We’re Bringing Messy Back
Many will already know about the Messy Church initiative which is has been helping churches connect with local families, reach out to the isolated and boost engagement since 2004. Growing in popularity, there are now ‘Messy Churches’ in over 20 countries.
According to their website, Messy Church began “when a group at St Wilfrid’s in Cowplain near Portsmouth were frustrated because, as a church, they were hardly reaching any children with God’s story. They felt they had lovely buildings and facilities but weren’t using them enough. They had creative people in the church, and the area needed as much community-building as possible, being a rather featureless suburb. There was a lot of sympathy towards church in general but the church wasn’t offering anything that really gripped the imagination of local families.”
The frustration was not limited to St Wilfid’s.
Churches, particularly in rural communities, can often share their sense of frustration at not being able to make use of their facilities to reach children and families. Some churches have the opposite problem, in that their buildings aren’t fit for purpose or large enough to accommodate something like Messy Church. Some churches may not have the financial resources, or the right skill set in their congregation to make such an outreach possible. There are many reasons why an all-age activity based Christian program might not be possible for your church. But then again there are an awful lot of reasons why it might be important to pursue.
1 “Let the little children come to me”
Jesus was very specific about the place that children should have in the Christian faith. Church is not the place for children to be seen and not heard. This just shows that even in Jesus’ day, people were trying to shoo the children away so the adults could get on with the “important” stuff. Jesus wanted them front and centre and essentially said ‘Stand aside and let them come”. One of the slogans on merchandise clothing from The One Event cleverly asked “am I your next pastor?” on the back of the children’s t-shirts. We never know what children will grow up to be, but it’s true that it does take a village to raise a child, so we all have a duty to educate the children in our communities about His message where we can.
Jesus treasured the children and it’s worth reminding ourselves that Children are the future of our churches. Even just normalising being inside a church building will help improve the chances of the next generation being aware of God’s love and of the importance of the church in the community. They will be your tithers in 30 years so involving them now in church activities is not only an act of charity and love, but also an act of self-preservation for churches. Another thing is that where children go, so do adults. It’s called parenting and that means that you now have normalised walking into church for several adults.
2 “Do not hinder them”
Messy Church has a unique set of values which has been proven to work in engaging with children, parents, and carers alike. Their winning combination is as follows: “Messy Church values are about being Christ-centred, for all ages, based on creativity, hospitality and celebration.” The mention of hospitality may need a little more specific explanation than the others. Their definition of hospitality involves the hosts providing food for the children and/or the adults. According to their website: “Messy Church is about hospitality, expressed most evidently by eating together.”
Some churches may find feeding an unknown number of children and families very stressful, particularly if their church building is not blessed with an abundance of space and catering facilities. For this reason, some participating churches choose to host Messy Church sessions annually, or quarterly instead of monthly or weekly. Even an occasional outreach using the Messy Church method can help convince the local communities that the church cares about them.
In contrast to the opportunity for hospitality, too many people still see the church as having a self-interested agenda with more respect for money than generosity. That is not the spirit of church. Demonstrating generosity in the preparing, cooking, and serving of a meal will ensure that people know that your church is a giving church. Of course, you want to be known as a church who puts local people at the top of their priority lists.
3 “The kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these”
When we embrace children and families into our church family, it opens up endless possibilities. As an outreach for people of all ages, Messy Church is unparalleled when it comes to connecting and communicating God’s divine message to people from all backgrounds, without judgment or guile. If you feel that letting loose a hoard of hungry children with paintbrushes and PVA glue into your pristine church would not be the best idea, then do ask yourself who church is supposed to be for? The book of Luke 19:10 says “the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” If you are one of the “found” that’s wonderful, but do not let your own comfort get in the way or serving others. Children are born lost. Babies are unable to think for themselves or perform the most basic actions for their own wellbeing, and those who care for them must teach them to do everything. Learning to know God for oneself is the same; it must be taught and that is where outreach comes in. Outreach by definition, is God’s way of seeking and hopefully saving those who do not yet know His joy and peace. Messy Church does this for all ages which is why it’s such a powerful formula.
It may be worth considering that children do have an openness to the power and presence of God. They believe in miracles and suspend their disbelief on a daily basis. If their imagination and energy could be harnessed, we’d never have to use fossil fuels again! Children can do amazing things and deserve to experience all that God has in store for them, but first, feed them and introduce them to the concept that church can be fun and is for kids as well as adults.
There is often opposition from those for whom church is their club. However, it is good to remember that our church buildings are not ours. They belong to God and although there are many ways they can be useful to serve Him, there may also be other ways, as yet unconsidered, in which they can be used for His purpose and seek the lost. Messy Church is such a way that has yielded great results and reached many a lost soul. In the book of Mark, Jesus says that “whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me”. Therefore, we all must be a welcoming church, an inclusive church and one that does not limit its Godly works to Sundays.
If your church needs a little updating, repurposing or maybe you’re thinking of embarking on a large building project to make your building work harder for Christ for the future generations, JBKS Architects are here to help you realise your vision and make all things possible, in building work at least. By His grace we’ll leave the actual miracles to God. To discuss how we can help your church, contact us here, or click here to view some of our recent church projects.