Messy Church

Fresh ideas for building a Christ-centred community

Holiday Club or Messy Church?

Posted by Martyn Payne on 09 Apr 2015 (6 comments)
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I should have said 'no' of course but I didn't. I suppose my reasoning was that this is a church on its way to setting up Messy Church and by working with them and meeting the team on their Holiday Club, it might reap its reward later when their Messy Church gets going properly. I fear though that my justification may be flawed; only time will tell. What today's Holiday Club did however reinforce for me, was the important differences there are between a Holiday Club for children and Messy Church.

Like most of us on the BRF Messy Church team, I have been involved with huge numbers of Holiday Clubs over the years and there is no doubt that God has used them in their time and in their way. But watching today's leader juggle with the application forms at the door as people registered and hearing her repeated reassurances to parents about what was going to happen while their loved ones were left with us for the day, reminded me of all the paperwork and potential problems involved for a church that decides to look after other people's children for however long at a special event. Contrast this with the welcome for a family at the reception table in Messy Church, the relatively speedy filling in of a form with permissions, names and contact details, and then the joy (relief?!) of inviting the children and their adult carers to stay and take part in what lies ahead.

And then there's the team. Both Messy Church and Holiday Clubs depend on teams of course but in the case of the latter, quite a lot more hangs on how well prepared they are. At the children's event the only adults present are the home team and it's up to them to make sure everything happens, whether it’s at the craft tables, during the games and story-time or over lunch, where once again they are in loco parentis. What huge responsibility lies on their shoulders, particularly in an age when there are so many fears and suspicions about the relationship between some adults and children. Contrast this with the all-age atmosphere of Messy Church, where children are still the responsibility of their carers and parents, and where safe, known adults are in the mix with the messy team who work with them rather than instead of them.

And then there are the children themselves. In a Holiday Club they are in the majority and need to be shepherded, protected, entertained and cared for by their leaders every moment during the day. And because there are so many there, peer groups are quickly established which means it's not long before some of those groups can become quite influential and even possibly dangerous. One or two start a game of sliding across the floor and then, before you realise it, large numbers are involved and the risks are multiplied; a few start playing hide and seek and then suddenly a crowd are in and out of the chairs and banging into furniture. Consequently the leaders turn into crowd-control officers, policing the boundaries, while unexpected gaps in the day's risk assessment are revealed! The team's roles as craft leaders and story-tellers become compromised as they need to get heavy and enforce discipline and control. Contrast this with Messy Church where the children are in the mix of generations together and where the only peer pressure is intergenerational rather than focused on one particular age group. The home team are free to be welcoming, to enthuse about the story and the activities, and to work at creating a true family atmosphere where no one group dominates.

And finally, there are the parents. Today, apart from those parents who were helpers in the club, these arrived, dutifully and as advised, to pick up their children at the end of the day. They came in the last 5 minutes as we had a final prayer together which was their only experience of what we had been doing for the last 4 and a half hours of their child's life. They heard some of the children in the circle sharing their thank-you prayers for having had a great time, but of course they themselves had no idea what that had involved. The Holiday Club may have given them some child-free hours (and perhaps child-minding like this is a useful service to the community in some circumstances), but when it comes to sharing something as important as the Gospel with these children, then surely their parents should have been present? The stories we had today were rich and life-changing and not just for children. Those parents and carers who turned up at the end have most likely never heard our precious story of Jesus and God's love, so why should they be excluded? Contrast this with Messy Church which recognizes two realities: firstly that we have at least two, if not three, generations who have not heard the Christian story; and secondly that, if this story is to be fruitful, it needs the support of those who look after these children at home for faith to take root.

We live in a time when traditional separate children's work still exists alongside new inter-age models of evangelism and faith nurture. But the tide is definitely turning and today reinforced that perspective for me. In contrast to the Holiday Club, Messy Church is, or at least should be, very distinctive from children's work, and as such is part of a vital sea change in the church's mission and ministry as we move forward into the new messy world of 21st century church. Messy Church and resources like Messy Family Fun are part of the way ahead.


From Lilliebee on

Thank you so much for to get the people who still want to "flog a dead holiday club" to read it and start looking in a new direction. Many blessings on you!

From Jane Leadbetter on

At St Mary's we asked the Holiday Club parents what they had done for the two hours we cared for their children. Their reply shocked us as they just wasted time before collecting the children! We stopped Hol Clubs immediately and started Messy Church. Seven years on and not one person has ever asked about what happened to the Hol Clubs! We get even more people coming to Messy Church.

From shieldspt on

Isn't this one of those false dichotomies i.e. we EITHER do messy church OR we do holiday club. Why can't we do BOTH messy church AND holiday clubs?

It's a bit like saying we can either do a mission week or an Alpha course, but not both.

I've always maintained that the main beneficiaries of holiday clubs are the team - working together on a mission has a great way of energising & mobilising people, finding new gifts & talents, building confidence & a mission mindset. And if at the same time it gives some parents a bit of respite, some children a memorable & fun introduction to the gospel and the Church some positive PR - then that's not a bad thing.

The danger is when churches think, "That's it, children's evangelism done for another year".

My mindset has always been, lets make every week a holiday club week. If we can quadruple our numbers for one week a year, what's our excuse for not doing it every week of the year?

From Ruth Blunt on

Hi, I just wanted to write in support of Holiday Clubs, because I feel afraid that from reading the article people might ditch the Holiday Clubs, and replace it with messy church. Whereas I think there is a place for both. Why get rid of a fantastic Holiday Club that still works, and still brings the children in, and many children have parents who wouldn't want to stay with their children, and so Holiday Clubs are a great success for them! I think Holiday Clubs need to be more relevant and up-to-date, but how exciting it is to bring the church together in planning a whole church event like a Holiday Club and we have had some of the best times working in a team, making new friends and being united in the purpose of sharing Jesus and the stories of the Bible with children, who may not hear otherwise. I have recently just organised a new holiday club called 'Lego Madness' and using a SU base for a programme, put together stories of builders in the Bible, and stories with lego pictures from the internet of Easter. It was so popular we had 70 children booked up before we started! The children get the chance to hear so much about the Bible in 2 and a half hours, its packed full of Stories, memory verse, quiz, crafts, games, challenges, and loads more. We have teenage helpers now, who used to come as a child and now help. It is a great outreach and I don't believe should be thrown away lightly. Many children I work with don't have parents available to come with them to messy church, but Holiday Club is great for them, and they come every year. But in my church, messy church is also equally valuable for inviting the families from the Holiday Club to come along to next. As a step closer to being in church. So do both, is what I recommend! Ruth

From Nick White on

I agree that exploring faith with whole families is a great ideal to aspire to, and messy churches and similar ventures have enabled many more people to make it happen. But there is another angle ... my particular concern is for those children whose parents will not or cannot join them at church for whatever reason. And the experience of my local church is that over many years their holiday clubs have been and continue to be one major means of enabling children to discover the Christian faith who might otherwise not have had the opportunity. In time, some have also gone on to be part of the monthly Tea Time Together congregation ... with their parents. But it was the holiday club which started the ball rolling. Some of those children are also now young adults and leaders in the holiday club and in the monthly TTT congregation. And of course, there are ways of sharing with parents more of the holiday club experience of their children beyond what Martyn describes. It doesn't always have to be a stark choice between one or the other (though I appreciate that in some situations, it might have to be due to limited people power).

From Martyn Payne on

Thank you for all these valuable contributions following on my original blog about my most recent holiday club experience. Like many of you I have been involved with very many holiday clubs over the years and seen the benefits, particularly for the teams which have grown in their discipleship through Christian service. There is no doubt God has blessed and used holiday clubs and other similar children-focused mission events such as special festival mornings or beach missions and there is no doubt too that many of today’s church leaders can trace their first awakening to Christian faith through attendance at such events when they were young. My own teenage Christian faith was nurtured by being invited to help with a local holiday club and that service was my first experience of discipleship.
And clearly the Lord continues to work through holiday clubs in this way…. and I want to affirm and rejoice in that. But there is also a strong sense amongst many of us in Christian mission today that an intergenerational approach to sharing our faith is needed more than ever at this time, particularly in the western world. Times have changed and the children who come to our holiday clubs will more than likely have very little or no support for their fledgling faith among the adults at home who care for them, because it’s a spiritual dimension of life they’ve never ever been exposed to. Church and the Christian story have not impacted their lives at all. There will be exceptions to this of course and for that reason I rejoice that the Holiday Club and a Messy Church approach can both coexist in many contexts but increasingly many of us are being drawn to a more holistic whole family approach to mission and it was this that my holiday club experience this year highlighted even more starkly for me.