Animating Devotion - Jonathan Edwards on Revival and Small Groups

I have been thinking a lot about small groups recently, both at our home churchwhere I have responsibility to oversee the development of our small groups, and with the Living Leadership trainer, as Living Leadership sets about developing a network of trainings for leaders of groups. Our aim: groups that are full of grace and truth, that build disciples and deep community. Never less than deep in the scriptures, but never merely a Bible study. More of that on another occasion.

It was thrilling to re-read Edwards this morning on how important he thought small groups (or praying companies as he calls them) could be in animating individual devotion to God and thereby aiding the Great Revival. And, interestingly, how he would like to experiment with doing things differently in a church. He has made me pray this morning (in Jim Packer's words) for "the touch of God on small groups". I can't do better than let him speak for himself:

On days of fasting and prayer, wherin the whole congregation is concerned, if the day, besides what is spent in our families, was not wholly spent in the meeting house, but part of it in particular praying companies or societies, it would have a tendency to animate and engage devotion, more than if the whole day were spent in public, where the people are no way active themselves in worship, any otherwise than as they join with the minister.

The inhabitants of many of our towns are now divided into particular praying societies; most of the people, young and old, have voluntarily associated themselves in distinct companies, for mutual assistance in social worship, in private houses.

What I intend therefore, is that days of prayer should be spent partly in these distinct praying companies. Such a method as this has several times been proved: In the forenoon...all the people of the congregation have gathered in their particular religious companies; companies of men by themselves, and companies of women by themselves; young men by themselves and young women by themselves; and companies of children in all pars of the town by themselves...

...About the middle of the day...all have met together in the house of God, to offer up public prayers and to hear a sermon suitable to the occasion; and then they have retired from the house of God again into their private societies, and spent the remaining part of the day in praying together there...

...And it has been found to be of great benefit, to assist and engage the minds of the people in the duties of the day

(Jonathan Edwards, Thoughts on the Revival, Section 3)