Parishes, schools and agencies

Messy Church a 'gift of the Spirit', and growing

Messy Church began in 2004 as a way of doing church with hospitality, creativity and celebration at its core. In mid-May, Children and families ministry facilitator for the Melbourne Diocese, Dorothy Hughes, attended an international conference in London on Messy Church, and has returned home "filled with hope and confidence". She explains why.

By Dorothy Hughes

July 14 2016
Communion was a highlight of the final Messy Church session, filled with exuberant messiness.

The proportion of people attending Messy Church who have never had any other connection with a church is higher than in any other form of church. And people attending Messy Church are tending to stay, despite the fact that they have come to Messy Church with less previous experience of church. So said keynote speaker George Lings, Director of Church Army’s Research Unit, in an address about just how cutting-edge and effective Messy Church is.

He spoke on “Messy Church showing the way” and “Messy Church finding the way”, commenting:

“Messy Church is about mission, worship and community; not just a bridge back to ‘real’ church... You [Messy Church] are still finding ways, but draw on the wisdom of the past and stretch yourselves out of present boundaries… you are part of reasserting that messy is normal in Christianity.”

This was an extraordinary conference. There were 220 people from 12 countries around the globe, from many denominations; yet it felt like we were a family. At every meal I sat with people I had never met before, and we talked as though we had known each other for years.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby sent a video message of welcome, in which he described Messy Church as a gift of the Spirit to the church. He encouraged us to keep pushing out the boundaries, being flexible and imaginative, creating a circle of love that joins people together with Christ at the centre. He said that Messy Church had sent churches and parishes on a journey that they had never imagined and had enabled them to have the confidence to share the Gospel.

In the workshops (“Messy conversations”) we learnt from each other, as we talked, asked questions and admitted that we hadn’t worked out all the answers… how DO you make Messy Church truly all-age when it is a struggle to engage the interest of teenagers?; where do single people or couples without children fit in Messy Church?; how do you create space for all ages to encounter God together and grow in faith together…?

Our times of worship were filled with exuberant messiness – songs with signing and crazy actions, creating with clay, beautiful materials, woodwork and food, learning from each other… and profound moments of prayer and quietness as we encountered the work of the Spirit among us. There was more fun, playfulness and joy than I had hoped for or expected.

It was inspiring to be at a conference where we were not just talking about the theory of Messy Church but where everything was part of being Messy Church. We shared our own experiences and stories and there was an atmosphere of openness and love – we were truly free to speak the truth and ask questions of each other, knowing that over time we would learn the answers together, or find better questions to ask.

I have returned home filled with hope and confidence in what Messy Church has to offer – to the many people in our communities that have not yet encountered the Gospel, and to the wider church, as a model of church that has room for all ages, and is driven by values of hospitality, creativity, celebration, with Christ at the centre drawing together the messy efforts of God’s people to love each other.

What Messy Church is!

  • A church for adults and children to enjoy together.
  • It’s all-age.
  • It’s fun.
  • It’s primarily for people who don’t belong to another form of church already.
  • Its aim is to introduce Jesus, to give an opportunity to encounter him and to grow closer to him.
  • It usually includes some creative time to explore the biblical theme through getting messy; a celebration time which might involve story, prayer, song, games and similar; and a meal together.
  • Its values are hospitality, creativity and celebration.
  • It models and promotes good ways of growing as a family: a nuclear family, an extended family and a global and local church family.
  • It meets any time during the week, at a time most convenient for people locally.
  • It usually meets once a month.
  • The first one started in Hampshire UK in 2004 and the idea has spread so that there are now
    3,300 Messy Churches around the world.
  • The organisation at the heart of Messy Church is BRF (Bible Reading Fellowship), a charity which resources and connects Messy Churches through prayer, staff team, books and a website.

For more on Messy Church contact Dorothy Hughes dhughes@melbourneanglican.org.au 

For a blog with reflections on the Messy Church conference and a discussion of outcomes, click here.

For a collection of videos about the conference, including a message from Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, click here.

For a collection of tweets from the conference, click here.