A brief guide to Messy Church

There was a little flutter on Twitter last night regarding Messy Church

All very amicable but it got me thinking that it would be good to set out the case for a full-blown Messy Church as opposed to a kids club with a couple of songs!

The first thing to ask is what makes a church. There is huge debate about this. its not my intention to get too far into this. But one of the things that Messy Church should have is shape. A shape that should include worship, prayers, bible reading and talk. There has been a welcome move towards “shape” being a defining part of a church rather than many of the set pieces.

Where Messy Church does not go too far into (but that may well be more a function of its newness) is into the sacraments. We have already seen some people from Messy Church Baptised and Confirmed but not in the context of the Messy church congregation. Nor have we celebrated communion. But I could see that baptisms could quite easily be done. The major problem with communion would be those who hadn’t been confirmed – which is likely to be the majority of people.

So what is different with Messy Church from say Morning Prayer or an All Age Service?

Well the Messy Church website puts it as follows:

Messy church aims to

  • Provide an opportunity for people of all ages to worship together
  • Help people to feel that they belong in church and to each other
  • Help people have fun
  • To give people the chance to express a God given creativity
  • To invite people into an experience of Christian community
  • To introduce people to Jesus through hospitality, friendship, stories and worship

Messy Church craftsThere is a focus on creating an environment that non-churched people feel welcomed and accepted and familiar with. It’s a sense that people don’t need to leave their comfort zone to hear the Gospel. For our church we use the familiar environment of a school. Others use a church or church hall.

In fact one local church uses their sanctuary (covering the carpet to make sure there isn’t any damage). The great thing about Messy Church is that because it isn’t a set piece thing it can be used by churches from very different spectrum  of the Church. I know evangelical, catholic, baptist, liberal catholic churches who use the Messy Church model.

When we had Lucy Moore who set-up the first Messy Church in Portsmouth it seemed that she knew of no churches where people had moved from Messy Church into a normal Sunday expression of Church. Now, of course, this could have been because the experience of the two are so different. But it could also be for different reasons.

My suspicion is that too many churches see Messy Church as a Task to be done. It is an event to navigate through.

The insight that we have found is that the primary function is building relationship. This for us is far more important than what crafts or activities that you put on.

The other insight that we have found is to put on other events that overlap what the people who attend your Messy Church might like to go to. So, we link in Holiday Clubs, summer picnics, discos etc as well as key services through the year that might be family friendly.

So what were some of the keys to setting up our Messy Church. Firstly, leadership. Ours is led by someone who is highly relational and wanted to reach out to new people and new families and make them welcome. It has been supported by others who also get the importance of relationships and between them  they share this passion for relationship with people.

Messy Church TalkThe second part was looking to see where we naturally had relationships with people. One primary school in particular stood out for us. Our leader had been a teacher there. For others it might be regular assemblies or a church school or similar. Leafleting the school saw an initial group coming along to Messy Church.

Some have large numbers as soon as they set-up, especially if they have good relations or they leaflet widely and have others encouraging people to go. We were very open that this was church and would have prayers, bible stories (new phrase for a bible reading), talk and worship. But it would also have games, craft and especially food (which is of course very biblical). We launched ours at Easter with a focus on the Easter story.

Our first ones had about 30-40 people coming (including helpers). This was great as it meant that good and solid relationships were built.

We started, from the first, to see what else we were doing (or could do) that would re-enforce the building of community. We were amazed at how open some people were to talk about issues of faith and in fact a small small group of parents who wanted to talk about issues of faith started up quite quickly.

A number have now either joined us on a Sunday morning or are feeling their way in to our Cafe church service. We have had a number of baptisms and one person being confirmed and I have been asked to marry a couple next year.  Of course, lots haven’t gone further and that’s fine by us. People come first.

A couple of weeks ago Sue and some of her team helped at the school Bazaar and did free craft there. What was great was that the helpers at this were parents at the school who had been regular members of Messy Church. We also leafleted the school again. As a result another 8 families came from the school to Messy Church last Saturday. This saw our numbers rise to over 80. The thing for us will be making sure that numbers don’t obscure building relationships.

Our Messy church is called Footsteps.


5 comments on “A brief guide to Messy Church

  1. Mary Hawes
    July 1, 2011 at 10:11 am #

    Dear Will,
    Thanks for this. Just to let you know I’ve linked to it on the C of E’s website for children & youth ministry: http://www.going4growth.org.uk/growth_in_faith_and_worship/welcome_to_your_church/messy_church/

    • Will Cookson
      July 1, 2011 at 12:02 pm #

      Dear Mary,

      Thank you for putting the link on your website. The website is looking good!


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