In 2010 a study was released by the United Methodist Church that revealed that one key factor that vital congregations shared was starting and maintaining small groups. This finding is something deeply Methodist because the revival and amazing movement built by John Wesley was in many ways a small group revival.
At the center of this move of God was a simple practice: the class meeting. Throughout England and then stretching across the ocean to the Americas, God transformed lives and called people to scriptural holiness in these meetings. Then, over time those meetings began to fade, the church became less of a movement and grew into the form that we know today.
Every Wesley scholar has their own theory as to why and what caused the fire to cool and the movement to slow but all concede the power of the class meeting in transforming lives and hearts.
Now in 2013 we are striving to rediscover the power of small groups. Many churches struggle from video series to book study to stewardship campaign and back again always hoping for curriculum-based transformation, and finding something less than they had hoped.
Kevin Watson, a scholar and author of a new book on the Class Meeting believes that the answer is not in finding the right curriculum, but reviving the class meeting in the 21st century. Watson says that focusing on curriculum is misplacing our focus on knowledge rather than transformation. “But the Christian life is not primarily about knowing the right things. It is about living in Christ” he says in his new book focused on helping us revive the practice.
In an interview on our sister site YouthWorker Movement, Watson says that “the problem with American Christianity isn’t that most people don’t know enough, it’s that they aren’t living out the stuff they know about their faith.” And that, says Watson, is the focus of the class meeting: transformed lives. Instead of a curriculum, groups need to follow Wesley’s simple rules and spend time asking “How is it with your soul?”
The book is unique as it straddles the line between curriculum and history text. It seeks to teach a group how to be a class meeting by teaching them about the class meeting with the ultimate goal being that the group would continue meeting (yes, without curriculum) after they finish learning how to do class meetings in the 21st century.