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Godly Play and Messy Church

Posted by Lucy Moore on 08 May 2013

Martyn and I had a good and helpful meeting the other week with Mary Hawes, National Going for Growth Adviser and Peter Privett, known by many for his work with Godly Play across the world.

I'd compiled a list of similarities and differences between Messy Church and Godly Play and thought they might be useful to ponder on for others who are interested in both approaches. What do you think?


  • The child her/himself and the child's spirituality are taken seriously
  • The importance of all-intelligence learning and experience is taken seriously
  • The environment is important
  • Community building is important
  • There is an encouragement to take personal responsibility for your worship, learning, engagement and encounter with God
  • Space is important
  • Play / creativity are key
  • Both are non-directive
  • Food plays a key role in both
  • Both are and can be done well and are /can be done badly
  • Both make people laugh a lot
  • Both grow at the edge of church life
  • In both, the practitioners are more commonly women than men; more commonly lay people than ordained
  • Both encourage the encounter of the extra-ordinary (or supernatural) in the ordinary
  • Zones, thresholds and liturgical actions are important in both
  • Schools enjoy both
  • They are both grown around people's needs.

However the differences include the following:

  • Godly Play (GP)  is designed for children; Messy Church (MC) is for all ages
  • GP prepares for church; MC is church. GP reinforces the liturgy of traditional church; MC changes the concept of what actually happens in church
  • GP is predominantly for children of church families; MC is predominantly for newcomers
  • GP has a symbolic feast; MC has a stomach-filling feast
  • GP has 'set texts' or scripts; MC is contextualised and adapted every time
  • GP is for a small group; MC is for any sized group
  • GP is designed to be done weekly; MC is designed to be done monthly
  • GP's 'mood' might be associated with the words focused, disciplined, quiet, reflective; MC's 'mood' might be more associated with words like exciting, fun, messy, vibrant.
  • GP was worked out over many years then published; MC publishes as it goes along
  • GP is much more obviously eucharistic than most MCs.

As Jane will explore in a future edition of Get Messy!, the techniques of Godly Play are being used in many Messy Churches in different ways. It's important to accept they are two very different approaches although they share some similar values. It's also important to use the gift of Godly Play with integrity and respect for its roots and intentions.

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