I saw a meme flash across my Facebook feed awhile back. It read, “Jesus was in a small group.” Of course, the implication is that we should be in small groups, too. Jesus would have made a good Methodist because small groups have been foundational for the way Methodists practice their faith since the 1740s. In fact, small group participation – the groups were called “class meetings” by Wesley – was compulsory for most Methodists through the mid-19th century. Class meetings focused on accountability and personal relationships rather than Bible study or devotional studies. Today, small groups are often called covenant groups.
What is it about covenant groups that makes them important tools or practices for our faith lives? A well-formed and well-run small group helps its members hold one another accountable for their Christian journeys. Do you have spiritual aspirations for a deeper prayer life or meaningful Sabbath-keeping? When you share your aspirations with a covenant group, the group can help you with resources, with prayer, and with accountability. Think of a covenant group as Weight Watchers for our faith journeys.
What did a class meeting look like in John Wesley’s day? Looking at the past can help us navigate the future: What parts of the class meetings may be useful in today’s context? Where could modernizing changes be made? Class meetings were groups of 7-12 people at different stages in their spiritual journeys. The groups met once per week, and everyone in the group had time to speak and to listen. The group prayed for one another, encouraged each other, spoke the truth in love to each other. The meetings had a set format and lasted no more than an hour: opening prayer or song, time for each person to share, and a closing prayer. There was no Bible study or book study associated with the class meeting. A class leader facilitated the meeting.
A well-formed and well-run small group helps its members hold one another accountable for their Christian journeys.
Many congregations in The United Methodist Church that are growing or that are being newly planted are using covenant groups as integral parts of congregational life. When the Methodist movement was growing at its fastest rate, it was during as season when class meetings were required. Every Methodist should be part of a covenant group. Sharing life together with a small group of people on a regular basis is holy. It adds richness to our understanding of what it means to be the beloved community. It deepens our connections to our brothers and sisters in Christ – especially important in a large congregation like Hayes Barton UMC.
Here at Hayes Barton UMC we have several small groups that meet on a regular basis. The Spiritual Formation Pathway wants to support and nurture small group ministry. In January 2019, we will have a “Grace Period” for our covenant group ministry. New groups will form, and groups with space for another person or couple of people are encouraged to open for new members. We will be compiling a list of our small groups in November and December in preparation for our January “Grace Period.” If you are a leader or member of a covenant group associated with Hayes Barton, please send Pastor Molly an email. If you are not part of a covenant group but would like to join a group in January, please alert Pastor Molly.
For more information about covenant groups – forming groups, living in groups, best practices for groups – check out The UMC Discipleship website: https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/leadership-resources/covenant-discipleship. There are many great print resources about covenant groups. Ask Pastor Molly for more information.