual practice without making it weird?
Introducing prayer to new students who may not feel comfortable with it (yet)
Sometimes we just have to normalize the awkward, give a play-by-play, and give permission for students to jump in or sit out. Here are three tips to help manage prayer with new students:
1. Over explain
Think about the last time you had an annual physical. Or not. It’s usually awkward. It’s personal. If you have a great doctor, you always know exactly what is going to happen. A doctor explains everything about what they are doing, examining, or checking for. There are no surprises (well, unless something surprising happens). That’s why we must give first-time guests a heads up. We need to give a play-by-play. For example, “We are going to close in prayer. I will pray for us, and whoever else wants to can, too. But if you don’t want to, that’s okay. After there is a long silence, I will close us out.” Knowing precisely what is happening is disarming and helps anxious students to relax.
2. No, you don’t have to pray out loud.
If 75% of people rank public speaking as their number one fear, you can accurately guess public praying would be even more terrifying for new students. Take this fear off the table by not forcing anyone to pray out loud. The more you model praying out loud and for your students, the more comfortable they will be doing so too. Putting them on the spot to pray aloud isn’t usually a great way to help a new student feel comfortable in your ministry environment.
3. Did I mention you don’t have to pray out loud?
There are many creative ways to normalize and teach about prayer with students.
When students share a concern or problem with you over text or social media, text or DM them back a quick prayer instead of the generic (insert praying hands emoji here). Something as simple as “Dear Jesus, I lift up this student and ask that you help them through this today. Give them your peace, comfort, and wisdom to know what to do. Amen.” By doing this, you help make prayer an everyday thing and not just a Sunday thing.
Ask your small group to share their thoughts about prayer and how they incorporate it into their lives. Often, they are the best ones to teach their peers about this spiritual practice.
Then share your prayer practices with them. You can invite them to try one with you too! Check out this breath prayer as an example. Breathe is a great way to calm down when you are upset, triggered, or just need a minute. You pray as you breathe!
What You Say During Breathe Prayer:
Today we are just going to breath in as I say, “Thank You God.”
Then, we will let our breathe go as I say, “You’ve got this God.”
Show students how to write prayers. You can use journals, the note section of their phones, post-it notes, 3×5 cards, etc. I love handing out 3×5 cards to my small group. I tell everyone to write their name on a card and one thing they are struggling with and one thing they are celebrating. Sometimes I give concrete examples if they seem stuck. Everyone exchanges cards, and I encourage everyone to pray for the person on their card this week. Or at the very least, text or DM them to check-in and see how they are doing.
It’s hard to pray if you don’t know how or the point of it.
Teach about this spiritual practice in your ministry environments in a way that doesn’t assume everyone is familiar with the concept or even knows how.
If you want to help your students and guests learn more about prayer and how to practice it in their own life, check out our daily devotionals about prayer for middle school students and high school students on the Youversion Bible App. You can also check out our Faith Skills Experience Kit which is a devotional strategy to help your students practice the four faith skills essential to developing an everyday faith. Each kit includes guided devotional experiences with strategic activities, so your teenagers can learn how to HEAR from God, Pray to God, Talk about God, and Live for God.