Small Group FAITH
I shared last Sunday that I am beginning a sermon series on “Sowing for an Awakening.” I think most all of us would agree that the Church in America—and the Nation as a whole—desperately needs an awakening, a mighty move of God.
I will speak much on the Spirit of prayer, and on the humble hunger which invites the Holy Spirit to take us to a deep place of travailing prayer. (We experienced that corporately at last Sunday’s War Room prayer meeting!) But I want to share another important aspect here.
Small groups, of course, are as Biblical as congregational Sunday services. During the First and Second Great Awakenings in the USA, it is estimated that 50% of the multitudes saved were saved in small groups. This was certainly true of the early Methodists, who called their primary small group the Class Meeting.
Class Meetings were focused on justifying grace—on being saved and born-again. There was one primary question which was asked and answered weekly by all in the group: How is it with your soul? In modern English, we might phrase it: How is your walk with God going? Our First Church Life Groups are based primarily on the Class Meeting format.
But there was a deeper small group experience for Methodists call Bands. Bands were smaller than Class Meetings—with only 4-6 members, and separated by sex and marital status. Bands were focused on sanctifying grace—on living a life of Holiness in the Holy Spirit leading to fruitful maturity in the Lord.
Class Meetings were required; Bands were not, but were highly recommended—for everyone swept into faith through the Methodist revival (the largest stream within both the first and second great awakenings). Saved people need to move on in holiness, and Bands were John Wesley’s solution (based on James 5:16). Wesley understood that Sunday services alone leave many attendees’ unsaved; Sunday services alone leave many saved people as infants in Christ who never grow up in holy maturity. Small Groups (properly done!) were and are God’s gift for both salvation and sanctification.
These were the five questions required to be asked and answered by all at each Band meeting:
When joining a Band, you agreed that you would answer truthfully and completely, and that you welcomed both penetrating questions and gut-level honest comments from the others in your group. In other words, you committed yourself to being transparent and empowered your Band mates to rip off any shred of deceit, pride, or game playing…
You can see why it was important for these groups to be small and separated by gender and marital status! Hopefully, you can also see why these groups so powerfully fostered true holiness and pressed folks to truly grow up in the Lord by the Spirit. Finally, you may also be able to figure out why Bands were less popular than Class Meetings, and were discontinued sooner as people found comfort in far less transforming settings, such as Sunday School classes…
If we really want an Awakening, we must continue to find ourselves in a Life Group. It may even be time to push toward having some Band Groups here. While those questions may scare us—or even offend us—the need for grown-ups to grow up in the Lord is just as real now as it was then—and just as important to true Awakening. Deep accountability greatly accelerates the process of spiritual maturation. It is, after all, the technique Jesus used on His disciples!