Messy Church

Fresh ideas for building a Christ-centred community


Alas, despite bobbing up and down like a rare ornithological specimen, I wasn’t called upon to contribute to the debate on the ‘Setting God’s People Free’ report about lay people in the CofE. So here is what I would have said. You’ll have to imagine the riotous laughter, standing ovation, thrown roses and subsequent calls of ‘Encore!’ that would no doubt have met it.

For around eight years I have been running around at each L19 Messy Church session. ‘Have you got all that you need?’ ‘Can I help you to find something?’ ‘Thank you for visiting us. Let me show you where to put your pram.’ ‘We’ve run out of paper plates! I’ll just pop out for some more.’ But this month I had to sit still! This month, our lovely regular welcoming family at the Welcome Table awoke to a surprise gift from a family member – tickets to the Davis Cup!

I've just had to fill in a form about what sort of leadership activity I'm engaged in. What on earth will they do with this list? Is this what they mean, I wonder? What would you add or take away as a fellow Messy Church leader?

Q: What type of leadership activity do you consider you are engaged in personally?

I worked with two very different audiences recently, although they were exactly the same people!

On one level, those who came to my storytelling morning were all children's and youth workers from a variety of local churches. Some had a paid post but most were volunteers. They were all responsible in some way for the children's groups on a Sunday morning, running midweek clubs, coordinating the youth work or helping with assemblies at local schools. 

We mustn’t underestimate the challenge of running a Messy Church. This isn’t just about putting on an event every now and then, which in itself would be demanding enough, but it’s about leading a pioneering form of church for which there is little precedent! 

Messy church leaders are courageous people, often working in the dark, one step at a time, and juggling a variety of important pressures that include:

The Church Growth Research paper by Rev Dr George Lings and his team has created quite a stir in the Church of England. It explores the effect of fresh expressions in ten dioceses.

The two reports about church growth that came out recently are exercising my mind. Two issues come out of them which have caused many sharp intakes of breath across the Church of England. One is the discovery that multi-parish benefices, or lumping a lot of parishes together under one minister, is a significant factor in church decline and churches flourish much better when they have a leader of their own. The other issue is the fact that so many fresh expressions of church are led by lay people and indeed by lay people with little or no training.

Messy Churches need teams - it's one of the glories and headaches of running one! Bishop Graham Cray has written a useful article about leading teams in a missionary spirit. I particularly like the reminder to keep on looking outwards: Above all accept the responsibility to keep it missional, rather than settle into a pattern of life that is self serving.

A couple of queries from Narelle in Australia. Any help for her from your experience?

We have been running Messy Church once a month for nearly a year now.

And have seen it grown.

Each time, we evaluate it and try to work out how we can do it better.

'We should have more say!' wrote Abigail (14). Abigail's sentiment was one shared by the Methodist Church and Messy Church, so it made perfect sense to run a joint event, inviting teenagers from all over the UK to come together for a day looking at the role of teenagers in Messy Churches.