The practice of Methodism in daily life is closely linked to the historical development of Methodism. Methodism is organized into societies, classes, and bands. Because it was originally intended to supplement the Church of England rather than compete with it, societies were intended as weekly gatherings to hear the word of God preached. Once Methodism became a denomination independent of the Anglican Church, societies became almost completely synonymous with congregations. These meet Sundays for worship.
John Wesley divided each society into smaller classes. Participation in classes was required for membership in a society. They consisted of ten to twelve people and included men and women (women often played a leadership role in classes), all ages, and all levels of spiritual maturity.
The classes began as a device for collecting money to pay society debts in Bristol, England. John Wesley records that Captain Foy proposed a plan to have every society member give a penny a week until the society's debts were paid. When it was pointed out to him that many members were too poor to pay a penny a week, Captain Foy proposed that each leader gather eleven people, and if they could not pay he would pay for them.
Once these groups of twelve began to meet weekly, Wesley immediately saw that they were the perfect way to maintain piety and encourage members to strive for Christian perfection. These classes were one of the great strengths that led to the rise and spread of early Methodism. They draw on the pietist tradition of small group meeting. The purpose of the class meetings is not doctrine but personal experience and mutual encouragement. While many Methodists today do not meet weekly in classes, they do meet in small Bible study groups, typically on Wednesday evenings, which fulfill the same purposes.
John Wesley also set up "bands," in addition to societies and classes. These bands were voluntary, and were more homogenous. They included people of the same age, gender, and spiritual maturity. While the classes focused on Christian living, the point of the bands was to encourage spiritual growth and piety. Though Wesley himself believed these to be one of his most important innovations, bands never caught on the way that classes did.
1. How did membership in a Methodist society dictate the individual's devotion in daily life?
2. What is the connection between piety and small group meetings?
3. What are Methodist bands?