Most people may not know who John Wesley was, but I would argue many (particularly evangelical Christians) have heard his name before. John Wesley was an Anglican priest who founded Methodism in the seventeenth century, but his influence endures today. He was the leader of a spiritual and social revival that changed the face of England, North America, and much of the world. Wesley was a prolific writer and a powerful preacher who spoke to thousands. So, with all of these great accomplishments, what is Wesley’s greatest legacy?
Of course, John Wesley did not invent Christian meetings in small groups. Small groups have existed since the beginning of Christianity, when churches were simply gatherings of Jesus-followers in people’s homes.
Wesley’s Secret: Method
Wesley’s genius was to systematically organize the people called “Methodists” in groups called “classes,” who met regularly for fellowship, spiritual edification, accountability, and Christian service. By this strategic approach to making disciples, we find the greatest contribution of the Wesleyan revival, as well as the secret of its endurance.
Unfortunately, the “Wesley Class” has all but disappeared from many Wesleyan churches, but today small groups have become a common element of the Church worldwide. I have heard them called cell groups, shepherding groups, family groups, affinity groups, etc. The name does not really matter. The power is in the “smallness” and intentionality of these groups.
Why Small Groups?
Here are four reasons I believe small groups are one of the most important factors in successful churches and Christian movements:
- Small Groups are Small. Wesley classes were made up of 10 – 12 people. Though it is great to sing, worship, and hear a good message in a large church setting, we have to admit large church gatherings do not foster much interaction. In groups of 10 – 12 people, everyone can talk and be heard, serve and be served.
- There is Safety in (Small) Numbers. If you want anonymity, a large congregation is better, but the Church is hardly the place to remain anonymous. A small group of people in whom I trust is the safest place to share thoughts, be vulnerable and open, and for genuine spiritual healing to happen.
- Accountability. Everyone should be accountable to someone for their spiritual growth and integrity. A small group of trustworthy believers is the best venue for complete transparency. Wesley class meetings included some pretty deep questions everyone answered to the group. In a small group, we can receive counsel and prayer in times of struggle.
- Survival in the Face of Persecution. The contemporary example of the Chinese house-church movement is a living testament to the endurance of small groups. After half a century of persecution in China, the Church has not only survived, but grown exponentially through the multiplication of small house-churches.
I firmly believe every Jesus-follower should be part of a small group of brother and sisters. I am part of one such group and it helps me tremendously in my faith. Are you part of a small group of believers? If not, consider joining one or starting your own.
by Norival Trindade