John Wesley and the Formation of the Methodist Society
Without formally leaving the Church of England, John Wesley established Methodist “societies” throughout England. From his teaching series A Survey of Church History, W. Robert Godfrey explains how the Methodist movement became so influential.
John Wesley went on to be very successful as an organizer, he had great organizational abilities, and he established all over England, “Methodist Societies,” he didn’t call them churches, he was still in the Church of England, to the day he died he remained a minister in the Church of England. He established societies that met, it looked a lot like worship, but he said it wasn’t worship because they did not compete with the Church of England, the societies never met at the same time as the Church of England, but he was setting up, really, kind of a church within the church. And even more importantly, he established what were called “classes, class meetings,” where 10 to 15 Methodists would gather together regularly to study, to pray and to be disciplined by a leader of the class meeting. So not only were there societies that looked a lot like congregations, but there were cells or classes within the society that led to real discipline, real conversation: “How are your praying? How is your spiritual life going? How is your sanctification going?” There was accountability. And all of that would come to make the Methodist movement a very powerful movement. And almost immediately after Wesley’s death, these Methodist societies separated from the Church of England. It was really only Wesley individually that was keeping them in the Church of England, they separated and established the Methodist Church. And although the Methodist Church in America was very small in the eighteenth century, it grew rapidly in the nineteenth century. And by the middle of the nineteenth century, the Methodist Church had become the largest church in America.