The early Methodists practiced a type of sermon-free church known as class meetings. These were weekly, participatory meetings where every person present was given the opportunity to talk about their life with God. The first Methodist class meeting was started in 1742.
Here are two quotes from John Wesley (founder of Methodism) describing the class meeting:
“We will meet together once a week to confess our faults one to another, and pray one for another, that we may be healed.’ . . . So that everyone, in order speak as freely, plainly, and concisely as he can, the real state of his heart, with his several temptations and deliverances, since the last time of meeting.’
“What advantages have been reaped from this. Many happily experienced that Christian fellowship of which they had not so much as an idea before. They began to ‘bear one another’s burdens,’ and naturally to ‘care for each other.'”
John Bate wrote in 1866: “We go to class meeting to edify one another in the relation of Christian experience. We go to sit before the Lord in the presence of each other, and wait on Him in holy meditation, prayer, and faith. We go to receive from Him . . . It is in the nature of the class meeting to fan the flame of religion in the soul; to invigorate and enliven the spirit, in a word, to nourish the entire Christian life.”
Frederick William Briggs wrote in the 1860s: “The essential principle of class meeting is the use of personal experience as stated by each member, for the purpose of their common spiritual improvement . . . God’s chosen instrument of spiritual teaching is not any abstract form of truth, but truth in the form of living experience which is the essential principle of the class meeting . . . The spiritual life requires for its sustenance, invigoration, and right training, the influence of example and experience and it is in this that the class meeting has its root. The class meeting is simply an arrangement for placing the plants of Divine planting in conditions most favorable to their healthy growth.”
Kevin Watson recently wrote: “I believe that the Holy Spirit wants to use this form of communal Christian formation once again to help people have an active faith in Christ, not merely a passive intellectual faith. And I believe that if this practice were to be reclaimed, wit would be used by the Spirit to bring renewal.”
Class-meeting-style sermon-free church is being reclaimed in Nashville, Tennessee in answer to a prayer prayed in the late 1800s by a Nashville resident, John Berry McFerrin. Come and experience it for yourself at The Salvation Army Berry Street, 225 Berry St., Nashville, 37207 on Sundays at 10:45 am.