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What is Messy Church

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Messy Church is a church for families, based around an informal welcome, crafts, a short celebration and a hot meal. It is often held monthly at a time suitable for families – after school on a weekday or at teatime at a weekend, and is not a children’s club, but a church to which people of all ages belong. It began in one Anglican church in Hampshire and has spread as a model to over two hundred churches in the UK and beyond. It is supported by BRF, which publishes the books and provides training and web resources. More can be found at www.messychurch.org.uk or by reading Messy Church and Messy Church 2, both by Lucy Moore.

Messy Church tries to be a church for families and others who find Sunday church difficult. It is not conceived as another service for people who already go to church. There may well be a large team of Sunday church members of all ages who help lead it and who bring along their friends, but the purpose of it is to serve other members of the local community. Its core values include creativity, hospitality and celebration. Creativity, through the crafts that are on offer and the self-expression, opportunities for spiritual growth, exploration of Biblical themes and appeal to all the senses and learning styles that creativity can give. Hospitality, through its generous welcome of the stranger, just as Jesus spent his time with the people on the edge who were undervalued by his society and gave to and received from them around meals, picnics and parties. Celebration, as the Church is a people of celebration, always looking for good, always helping people towards life in all its fullness, always grateful and appreciative of the glorious things God is doing through his Spirit in the world around us.

Messy Church has a genuine concern for families at its heart, and believes that the best people to bring up children in the Christian faith are the parents or carers of those children, with the resources of the Church behind them. So Messy Churches work together with those adults to resource, equip and motivate them to give their children the very best in life, including a living faith in Jesus Christ. The discipleship emerging from Messy Church therefore seems to be forming around faith at home rather than set courses or immediately measurable outcomes.

Messy Church is growing in numbers and depth, we trust, by the unpredictable power of the Spirit. BRF sits very lightly to the organisation of it, seeing itself in an enabling, nurturing and connecting role rather than as a controlling force. Partnership with existing churches (of different denominations) is of paramount importance to BRF and will continue to be so as the network develops. We are keen to keep close relationships and clear communications with churches and other organisations in different denominations in order to work sustainably, cooperatively and in keeping with the bigger mission of those organisations.

We are very excited about what God is doing through Messy Church and how he is creating a warmth towards church in our communities through the generosity of those teams who welcome outsiders so willingly. We are awed by the enthusiasm and creativity of Messy Church leaders and encouraged by the many emails we receive describing large and small successes. As Messy Church takes off in Denmark, where it is 'owned' wholeheartedly by the Lutheran Church from its very outset, and in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere where it is spreading more organically by word of mouth, we look forward to seeing what opportunities there may be for enriching our churches through the experiences of Mess in different situations and cultures.

Messy Church is important within the current re-imagination of what it is to be Church. Don't dumb it down to kids, crafts and church-lite. It fosters inherent participation by contrast to congregational passivity. It connects across the generations instead of 'sending the children out'. It offers a holistic vision of church by weaving together community and creativity, out of which comes appropriate liturgy. This is positively different from laying on worship into which the attenders are assimilated. Moreover its spread shows it is accessible and transferable to many contexts. It has much to teach us all.

Revd George Lings Director of Church Army’s Research Unit – The Sheffield Centre

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