Many books have been written by people who have been hurt by the church, as a pastor I have heard many stories of people who no longer come to church because of how they were treated there. I personally could tell stories from my own experience as a pastor in a church. Those who have been hurt include lay and clergy. At times, I have believed the church was the most dangerous place to display your heart and vulnerability. But recently, I have been blogging about the benefits to Christians to be in accountability groups, namely the Class Meeting.
The class meeting was responsible for the growth and expansion of the Methodist church in America in the 18th century. The question I ask now is, is it possible to use the class meeting to grow the Global Methodist church? Are people too jaded, suspect, and guarded to belong to a class meeting and share their Christian journey? Frank Newport in his article, Why Are Americans Losing Confidence in Organized Religion, reports that only 36% of Americans trust church leadership, that is down from 68% in 1975.
Lee Raine, Scott Keeter, and Andrew Perrin in their article Trust and Distrust In America reporting Pew Research findings write, "Majorities believe the public’s confidence in the U.S. government and in each other is shrinking, and most believe a shortage of trust in government and in other citizens makes it harder to solve some of the nation’s key problems." However, in that same article, they report that 86% of Americans believe that improvement in our trust in each other can be realized.
While I am discouraged by the low percentage of trust in government and organized religion, I am comforted by the fact that such a majority believe that distrust can be turned around. To me, this means that class meetings are possible in the post-Christendom church, but it will take serious work to develop trust among those interested in participating in class meetings.
What also gives me hope is that "Among the solutions, they offer in their open-ended comments: [were to]...stop giving so much attention to digital screens and spend more time with people, and practice empathy. Some believe their neighborhoods are a key place where interpersonal trust can be rebuilt if people work together on local projects, in turn radiating trust out to other sectors of the culture."
The class meeting may very well be the place where trust is reinstated. When we look at the world outside ourselves, we can easily be overwhelmed with cynicism, simply by reading the news. Leaders inside and outside the church have ruined our ability to trust people as they have failed to be honest, transparent, and above all Christlike. If as a group of 6-12 people, we could become trusting and trustworthy, would it be possible for us to then begin to trust others? Michelle Van Loon, in her article, "The Cynicism Trap: Why Trusting Fellow Christians Is a Spiritual Discipline, writes "The patient example of some faithful friends and family members helped me discover that godly wisdom leads to greater trust in Christ and the courage to again trust his people."
I believe we must begin to build relationships the old-fashioned way, in person. The Class Meeting is an ideal environment to begin this experiment. It won't be easy to convince people that accountability groups will enhance and strengthen their faith in Christ and each other, but with practice and evidence, we may experience the Global Methodist Church, or any church actually, growing like the Methodist Episcopal Church of the 18th century. We may even see a revival like never before.