What on earth is this ‘Messy Church’ thing?

What on earth is this ‘Messy Church’ thing?

It’s just Church!

Messy Church is simply a way of being church. It isn’t a gimmick and it isn’t particularly new anymore, the first Messy Church having started over 14 years ago in the UK. The name sounds weird, I admit, and it isn’t a new concept at all, but I feel it has taken different lessons and experiences from a variety of places and has come up with something that engages people in a faith community who would not normally connect. 

Messy Church acknowledges that life is generally a messy business. Sunday mornings are no longer the time when everyone gathers at their local church.  Whole generations of people have never set foot in a church, not even for weddings or funerals. A lot of people now identify as being spiritual but not religious, however they understand that to be. I am not offering judgement here, just the reality.

Messy Church is a time for all ages to gather together to connect as a community focused around the Christian message. There is an order and structure to Messy Church, despite its name, and there is liturgy and learning, reflection and celebration. Everything you would expect to find in a service of worship is in Messy Church – in fact, it is more aligned to the early church described in Acts and Paul’s letters than what we call church today.

5 Messy Values

There are 5 Messy values which form the foundations of Messy Church:

  • Christ-centred
  • Intergenerational
  • Creativity
  • Hospitality
  • Celebration

They sit behind Messy and link together, overlapping and intersecting in many places as shown in this useful diagram from the United Church of Canada:

You’ll notice I have changed ‘all-age’ to ‘intergenerational’ as the aim is to see the generations mixing and learning and teaching each other at the same time, rather than just being side by side. It’s a technicality! At the heart, is the Christ-centredness ie. the Christian message.

These 5 values run through Messy Church like DNA so that, without any one of these, it isn’t Messy Church. For example, if it is not intergenerational, it is simply another children’s programme so everything that happens in Messy Church needs to be open, engaging and challenging to every age. Messy Church must have integrity in worship, theology and faith formation and discipleship otherwise it simply isn’t Church. 

You might be wondering about more traditional forms of church and asking if they too have integrity, and I would suggest you are right to ask that. There is nothing wrong with looking at how we worship, how we discern the Spirit, how we grow disciples in all of our gatherings that we call church. This is something to be embraced rather than something to be feared.

What does a Messy Church look like?

Messy Church usually meets once a month and not on a Sunday morning. It’s a service of worship NOT a way to get people into ‘real’ church. It is church, it just looks different and is at a different time.

It is a community of faith and those who attend can become leaders according to the usual Safe Church protocols and can become church members as per usual church regulations. It is church, just at a different time!

People are greeted by those on the welcome table.  Name badges are handed out, people sign in with contact details, a run down is given for those attending for the first time, a donation box for money is there plus baskets of donated food etc for local people in need.

Each Messy Church has a theme and everything that takes place runs with this theme from the start to the finish. It might be a Bible story or a subject that is explored.

The space is set up with stations offering a range of activities: competitive sports and games, reflective prayer stations, Bible study station, craft activities.  This is a way to engage with different styles of learning, different abilities and different needs. This stage lasts for about an hour. People arrive to the stations so there is flexibility when people come in. There should be helpers on each of the stations to help with the activity, and the Bible reading with conversation starters and ideas to think about. There is no dumbing down the message at Messy Church.  It is at the stations that people find their level of engagement and there are always questions that enable people to dig deeper should they wish to.