But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Matthew 6:6
So — why a prayer group then, if it says right in the Bible to have secret prayer? This section of Matthew is all about not being hypocritical, about seeking recognition for one’s piety. Jesus condemns the Pharisees and others for sounding trumpets when doing good deeds, for standing and praying loudly on street corners, and wearing ashes and sad expressions when they are fasting. The whole chapter talks about how our relationship with God should be personal and private, even to telling us to pray to God as “Our Father” — the familiar Lord’s Prayer. Thus the whole “secret prayer” idea. We are to avoid show when pursuing our God-life.
Are prayer groups bad, then? Should we be spending all prayer time in private and stay away from any public prayer? Well, no. Here’s the thing. Your relationship with God is — your business. No one else’s. Many things about one’s walk with God are meant to be private, because it’s difficult to pour one’s heart out to God, and be convicted of personal shortcomings, if there is an audience. Not impossible, but difficult.
But this is not to say we should never pray with others around. Yes, Jesus went away from His disciples in Gethsemane, but He also prayed in front of people, out loud, on more than one occasion (one notable one being the resurrection of Lazarus; see John 11). So there are times when public prayer is good, even necessary. And Jesus also tells us to gather in small groups — Matthew 18:20 tells us that He is in the midst of a group as small as two or three. The apostles, later in the New Testament, counsel the believers to meet together in prayer and fellowship (as indeed they were doing at Pentecost), and encouraged them to engage in intercessory prayer — praying for others.
A small, focused prayer group, then, is not only permissible, but is most likely vital to a Christian’s walk with God. Small groups can be supportive, loving resources for people who really desire to grow closer to God. No one should feel alone in their spiritual journey, but many do. A small prayer or Bible study group will not only bolster a person’s growth as a believer, but often encourages them in their private prayer and devotional life as well.
The truth, then, is that engaging in only secret or only public prayer will probably not be as efficacious as a mixture of both. Eat privately, eat publicly, but in the end, be sure to eat at all! Whatever the resources at your own disposal, make time to pray — alone, with a small group, in a large church setting — but pray! Never underestimate the power of direct communication with God. Never spend a day without speaking to Him at least once, if not many times throughout the day.