Q. This is a Science-Scripture question: I read in Matthew 18:20 about two or three people praying together. Then I read a study abstract that talked about the benefit of “group prayer.” These two perspectives seem contradictory. So, which is right, Science or Scripture?
A. I guess it would partly depend on how large a “group” you are talking about. Two or three can be a group, albeit smaller than two or three hundred or thousand. I am not a theologian, but I did look up that scripture in several translations (e.g., KJV, NIV, NRSV): “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I (God) am there....” None of the translations specifically mentioned prayer in that verse.
Studies have shown that prayer, a form of meditation, provides benefits to the person(s) being prayed for—and even more benefits to the individual who is doing the praying. There also appears to be some unique benefits to group prayers as in spiritual and/or religious services.
Briefly, the parietal lobes of the brain are involved in helping an individual perceive that he or she is a separate being from other persons—a perspective necessary for the process of individuation, for setting appropriate boundaries, and avoiding enmeshment. When two or three persons are praying or meditating, each is likely very aware of being a separate person.
There is also some evidence that during corporate or large group prayers, especially when prayers are read aloud, repeated from memory, or sung, the parietal lobes are dampened down, which reduces the sense of individuality and separateness from others. This promotes a sense of oneness with a Higher Power and with the group in general.
Metaphorically, you might imagine seeing two or three Bison in a field. Seeing only a few creatures, you are aware of each as a separate entity. Now imagine seeing a herd of Bison, 100 or 1,000. You are more likely to be aware of the mass of creatures rather than each as an individual creature. And should they decide to charge en masse, the power of the whole herd would be exponentially greater than when just two or three were charging.
Therefore, prayer has been found to be effective when done by one person or a group of any size. Alone, the person will have more of a sense of individuality. En masse, the entire group may experience a sense of connectedness with each other as the parietal lobes are dampened down.