Just before his death, U.S. Senate Chaplain Richard Halverson shared these thoughts about the church with Harry N. Wendt: “In the beginning, the church was a fellowship of men and women who centered their lives on the living Christ. They had a personal relationship with the Lord. It transformed them and the world around them.
Then the church moved to Greece, where it became a philosophy. Later it moved to Rome, where it became an institution. Next it moved to Europe, where it became a culture.
Finally, it moved to the United States, where it became an enterprise. We’ve got far too many churches and so few fellowships.”
The Christian life is not primarily about knowing the right things. It is about living in Christ. Christian discipleship, then, is more like an apprenticeship to Jesus Christ than it is about mastering a body of knowledge.
Methodists have embraced this concept from their beginning. They called their small groups class meetings. These small groups primarily focused on transformation and not information, where people learn how to interpret their entire lives through the lens of the gospel, build a vocabulary for giving voice to their experience of God, and grow in faith in Christ.
From 1776 to 1850 American Methodism grew like a weed. In 1776, Methodists accounted for 2.5 percent of religious adherents in the colonies, the second smallest of the major denominations of that time. By 1850, Methodists comprised 34.2 percent of religious adherents in the United States, which was 14 percent more than the next largest group! A strong case can be made that the class meeting was the single most important factor to the growth of early Methodism and to the retention of converts within Methodism.
The decline of the class meeting matters because disciples of Jesus Christ are called to live different lives, not just think different thoughts. Here is a way of thinking about what is at stake: 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?
September 16 we will offer a new small group experience. Sign-ups will begin in a few weeks. Watch for more information in the bulletin and on social media in the days ahead. This is not something else to do. It is about leaning into the life you’ve always yearned for. It won’t just happen. Will you make the transformation you’ve wanted and needed a priority?