The Class Meeting: Reclaiming a Forgotten (and Essential) Small Group Experience

The Class Meeting

Quick Synopsis: Don’t let the title confuse you.  Only Methodists will understand it.  Actually, I take that back.  Only those who have studied Methodist theology and methodology will understand it.  In fact, that’s the point of the author – we’ve lost the practice, and therefore the benefits, of the Class Meeting.

In a nut shell, the Class Meeting has one purpose and that is to help members of the body of Christ watch over one another in love.  How?  They simply answer one question every week, “How is it with your soul?”

The class meeting isn’t your normal small group.  It is not about affinity, so that means bowling groups and cooking groups are out.  It is not about content either, which means curriculum driven groups are out.  Neither of these kinds of groups are bad and both have their place, but neither of them will produce a mature disciple either.  The class meeting is a transformation-driven group, “it is these types of groups that are the most effective at making disciples of Jesus Christ…” (loc 180)

The class meeting used to be a mainstay of Wesleyan spirituality.  In fact, it was because of the class meeting that the Methodist movement was so successful.  The famous field preacher and contemporary of Wesley, George Whitefield, once commented to a member of the Methodist movement,

“Whitefield.  Well, John, art thou still a Wesleyan?

Pool.  Yes, sir.  I thnak God I have the privilege of being on connection with Mr. Wesley, and one of his preachers.

“W.  John, thou art in the right place.  My brother Wesley acted wisely; the souls that were awakened under his ministry he joined in class, and thus preserved the fruits of his labor.  This I neglected, and my people are a rope of sand.” (loc 355)

So what happened to the class meeting?  Two things.  First, it was replaced by curriculum-driven Sunday School.  Second, as the Methodist movement began to gain a wider audience among the middle and upper classes these folks were less reluctant to talk about their life in Christ, or the state of their souls.  Once the class meeting was set aside the Methodist movement began experiencing a spiritual and numerical decline that persists to this present moment.

The author frames the situation well, “A year from now, would you rather know more about the kind of life you want to live, or have made progress in living that kind of life?” (loc 806)

Brief Outline:  On the whole, the book is a very easy, but informative read.  Each of the eight chapters takes about 15-20 minutes to read and there is a small group study guide at the end of each chapter.  The author readily admits that such a content-driven approach runs counter to his claims, but asks the reader to consider it a 50/50 step in the right direction.  The goal of the book is to equip the reader and/or group to start class meetings.

  1. A New (Old) Kind of Small Group – This chapter reviews the three kinds of groups available to the church and makes a strong case for the third type, the transformation-driven group.  It looks briefly at America’s obsession with curriculum and offers some helpful critique in the area.  Finally, the author makes a quick plea for the recovery of the class meeting, primarily because it promotes active faith.
  2. The Class Meeting: The Heart of the Methodist Revival – This chapter offers a short historical overview of the role of the class meeting within the Methodist movement.  The author notes that class meetings were key to preserving those converted under the Wesleys’ preaching.  He also notes that the class meeting focused on three things: holding people accountable to the General Rules, providing weekly relief to the poor through financial contributions, and answering the question, “How is it with your soul?”
  3. Moving into God’s House: The Theological Foundation of the Class Meeting – This chapter provides a quick explanation of salvation from a Wesleyan perspective.  Salvation is not simply a legal transaction, but a relational process.  Wesley used the analogy of a house: the porch is repentance of sin, the door is the entrance into Christ, the threshold is the new birth, and growth in holiness is moving all of your life into God’s house.  The class meeting provided an opportunity for people to explore the house of God and grow in holiness.
  4. Becoming Wesleyan Again – This chapter outlines the decline of the class of meeting and offers a few explanations.  The focus, however, is not on why it disappeared but on how we can recover it today.
  5. The Basics: From Start to Finish – This chapter (and the remaining two) focus on starting a class meeting.  Chapter five looks at the life cycle of small groups and highlights a few potential opportunities and obstacles to be aware of.
  6. The Role of the Class Leader – As the title suggests, this chapter is about the class leader.  The class leader is the one who facilitates the group, and is therefore not a teacher.  A more appropriate title would be shepherd.  His or her main job is to ensure that each member has the opportunity to answer the question and the group is watching over one another in love.
  7. What Could Possibly Go Wrong? – Chapter seven offers 10 ways you can ruin your class meeting.  Some are no-brainers while others are less intuitive.
  8. The Keys to a Life-Changing Group – Rhythm, cultivating self-awareness, responsibility, desire and expect to be changed by God’s grace, and show up are the major keys to a life-changing group.

Recommendation:  If you no nothing about the class meeting, or think you know a little about the class meeting I would recommend this book.  If you are looking for ways to improve the small group ministry in your local church I would recommend this book.  If you simply want to make progress in your own holiness I would recommend you find a few friends and read this book together.  But, more importantly, I recommend you start a class meeting.

What’s missing?  It all seems so simple, almost too simple.  Could we really experience God’s changing grace simply by gathering weekly to answer the question, “How is it with your soul?”  If I hadn’t experienced this for myself I would have been skeptical.  In fact, I was convinced that growth was lacking because the curriculum was lacking.  How ridiculous!  The curriculum is great … well, some of it.  But there is no substitute for talking about life in Christ.  To that end, perhaps a few pages dedicated to testimonials or examples of answers to the question sprinkled throughout the book would help.  In the end, it is still a good read.

More by Kevin Watson

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