Celebrating 10 years of Messy Church

Messy Church mixes Christian teaching with fun crafts and activities(Photo: Diocese of Portsmouth)

Messy Church this week celebrated it's tenth anniversary in the very church where it first began in 2004.

Designed as a way for families, as well as those of any age, who would normally not attend church to come together and explore Christianity, Messy Church was first dreamt up by a team at St Wilfrid's Church, Cowplain, in the Diocese of Portsmouth.

Led by Canon Paul Moore and his wife Lucy, a group began holding alternative meetings which combine arts and crafts, worship and sharing a meal, woven together with a biblical theme. What started as a fairly small project has since spread across the globe and there are now 2,300 registered Messy Churches worldwide.

"We sit back and marvel at it really!" says Lucy.

"It's a strange position for us to be in, because I'm still part of the original St Wilfred's Messy Church and it's been lovely to welcome people from churches and countries who want to find out more! The rest of the team has also enjoyed contact with people from all sorts of places, like Trinidad and Tobago, which has been really exciting.

"For our church as a whole it's helped make us more outward looking rather than inward looking; even members of the congregation who don't go to Messy Church are very proud of it!"

Canon Paul says the rapid growth has been a surprise to everyone.

"Ten years ago when we talked to families in the local community and asked them what they would like, the clear answer was something that was fun for the family and definitely not on a Sunday morning. So the concept of Messy Church developed and an enthusiastic team of people from St Wilfrid's was recruited to lead the crafts and cook the meal," he explains.

"When we launched the very first Messy Church in April 2004, we had no idea how many people would come, and we were amazed when 60 adults and children came and had such a great time that they wanted to keep coming each month.

(Photo: Diocese of Portsmouth)

"Little did we know that Messy Church would grow to be so big. It's exciting to see how God has made this tiny seed we planted 10 years ago grow into such a large tree. I'm really looking forward to our 10th birthday party. We've got so much to celebrate and thank God for."

Lucy believes that the adaptable nature of the Messy Church model is the key to its success. By offering resources and training to help churches engage creatively with their communities in a way that works for them, it allows a fluidity which has seen the local church flourish.

"It seems to be something which can work for any church, which sounds terribly arrogant!" she laughs.

"But over the past ten years there have been so many different types of churches who are doing really well with it; from small rural churches to big suburban churches; high churches, middle and low. It seems to be something which the local church can take and make its own; where they can take the idea and contextualise it.

"I think it's very exciting to see creativity released in lay people. Messy Church doesn't need an ordained person to run, it's a lay-led movement, and when you let 'ordinary Christians' loose on mission in the local area, you see people fly. It's not a command and control model."

Perhaps unusually for a Christian outreach, Messy Church doesn't actually aim to bring people into the normal church congregation.

"It's good when Messy Church is seen as a separate congregation in its own right, not something that channels people into the Sunday congregation," Lucy explains.

"We've learnt that church shouldn't be about what we want, but about helping those outside our churches to come closer to God.

"We started Messy Church from the idea that we couldn't imagine people that we see standing at the bus stop, on the street, walking their dog and hanging out at the school gates coming on a Sunday and worshipping in a way that we worshipped as a gathered church community. So we didn't want to do something where success was measured by 'if it works then they'll come to church'. We wanted to do something which was church in itself.

"We wanted to invest in Messy Church as we would in any congregation; not sell people or the Gospel short, but say that this is the only time in a month where they will encounter the love of God through his people, so let's use the opportunity for fellowship, learning, encounter, worship - not to say it's fine, we'll just have fun this week because if they're serious they'll turn up at church on Sunday."

And as for the next ten years? "We have no idea!" Lucy admits.

Family time at Messy Church(Photo: Diocese of Portsmouth)

"We're sitting lightly on it, trying to say that God has brought us this far and he's a God of new ideas and new life, and we rejoice in what he's done so far and we'll walk with him in the next ten years! If that is with Messy Church then great, but if it's something different then we'll let go of anything that's not helpful.

"There's so much to do with helping new Messy Churches set up and helping existing ones become sustainable. I hope that part of the journey in the next ten years will be about continuing to deepen that discipleship of people who are encountering church for the first time, and helping teenagers to find how they can belong to a church. Those are two really important things for us, as well as seeing Messy Church grow in more countries; it's really exciting."

As part of the celebrations this week there was a party at St Wilfrid's, with crafts, activities, a ceilidh and a roast dinner.

"We're using the theme of the parable of the mustard seed; reflecting on that, and wondering how big this tree will be in another ten years!" Lucy says.

For further information go to www.messychurch.org.uk