by Joel Comiskey

Many believe that 18th Century Methodism saved England from moral collapse. Participation in a class meeting (identical to modern day cell groups) among those early Methodists was so essential that a person needed a “ticket” verifying he or she was regularly attending a class meeting to even enter the larger society gatherings. 

By the beginning of the twentieth century, however, as Methodism spread around the globe, the class meeting was almost extinct, only occasionally referred to by historians. 

So what happened? Why did the Methodist small groups practically disappear? 

Kevin Watson wrote an excellent 2013 book called The Class Meeting: Reclaiming a Forgotten (and Essential) Small Group Experience. He explains that Wesley’s classes or cell groups focused on transparent sharing and growth in holiness. They emphasized each person’s current relationship with God and how they were living it out. 

But according to Watson, one key reason for their decline was the gradual shift to curriculum based Bible studies, rather than life-changing small groups. Methodists began to talk to each other about abstract ideas, rather than applying God’s Word to their lives.  

When a person is uncomfortable in talking about his or her relationship with God, a curriculum driven study can be less intimidating. A person can talk about content instead of really talking about a relationship with his or her Creator. In many Methodist churches, the Methodist “classes” literally became Sunday school “classes.”

Transparency is central to life-giving small groups. Open sharing that leads to biblical transformation is the goal, rather than talking about abstract concepts. So what does transparency look like and how do we practice it in the cell church?

For the month of May, we’ll write twenty blogs about the theme of transparency. If you’d like to receive these blogs daily in your email inbox, click here. We’ll cover: 

  • Week 1 (May 05-11). Biblical view of transparency. John says, “if we walk in the light as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another. . .” (1 John 1:7). We’ll talk about what God’s Word says about transparency.   
  • Week 2 (May 12-18). Transparency in the cell. One key difference between a Bible study and a cell group is open sharing that leads to transformation. Starting with the leader, each member needs to honesty and transparency.  
  • Week 3 (May 19-25). The cell group lesson. It’s easy for the small group lesson to be more intellectually oriented and curriculum based. More and more I’m recommending three questions: 1. What does this passage say (context). 2. How is God speaking to you right now from this passage? 3. How can you apply/ obey this passage during the week.
  • Week 4 (may 26- June 01). Leadership transparency in general. Pastors must not hide behind super-spirituality. They must be willing to share what’s happening to spouses, leadership team, and even in a cell group. In other words, leaders at all levels need to model transparency.

Feel free to share your experiences here.