At its heart, MESSY CHURCH aims to create the opportunity for parents, carers and children to enjoy expressing their creativity, sit down together to eat a meal, experience worship and have fun within an informal church context.
We have been running “Messy Church” since January 2008 and below are the notes I produced to help us explore the concept.
We think Messy Church is a great idea – come and see for yourself (we meet on the 3rd Sunday of every month in Longstanton from 4 – 6 p.m.)
Two excellent books are available, both by Lucy Moore (BRF)
Messy Church 2
We have suitable premises (Village Institute), good leaders, some good ideas – but few children and families turning up on a Sunday to worship with us.
What defines a “fresh expression” of church?
“A fresh expression of church is intended as a community or congregation which is already (or has the potential to grow into) a church in its own right. It is not intended to be a halfway house or stepping stone for someone joining a Sunday morning congregation.” (Fresh Expressions Website)
We are not looking simply to run a “fun club” – but to use creativity and food as a way of helping people come close to God and to each other. Hence the name “Messy Church” so that people have no illusions as to what we are about.
Our networks are somewhat fuzzy, with lots of people on the “fringes” of what we do – Messy Church seeks to be on the messy edge of the fuzzy networks. Remember that Jesus spent much of his ministry not at the tidy religious centre of Jerusalem, but on the messy fringes of Jewish society among the “publicans and sinners”; among scruffy disciples and mucky children!
We are now in a situation where belonging, believing and behaving are in process rather than being neatly integrated.
KEY QUESTION: Is Sunday the best time of the week for the people we are trying to reach? Would Sunday at 4 or 5 p.m. be an attractive proposition?
What is “Messy Church”?
“A once-monthly time when families come together to enjoy being together, making things together, eating together and celebrating God together through his word, through music and through prayer.”
- To provide an opportunity for people of all ages to worship together.
- To help people of all ages to feel that they belong to church and to each other.
- To help people have fun together.
- To give people a chance to express their God-given creativity.
- To invite people into an experience of Christian community.
- To introduce people to Jesus through hospitality, friendship, stories and worship.
Typical programme (with, say a 4 p.m. start):
4 p.m. Doors open. People arrive, play board games and have a drink/biscuit.
4.30 p.m. Craft time
5.15 p.m. Celebration Service
5.30 p.m. Eat together – ending at 6 p.m
WELCOME as people arrive. Everyone signs in (a record of who has come) and given a sticker to write their name on. Important that ‘leaders’ are there to be part of the welcome and not be busy getting things ready. A donation plate is put beside the sign-in list. No charge is made, but it is good for people to realise that there are costs involved.
CRAFT ACTIVITIES. A variety of tables set up with different activities, each lasting 5-10 minutes. People can do as much – or as little – as they want. Activities can be repeated, especially if you only meet monthly.
WORSHIP. Important to put real time and energy into this – probably the only chance that many have to worship God. Often based on a “theme” that has been picked up in the crafts. See also www.barnabasinchurches.org.uk.
Would it be possible to move from Village Institute to church building for the time of worship? Get people to move in a procession, with banners etc?? Of course, would have to process back for the food!
Would it even be possible to have the whole session in church?
Think what to do as people ‘gather’. Sing a song; watch a DVD or PowerPoint presentation etc.
The Service itself:
- Keep it simple, and linked to the theme. Need not always be high-tech. Children (and adults) love story, drama and singing. Space for puppets, candles, quiet etc.
- Keep it participative – children love to look, hold, touch, imagine, join in.
- Keep it real – but avoid jargon.
Basic shape (only 15 minutes):
- Opening song
- Response song
Important for people to have a ministry of clearing up and hovering after everyone else has gone home!
Food – before or after worship? Advantage of having it at the end is that people are around for the worship. Do what you can with the facilities available.
Try to celebrate birthdays.
“There is something sacred about eating together, however little is actually on the plates. I also wonder if some of the children ever sit down at a table together as a family. Perhaps, for some, Messy Church is the only occasion when they do.”
Always begin with a “Messy Church” grace, and end with “Happy Birthday” (birthdays in the past month) and a gentle “Thank you very much, hope you’ve enjoyed it, see you next month and you might like to think about going home now.”
Variety. While it’s good to have standard session, important to keep ringing the changes. Perhaps one month there are few leaders, so changes are enforced. What about a picnic in the summer? Link to anything “seasonal” – lots of opportunities.
What are the AIMS of Messy Church?
1. Aiming to be a worshipping community.
Important (however difficult) to give people an experience of the spiritual side of life; space to meet God through worshipping together. Because we are all on a journey of faith, important to think what the ‘next step’ might be for the people who come. Are there other aspects of “church life” that they could become involved in?
2. Aiming to be all-age.
Important to do things that the whole family can enjoy together; learn together; have fun together. Means that there is not time to fully develop the skills of adults – nor to have a leisurely meal with wine (perhaps another occasion just for adults?).
3. Aiming to be Christ-centred.
Church is what happens when “people encounter the risen Jesus and commit themselves to sustaining and deepening that encounter in their encounter with each other” (Rowan Williams).
Of course, not all who come will be committed to encountering God, but we are called “shine as lights among the people of this world, as you hold firmly to the message that gives life.” (Philippians 2:15,16)
4. Aiming to be hospitable.
Providing a meal for friends and strangers expresses something of God’s open-handed generosity.” (see 1 Corinthians 10:31)
5. Aiming to be creative.
We are made in the image of God, and God is the great Creator. As we create and play together, we echo this creativity (even if only with yoghurt pots and crayons!).
What is CHURCH?
See chapter 4 of “Messy Church” (Feeding the 5,000+)
We are trying to provide a picnic where people are free to come, take off and go if that’s what they want. A source of nourishment, creativity and fellowship in a numb, materialistic society.
When people’s appetites are whetted by the open-hearted giving and fun of Messy Church some – a few – will want to find out more and we need to find a forum where questions can be asked and faith explored – Alpha, small groups etc.
Messy Church is a gathering of people who can come and take from God and from the church. They can expect to be fed spiritually and physically. They are given the chance to contribute. They can all meet Jesus. Many will simply say “thanks for a good time” and walk away; some will get the wrong message; some will want to take things further. And that is absolutely fine. We can trust that God will provide the people he wants to go further.
How do we reach the “messy edges”?
1. An open meeting for anyone in church who was concerned about children. What are the needs of the local community; what are our assets and limitations? Children only – or more strategic (and a better reflection of God’s intentions) to do something for everyone? What do people in the community think?
2. A belief that deepening the sense of “community” would, in itself, be a good thing.
3. A desire to see adults and children coming to worship together, having Bible stories to talk about together, owning their faith, becoming friends with people inside the church and feeling a sense of belonging to the church for themselves.
4. A look at our “people” assets. Who is artistic? Who is good-hearted? Who is available? (access to a local Craft Bank helps!!)
5. Questions such as:
- Which group are we trying to reach – to make church attractive for?
- How many such people are there in the community?
- Do church members have any contacts with such people?
- What is available locally already? (Craft Clubs etc?)
- Let us dream dreams – and then face reality!
Try to think out of the box!
Messy Church is clearly a craft-based church. Is this what we are looking for? Or someone else, along similar principles? What can we do to create a bridge between someone on a messy edge and Jesus at the centre?
Once started, opportunities might arise for …
- Green issues
- Performing Arts
- Community Action ….
- All involved in leadership must have CRB check.
- Who is allowed in the kitchen?
- Importance of hygiene – take food hygiene course?
- First-aid facilities?
- Craft materials are safe for young children
For children only events, useful guidelines on BARNABAS website.
Make it clear to parents and carers that they are responsible for their own children.
RECIPES that have been used are included (chapter 7) but we should be able to come up with our own ideas.
Each session has a particular THEME which can be introduced at the beginning – and followed through into worship – and food??
If everything happens in one room, can we create a “worship space”?