Being Vital by Recovering a Lost Practice

ClassMeeting_grandeIn 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.

If you are interested in more, check out the interview at YouthWorker Movement and order The Class Meeting by Kevin Watson (available 11/15/13).

Jeremy Steele, UMR Columnist

The Rev. Jeremy Steele is the author of Reclaiming the Lost Soul of Youth Ministry and the Next Generation pastor at Christ United Methodist Church in Mobile, AL and a regular columnist for The United Methodist Reporter. You can find more of his writing and a list of all the places he contributes at his website:

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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Fred WidemanBrian YeichDr. Susanne Johnson Recent comment authors
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Fred Wideman
Fred Wideman

No one doubts that the challenges today's church faces is in connecting. It is challenging to connect in authentic koinonia. Overcoming cultural, economic, and language barriers in order to celebrate a common gift of grace seems to be the invited way forward. But there is a lot of hill and valley stuff in the way and fear in the heart. I confess to wanting the magic bullet that will do this faith community building for us. If only it was as easy as marketing and sliding in a DVD without heading into today's Judea, Samaria, and earth's end places. I… Read more »

Brian Yeich

Kevin's work is indeed critical for our day and I am encouraged that there are serious conversations happening around the Methodist family concerning the need for small groups that really help make disciples. One of the movements that is working to reclaim Wesleyan transformational small groups is the Inspire Movement from the United Kingdom. "The vision of Inspire is to develop the spiritual life of mission-shaped disciples who abide deeply with God, and live missionally in the world." Inspire is sponsored by the British Methodist Church, but has extensive ecumenical involvement. Seeds are being sown in the United States as… Read more »

Dr. Susanne Johnson

I haven’t yet read Kevin Watson’s book—it’s probably a good one—but nevertheless I want to share the following concerns. In 1989 I published a book entitled Christian Spiritual Formation in the Church and Classroom, voted as one of the top ten helpful books in that year by the Academy of Parish Clergy, and enthusiastically I was part of the movement to help seminaries incorporate spiritual formation programs into their curriculum. Several decades ago, there was a very robust spiritual formation movement that highlighted small groups and the class meeting model—and this virtually was touted as the “magic bullet” for the… Read more »

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