As I was preparing for a week-long trip out of town, I peeked ahead on the daily cartoon calendar we have in our kitchen. On the back of each day’s cartoon is a riddle or a trivia item, and this is what grabbed my attention, a statistic: “Every day, women speak 7,000 words; men, 2,000.” More unmistakable evidence that men are from Mars and women come from Venus. The Church has applied this statistic in marriage counseling for both not-yet and long-ago couples and in training leaders of mixed gender small groups with good results. This gender-based communication reality is helpful in building healthy marriages and balanced ministries.
But, as I headed out the door for the airport, I began to think of how this 7,000 versus 2,000 word count impacts prayer in our churches.
Do some women use more words than men (and thereby take longer time) when they offer a prayer? Do some men stay home from prayer meetings or avoid prayer groups or remain silent during group prayers because they perceive themselves as having a smaller vocabulary than women? Does the word count disparity also indicate a different tone or approach to praying? Are some men more reluctant to pray aloud because, well, they are also reluctant to speak up in normal social conversation? If women answer in paragraphs, are men who talk in headlines too uncomfortable to actively participate? Does each gender pray differently when in mixed gender prayer situations than in all-women or all-men settings? Does it matter? Is this an insightful statistic or a simplistic stereotype?
While it is possible this male/female differentiation has only minimal relevance to corporate (or even personal) praying, the questions ought to be asked. Behaviors should be observed. Discussions, even debates, could be beneficial. Admittedly, observation is anecdotal and not scientific research, but as a part of the prayer facilitator’s skill-set, it helps him or her discern a possible cause for an ebb and flow of a prayer group. (Is there equal participation? Are only a few persons dominating the praying? Is it a good time to move into pairs or small groups? Has someone spoken too much [female or male] or not at all?) If a particular group or congregation exhibits gender-based differences, prayer coordinators can create gender-specific prayer groups (such as a Saturday morning men’s prayer breakfast) or encourage small group leaders to divide men and women periodically during the time devoted to corporate prayer at their group meeting.
To be clear, these descriptors are merely numbers describing overall differences. Persons who use 7,000 words a day should not aspire to speak only 2,000 (though some husbands might disagree with me) nor should 2,000-a-day speakers start employing long monologues when headlines are adequate (I know, ladies, headlines are not adequate in building and maintaining close relationships). My point is simply that as leaders of prayer meetings/groups/events, we must be listening to more than the content of those we are praying with. We must be aware of whatever might be inhibiting participation, even gender traits, so the experiences we design feel inviting to every person…because it seems to me some of us may talk too much when we pray. Or not enough.
(First published at PrayerLeader.com)