The Class Meeting for Modern Times
Updated: Aug 30, 2022
Last week I discussed the need for us, as Christians, to gather weekly for accountability and spiritual growth so that we are prepared to go out and make new disciples for Christ. John Wesley created the small group known as the Class Meeting and Methodism grew as a result of this practice, but the class meeting was discontinued early in the 20th century and since then the denomination has decreased by millions.
I have seen what happens in a church where the focus on small groups is strong. In one of my churches, I took a group of women to a retreat. At that retreat, they were convicted to strengthen their spiritual lives. Before they returned home, they made the decision to meet weekly to learn more about being a Christian. Immediately, they started a Bible Study. I taught the first lesson, but then the women took turns teaching subsequent lessons.
I watched these women blossom into beautiful women of Christ. They took their teaching very seriously, became more active in the church, and considered how to do outreach and missions better. The change I saw in the lives of these women was amazing. And it wasn't because of what I did as their pastor, but what they did together teaching and encouraging each other. This group very closely resembled a class meeting.
This got me thinking about instituting class meetings in the modern church. Would it be possible to gather a group of people who walked together for a time, holding each other accountable, encouraging each other in their spiritual growth, becoming better disciples, and eventually starting new class meetings to make even more mature disciples? I was not the only person who thought the class meeting could work today.
While researching the class meeting online, I found a dissertation written by Roger Graham Clayton Jr. entitled The Modern Wesley Class Meeting - Bringing Accountability, Practical Faith, and Personal Connection into Established Local Congregations. He postulated that it was possible to incorporate Class Meetings into the modern church. This was a fascinating read that convinced me that Wesley's practice of accountability groups can be utilized in our churches today.
Clayton for his dissertation attempted to create the class meeting in his church. He began by educating his congregation about class meetings. He then called together anyone who would like to know more about the class meeting. At the initial meeting, he had 30, almost half his congregation, show up. But when it came time to commit to an accountability group only four were willing to do it.
Clayton started as leader of the group and walked them through the book The Class Meeting: Reclaiming a Forgotten (and essential) Small Group Experience by Kevin M. Watson. At the end of the book, he instructed the members to elect a class leader and he stepped away. As to how the group proceeded, Clayton writes, "At the six-month mark, the class had built a solid foundation of trust and relationship among themselves, and had begun to work on "questioning and defining" their purpose."
Clayton concluded that this experiment was a success because "it proved that the Wesleyan class meeting still has great power, and is not just a relic that was only good for the moment in time that it originated from." I was excited to read that the class meeting was successful for his church and it causes me to be even more anxious to put it in place in my life. If God, does indeed, lead me to plant a church for the Global Methodist denomination, I plan to begin with the class meeting.
My biggest question about this idea is can people in the 21st century learn to trust and be vulnerable with each other. I believe it will take more time and work for trust to happen than it did in Wesley's time. My next post will discuss relationships in our time and what people want and need.
If I started a class meeting, would you be willing to participate? Please let me know in the comments if you are interested in learning more about this method of disciple-making.