Scaling back Messy Church for smaller communities

Messy Church is an incredible way to engage people in Church who have no history with the Church. It is interactive and fun but also helps grow people of all ages as disciples. The one complaint I hear often is there are not many of us to do this, or we are all too old.

As often happens when things have worked many people get caught up with the detail and think that there is only 1 way to do something. I think this has happened a bit with Messy Church. The reality is that Messy Church can take many shapes and forms, but it remains Messy Church if it adheres to the Messy Church Values. These are being Christ Centred, being creative, celebrating together, all – age and offering hospitality.

If these are your markers for what is a Messy Church the sky is the limit. The model of multiple craft / activity spaces, gathered celebration time, prayer and a meal is a tool to make it happen but you don’t have to keep it that way.

My first experience of Messy Church was with the original Messy Church team at a Christian festival in the UK. There wasn’t capacity to have a meal so they had packets of sultana’s and popper juice. It wasn’t a big amount of hospitality but for the time of day it was it was definitely enough. Often food can be a bit overbearing to manage, why not scale it back to an afternoon tea or morning tea or make it bring a plate to share. I do love how Messy Church resources think about how the food builds community and connects with the theme. How could you think creatively with your theme that might not be as much to organise?

Another idea is to make the food you are preparing as one of your activities. Decorating biscuits or cupcakes, making mini English muffin pizza’s.

The other area where people often struggle in Messy Church is the amount of activities. Of course there is the obvious, just do less creativity! But sometimes that just feels a bit lame. Other ideas is include things like using interactive prayer stations that you can just set up and leave for families to engage in themselves. There are some great ideas at alternatively you could get people to write a prayer or blessing together.

Another way I have adapted the Messy Church plan is to use less activities and make it part of the story telling process. I actually really liked this way as I found with everyone doing the craft / creativity activity at the same time, there was a much more compassionate and relaxing attitude from the children as they weren’t afraid they were going to miss out. For example when we did the story of Jonah and the whale, we built the boat and then acted it our together and had a big tent set up as a whale and sat together in the belly of the whale listening to the reading (It was even a bit smelly, which just added to the experience!).

Sometimes you can have more simple versions of the activity for the younger ones and more complicated ones for the older children, rather than separate activities. When we looked at the Holy Spirit we had activities that we did at the same time and talked about how is the Spirit like the wind. For the younger children we had them already cut out but for the older ones they made them from scratch.

What I love about Messy Church is the generosity in which people share the resources they have used and ideas that have worked. It is so accessible that anyone could pick up a book and have a go. BUT that doesn’t mean you can’t adapt it for the resources you have or the gifts and skills on offer in your community.

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Karen Mitchell-Lambert is ordained in the ministry of Deacon and is the team leader of PULSE.

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