Too often we have convinced ourselves that most people just won’t make long-term and/or on-going commitments whether that is to serve on a committee or to join a small group. Is this actually true? Perhaps for some, but I am convinced that we are asking for the wrong kind of commitment. People simply don’t have the margin in their lives to waste any time or energy. Lives are jammed-packed full of school, hobbies, work, family, travel, experiences, and extracurricular activities. Without margins, a person needs and wants every minute to count. Therefore, they have no time or tolerance to sit in meetings that have no impact and don’t have any meaningful outcomes. Unfortunately, churches have often misread the signals and made entry points low-commitment, low expectation, low impact, and slow (if any) meaningful outcomes trying to get more young people involved. This approach has for the most part backfired and left even fewer young people interested and involved in the life of the church.
Let’s peer back at the wisdom in how John Wesley set up the three levels for discipling people. Beyond the Sunday morning worship experience, Wesley created an ingenuous three-prong approach – the society, the class meeting, and the band. Each of the experiences had a specific purpose and unique setting in the discipleship journey. The society meetings met on Sunday evenings and encompassed anywhere from 50 to 200 people and were mainly geared towards education in faith. The weekly class meetings were required and consisted of about 12 people led by a class leader that focused on personal spiritual growth, spiritual nurture, spiritual direction, and mutual encouragement. Class meetings is where the offering was taken and if a person missed too many meetings, they would no longer be able to participate. Bands were the deepest level of commitment and were small gatherings of 3-4 people of the same gender and marital status. Bands were accountability groups focused on intimate sharing of temptations and confessions of sin. Only about a quarter of Methodists participated in Bands.
In Wesley’s model, notice that the class meetings (discipleship) were not optional, but bands (the highest level of commitment and accountability) were optional. Not everyone was able or ready for the high-commitment, high accountability bands. One could opt into a band when they felt ready, but discipleship was expected. Discipleship included the development of both the mind (education through the society meetings) and development of the heart (spiritual nurture, direction, and encouragement through the class meetings).
Too often, the modern church has practiced discipleship as optional and educational instead of expected and transformational of both the head and the heart or that the only discipleship needed is what one receives in worship alone. Wesley felt strongly that these deepening levels of discipleship occur as accountability and commitment grows stronger and the size of the group grows smaller and more intimate.
We all know that magic is just an illusion. Yet we do know that it is in relationships in small groups that people usually take their biggest leaps in discipleship growth and development. It seems that a small group is where the Holy Spirit can take hold and maybe where people find community, feel safe, and are most open to exploring their faith through their head and heart with others who are on the same journey. When people find this kind of experience, they are willing to make this high commitment, high accountability plunge. They will make the time for experiences that make a difference and breathe meaning and purpose into their lives.
How are you offering meaningful small group experiences in your church? If you are looking for new small group offerings, check out these resources from Market Square.