I have always been interested in the whispers I have heard within the Oklahoma Annual Conference about Craig Groeschel’s past connections to the United Methodist Church. I was so interested at one point that I attempted to contact him for an interview. For those of you who may not have heard of Craig Groeschel, he is the founding pastor of LifeChurch.tv, which is a church that began in Oklahoma and now has campuses throughout the United States.
One of the reasons I am interested in LifeChurch is because they seem to more effectively practice Wesleyan mutual support and accountability than the United Methodist Church does. I have a friend who was on staff at LifeChurch for awhile and I was fascinated to hear about how important of a role small groups (they call them Life Groups, I think) play for people involved in LifeChurch. My impression is that these groups are about more than going through a study, but they are about encouraging one another to move forward in their discipleship. At times I have wondered if the best example of a modern day equivalent of the early Methodist class meeting would be found not in a UM congregation, but at LifeChurch. (I want to admit this is simply speculation on my part, as I have never been to either a worship service – which they call an experience – or a Life Group.)
In any event, through conversations with my friend I have been very intrigued by the potential connection between LifeChurch’s effectiveness at sharing the gospel with unchurched people and their emphasis on Life Groups. This is one of the main things I wanted to ask Groeschel about. I was particularly curious if he had thoughts about whether something like Life Groups would work in the UMC today, or if – in his experience – he has seen institutional barriers to such a small group ministry.
This is a long winded way of saying that Craig Groeschel has written a series of blog posts this week about the UMC. In the first post he gives a glimpse of his own experience as a pastor in the UMC. While I am sure there is more to the story (I am sure Groeschel would freely admit this, as he does not at all suggest he is giving an exhausitve account of his experience in the UMC) Groeschel seems to me to try to talk about his experience with restraint and humility. I suspect United Methodists can learn much from Groeschel’s story… and I confess I still want to know more.
You can read Groeschel six part series on the UMC by following the links below:
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John Meunier said:
You are more the expert on this than I am, but weren’t the Wesleyan groups narrowly focused on accountability and watching over each other?
A lot of “life groups” or “small groups” strike me as being Sunday School untethered from Sunday or organized around shared interests and fellowship more than true accountability.
I’ve not seen any that look like band meetings as I understand them from reading Wesley’s rules for them.
That does not make these life groups bad, by no means. But I’m not sure they are an heir of Wesleyan classes and bands just because they involve small numbers of people.
Just my thoughts.
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Kevin Watson said:
John – First of all, very cool that your comment and your link have two different pictures next to them!
I agree with you that I have not seen a contemporary small group approach that is like the early Methodist band meetings, which were primarily focused on confession of specific sins. I don’t think I was saying in my post that I think Life Groups are like band meetings.
I probably should have been more specific. I think they might be more like class meetings than anything I have personally seen in a Methodist church. But, as I said, this is an impression and not based on any actual experience of Life Groups.
In fact, the impression is entirely based on casual conversations with a friend who was on staff at Life Church, and who I think still attends a Life Church campus. The reason for that impression is that I shared with them about my interests in the Wesleyan classes and bands and from their response it sounded like their experience of Life Groups resonated with my description of what happened in a class meeting – which I take to be answering the question that is in the “General Rules” How does your soul prosper? Or some form of that question. In other words, I had the sense that their Life Group was not a Bible Study, or a book study, but was about sharing what had gone on in the last week as they tried to faithfully follow the Lord.
I just remembered another part of the story I had forgotten: the Life Group was a group of younger married couples. After sharing with this couple about why I thought the band had continued potential for being a very effective means of grace, the husband shared this with the other men in his Life Group and I believe they actually started having a sort of pre-meeting before the Life Group began where the men did confess their sins to one another… I have no idea if they continue to do so.
John Meunier said:
The story at the end of your comment is very cool.
My attempts as clergy and laity to get groups similar to these started has been a fairly dismal failure, so all my comments are based on a rather shallow pool of experience.
When I dug around in the LIfeChurch site to find some of the actual LIfeGroups, it does look like they run a broad range of activities and focus. If they all incorporate some intentional spiritual care and watching over, though, this would be a far step beyond what we generally do in the UMC.
Thanks for the clarification on classes vs. bands. I had it in my head that classes were the same focus as bands, just more leader directed rather than mutually accountable.
Bill Easum said:
Thanks for this info from Greg. It would be nice if we would learn from him thoughts. Bill
Brian Yeich said:
I have met Craig and found him to be really focused on growing “real Christians.” The larger LifeChurch becomes, I’m sure the more difficult this may be, but from what I have seen they are making an earnest effort to help people grow in grace.