The early Methodist revival was fast moving and organized behind a single purpose, saving people into a radical and transformed life with Jesus Christ and characterized by holy love. Highly organized (hence the name Methodist), the class meeting played a pivotal role in the longevity of the people called Methodist.
Possibly the largest conversation current in the United Methodist Church focuses on renewal. Whichever side you are on regarding other debates, everyone appears to be in a fervent search for a solution for church decline. There are many opinions and solutions offered up.
I think Kevin Watson has given us a game changer in his book The Class Meeting.
I never intended on doing many book reviews on this website, but I also never intended reading a book like The Class Meeting. Instead of looking at what many believe to be a historic, but dead practice, Kevin digs down into the functional goals of the original Methodists and brings a highly successful core strategy back into the future. He gives a convincing case of the importance of the recovery of the class meeting and leads us into the practical aspect of beginning one.
Here are 3 reasons Class Meetings change the game.
Class Meetings were the secret sauce in the Methodist Revival.
Part of the general concern between the early Methodists was a deep love for one another and participating in a life together with God. The were coming together and putting themselves in a situation to be changed by grace (pg141). The structure and relationship the class meetings provides gave a practical framework for the mobilization of thousands of people into living examples of the perfecting love of Jesus Christ.
It means taking your faith into your own hands
The Christian life is not passive. When people take faith out of the passive role it has previously occupied (and not given any tangible benefit) they are unleashing the love of God and the changing power of the Holy Spirit into real life. In real ways. Christians are made, not born. John Wesley knew the power of the Class Meeting and how it taught individual ownership to its participants.
How to sustainably manage a small group
Many churches know they need small groups. Sunday School as an enterprise is slowly not working for large masses of people like it did in the past. Their are plenty of explorations about how and why to do small groups. Let’s also be honest, many churches have been doing modern styled small groups for almost two decades. Your average Methodist church is just beginning to think about them and is behind the times. We don’t have the infrastructure to raise up and organize a large mass of teachers. The beauty of the modern small group movement is how much it took from the Class Meeting and inside the very DNA of Methodism is a practical and sustainable and lay-led small group model. Class Meetings are who we are.
The fourth hidden tidbit is the genuine ecumenicism of the book. John Wesley himself was known to cooperate with anyone who genuinely loved Jesus and wanted to see his kingdom advance (read the catholic spirit). No matter what your denominational affiliation, The Class Meeting can be a dynamic resource to grow people closer to God.
Kevin does a tremendous job teaching us to love the idea of a class. He makes it easy to understand the necessity and historical side of class meetings as well as how to functionally begin class meetings. I honestly believe this is the beginning of a new wave of Methodism.
Get yourself a copy of The Class Meeting and read through it. Prayerfully consider starting a class or implementing a series of classes in your own local churches.