Messy Church – an inter-generational community of faith

The term ‘inter-generational’ has become quite a buzz word. To be truly inter-generational as opposed to being ‘multi-generational’ involves everyone being together and invited into a safe, yet challenging space, where they can become more like Jesus. So much of church life has become ‘siloed’ with ministries being compartmentalised. This has its place, but I suggest we have gone too far in that direction. We need to redress the balance if church is to be effective in expressing the heart of God in a world where people are often isolated and community is fragmented. This involves creating formal and informal opportunities for people to come together spiritually, socially, physically and intellectually. Messy Church is one expression of intergenerational community. The term Messy Church can be off-putting as it sounds little more than fun, glue and glitter. Yet, dig deeper and you discover an expression of church that connects with people of all ages on the ‘messy’ fringe of church life who want to know more about Jesus. There are many stories. One church in Auckland launched Messy Church as a totally fresh outreach ministry in their area. They had amazing results. Two-thirds of Mainly Music families are now regulars at their Messy Church and the Gospel message is heard by some twenty families who only come to church at Christmas. This story isn’t unusual. George Lings is the director of the Church Army’s research unit in the UK and has been instrumental in helping birth this new form of church. He says ‘Messy Church is important within the current re-imagination of what it is to be Church. Don’t dumb it down to kids, crafts and church-lite. It connects across the generations instead of ‘sending the children out’. It offers a holistic vision of church by weaving together community and creativity…. Moreover, its spread shows it is accessible and transferrable to many contexts. It has much to teach us all.’
Messy Church isn’t a stepping stone into existing church – although some, in time, may take that step. It isn’t trying to dispense with more traditional church; rather, it is intentional in exploring new ways of being church. Being intentional is about empowering people on their journey of faith. Our part is to commit ourselves for the long haul with the conviction and
passion God has given to us. Being intentional means that we stay alert for God-given opportunities. We need to move with the group collaboratively and remain flexible and open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Church often slips into a ‘you come to us’ mindset, at a time and in a style we are accustomed to. Messy Church seeks to turn that approach on its head by listening to the needs of the community it serves. Each Messy Church event has a Gospel theme within the context of worship, prayer, activities, fellowship and food. It engages the senses and connects the bible story to our story. Ritual emerges from the community that gathers and faith is nurtured through deepening relationships. Some may say Messy Church isn’t anything new and we’ve been doing creative all-age worship for years. Usually ‘all-age services’ offer a style of worship for an established congregation whereas Messy Church exists for the un-churched. It offers counter-cultural transformation of family life, while exploring a new vision of church for a fast-changing culture. Many churches recognise the need to connect with the unchurched in their community, but haven’t necessarily the confidence or the know-how of where to start. Messy Church goes a long way to meet that need by offering an accessible framework that helps to renew vision and energy. At the recent Scripture Union ‘Way2Go’ Conference we heard of families wanting to learn about faith and parents eager for their children to grow spiritually. Yet, we do not see them coming to church on Sunday morning. There are a whole host of reasons for this, but we cannot ignore the fact that we need to find new ways of communicating the Gospel. Yes, Messy Church is hard work and requires teamwork for sustainability, but it is more than worth the energy and commitment. It isn’t a quick fix to church growth, or a ‘how to’ programme. At its heart, Messy Church embodies a desire to see the birthing of intergenerational Christ-centred communities that grow life-long disciples of Jesus. It is highly relational and interactive. Yet without a good understanding of ‘messy theology’, reflection and an understanding of ‘messy’ values, attempts to be relevant and connect could become nothing more than fun and entertainment. This year we began Messy Church at St Peter’s in Pahiatua. Our first Messy Church was encouraging. We explored the Easter story through worship, prayer, activities and drama. 65 attended, including 37 children, many from the local community who do not normally attend church. The word is getting out and families are asking ‘When is the next Messy Church?’ An ecumenical Messy Church is planned for July. In my role as National Messy Church Co-ordinator I intend to run a Messy Church workshop early next year. For all of you, in whatever form your children & families’ ministry takes, your enthusiasm, commitment and handwork is hugely valued and appreciated. My prayer is that however our ministry to children and families is expressed we don’t limit God but stop, look, listen and remain open for all that He has in store.


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