One of the things that contributed to the quick spread of Methodism in its early days was the class meeting. Wesley was very intentional and particular about placing individuals into these small groups in order to foster and encourage their spiritual growth. One of the main aspects of these groups was accountability, which Wesley understood as foundational to faith development. Dr. Kevin Watson (@kevinwatson) writes extensively about John Wesley’s class meetings and their applications for the church today at his blog and will be publishing a book, scheduled to be released in fall of 2013, in collaboration with Seedbed.
For nearly the past three years I have been the pastor of the second campus of a United Methodist church in the northeast part of Indianapolis. It is a great group of people who have developed a strong desire for going deeper in their faith but struggled to figure out how. As their pastor, I found myself struggling with the same thing but from a different perspective.
Over the past eight months we have experienced significant growth with a number of young families beginning to attend the church, many of whom have young children. We have a weekly study on Wednesday nights that has consistent attendance but with none of our young families attending. Recognizing the need to get these individuals connected to the church and each other, I took my inspiration from Wesley’s class meetings and started a men’s and women’s small group on Thursday nights.
The goal of these weekly small group meetings is twofold; connect with God and connect with each other.
The evening is setup so that a family can arrive at church together and leave together, with small groups for the men and women (and programming for their kids) happening in-between.Sharing a meal together creates an important opportunity to connect with each other so each week someone is responsible for providing dinner for his or her small group.
The small group time focuses on the, “How is it with your soul?” question by creating conversation centered around daily life, scripture, and accountability. At times this conversation happens casually, other times it comes through sharing prayer requests, or discussing a book together.
The groups were formed through targeted invites, meaning there were no announcements in the weekly bulletin or mentions from the pulpit in order to have shared life-experiences and the possibility for meaningful accountability.
This model of small group ministry has proved successful for us so far. Almost weekly I receive feedback from one of the small group members talking about how much he or she appreciates the small group, or how great it has been to connect with other men and women from church. These small groups have changed the atmosphere on Sunday mornings by creating relationships that carry over from Thursday evenings into the rest of the week.
Ten weeks in, we have retained every individual from both groups but find ourselves facing a new challenge, how to add new individuals. The concern is the change in group dynamics and accountability as new people join. What has been your experience? Does your ministry setting use a Wesleyan model of small groups or something else entirely? What is working in your context?