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The Great Big Messy Survey

Posted by Lucy Moore on 07 Feb 2014

Mandy Aspland introduces The Great Big Messy Survey!

This article was featured in Get Messy! January to April 2014.

Have you ever wondered what is going through the hearts and minds of the people who come to your Messy Church? Is your Messy Church really helping people to grow in faith? Want to find out? Well, now you can, by taking part in the Great Big Messy Survey.

My name is Mandy Aspland and I am a postgraduate theology student at York St John University. I have spent the last twelve months visiting Messy Churches, where I have met lots of enthusiastic people clearly having fun and enjoying the Messy experience. On my travels, I began to wonder what was really going on inside people. What impact was Messy Church having on them? How does Messy Church make a difference to their faith? In short, does Messy Church change people (children and adults), and if so, how?

In December 2012, I attended a Messy Discipleship Day, led by Lucy Moore. During the day, Lucy told a story to illustrate the journey of faith. I probably haven't remembered the story very accurately, but it went something like this: A family were trekking across a hot, dusty desert, but they were lost. Weary, hungry and thirsty, the family eventually came across an oasis where they met another family. The second family welcomed and looked after them, giving them food, water and shelter. The family at the oasis told the new arrivals about the journey they were on, a journey towards a mysterious city. They were so excited about where they were heading that the new family decided to tag along. As they travelled together, the newcomers grew to understand more about where they were heading and they too became excited. Well, most of them did. One member of this family really wasn't interested, and in the end he parted company with the group and headed off on his own. The rest continued to share the journey together.

This story emphasises the importance of relationships along the journey of faith. But I would like to suggest a twist to the tale. What if the outcome of the journey somehow depends on the newcomers? Suppose one of the children uncovers a lost well without which there wouldn't be enough water to sustain the travellers. The presence of the inquisitive child then turns out to be a crucial factor in the journey. The child, and the willingness of others to listen to the child, is then vital to ensuring their arrival in the mysterious kingdom. Jesus himself once placed a child in the centre of his followers and said, 'Unless you… become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven' (Matthew 18:3). Along the same vein, I have begun to wonder whether the biggest influence to faith development at Messy Church might actually be the children themselves.

So what difference does it make to have children and adults exploring faith together? One obvious example is that children bring an element of play into the mix. Play can make learning fun, spontaneous and creative. Adult learning, by contrast, is often highly structured and, in particular, goal-oriented. Perhaps the creative play at Messy Church contributes to the development of faith, for both children and adults, in a way that wouldn't be possible in a more formal church setting.

To try to gather evidence concerning the kinds of learning that happen at Messy Church, I have developed Messy questionnaires for everyone involved. There are three types of questionnaire: one for the helpers who run Messy Church, and one each for the adults and children who come along. I suggest that teenagers choose which questionnaire they would prefer. The Great Big Messy Survey Pack doesn't cost anything to obtain and also contains crafts and activity ideas for running a Messy Church session on the theme 'Why am I here?', inspired by Psalm 139. The crafts and activities suggested in the pack encourage people to reflect on God's loving purpose for each of us, but of course you could use the survey alongside a different session if you prefer. The idea is that the helpers fill in their questionnaires during the planning, before the actual session itself. The adult and child questionnaires, packaged in easy-to-read booklets, will form just one of the activities available to people on the day of the Messy Church session, and it should be stressed that people don't have to take part if they don't want to. No names and addresses will be collected (apart from the name of the Messy Church itself and one contact person, usually the main leader), and so the data will remain anonymous.

Once you have completed your Great Big Messy Survey session, please return the questionnaires to me for processing. Prepaid envelopes will be provided for this purpose. I will then combine the responses to produce a nationwide picture of Messy Church faith development across the UK.

This will provide those in charge of overseeing Messy Church with a much clearer picture of the way in which children and adults learn together at Messy Church. This work will form the bulk of my PhD research, but, most importantly, will (hopefully) mean I get to write another article for the Get Messy! magazine to reveal the results!