What is Messy Church?
Being A Church For All-ages
A way of being church for all-ages to join in experiencing fun and faith formative activities based on the values of all-ages together, celebration, creativity, hospitality, and centering ourselves in Christ.
By Rev. Robert English
So every church I have ever served has said, in some form or fashion: ‘Pastor, we need to reach more young families.’ Every single one. If you work in ministry with young people you already know this need and this challenge. Of course it is important to name it for ourselves, but the real place this starts to break down and create anxiety for church leaders is when we try to answer the question: how?
How can we reach young families? More specifically: How can we reach young families who are unchurched, de-churched or marginally churched? This becomes especially anxiety producing for ministry leaders because often hear this refrain in the church: ‘but, we don’t have enough!’ We don’t have enough money to do something new. We don’t have enough time to plant something new. We don’t have enough energy or people to even dream of starting something new.
A couple years ago the Annual Conference I was serving in started to talk about a church planting movement (Fresh Expression) called Messy Church. As an Annual Conference we adopted a goal of planting 100 new Messy Churches in a four year period. The more I learned about this new church model, the more I became excited about all the possibilities for my local church and my family.
Let me explain. So Messy Church reimagines what spiritual community rooted in Jesus looks like. It is intentionally intergenerational, interactive, rooted in the Gospel, focuses on relationships and gathers a diverse community around a table of grace and fellowship. More importantly, for me as a pastor serving an established church: It is DOABLE. Planting a Messy Church, to reach new people with the Good News of God’s unbelievable, unconditional love in Jesus Christ, is entirely DOABLE for like 99% of the United Methodist Churches that I’ve ever known. It takes some effort for sure, it takes a little bit of money most definitely, and it does take some people who are passionate about reaching new young families, but it is entirely implementable. (oh and it doesn’t center around one person’s personality or ‘style’ which is really great if you serve in an itinerant system)
So what does it look like and why do I love it? Messy Church gathers once a month. It is a worshiping church community unto itself. (Do not plant a Messy Church in order to funnel people into your Sunday morning worship) The worship liturgy has 4 movements:
- The gathering of God’s people
- Crafts, games and activities which explore a Biblical Theme/Story
- Celebration, story and prayer
- A Community Meal.
Each gathering lasts between 1.5-2 hours.
Seems simple right? It is and it is profoundly meaningful.
Here’s why: families worship together in intergenerational community. When I first planted a Messy Church I did it for a selfish reason: I wanted to worship with my family. As a young parent I want to worship God with wife and daughters, learning together and growing together. I want to be formed and empowered by a Christian community to be a key part in my daughters’ spiritual formation. And, at the same time, I want my children to have loving connections with different people of all ages and identities, who can help my wife and I to pass down this Christian faith to the next generation. I want to be part of a church that embraces that life is messy, a church that names it and claims it, acknowledging that God dwells with us in the mess!
At Messy Church we worship once a month and not on a Sunday morning. This is totally intentional. Sunday mornings aren’t sacred to people who don’t go to church. Sunday mornings are filled with other so many priorities. So instead of complaining about it (which I used to do, like all the time), perhaps as a church we can stretch ourselves to create new opportunities for prayer, worship and spiritual community outside of Sunday morning. The Messy Church we planted in my former Annual Conference gathered on Saturday from 4:30-6pm. It worked for us. Other Messy Churches gather on a weeknight. The key is to find what works for your context.
So I could go on and on and I hope at some point to share more of my experience with others in West Ohio Annual Conference. But for now I’ll leave you with this: Mt. Healthy UMC is forming a leadership team to plant a Messy Church this fall. Our church does not have a gazillion dollars in the bank. We do not worship thousands of people on a Sunday. We have about 65-75 people, on any given Sunday, who love Jesus and welcome young children in Christian love. That’s all you need to do something new. That’s all you need to plant a church. Reach out in faith and God will do the rest.
Here are some resources in case you are interested in learning more:
- Starting Your Messy Church: A Beginner's Guide for Churches. by Lucy Moore, Jane Leadbetter
- Messy Church: Fresh Ideas for Building a Christ-Centered Community by Lucy Moore, Jane Leadbetter
Rev. Robert English
Robert was born in Oklahoma, but as a child, his family moved regularly. He attended Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona where he received a degree in Religious Studies. Responding to a call he had in middle school, he transitioned to seminary at Claremont School of Theology in Claremont, California. While in seminary, he was blessed to serve as a youth pastor for a multi-cultural, multi-language church called Sage Granada Park United Methodist Church where there were four languages spoken every Sunday: Japanese, English, Gujarati, and Vietnamese. After Sage Granda Park UMC he was appointed to First United Methodist Church of Santa Monica, California as the pastor of Youth and Intergenerational Ministries and then the Pastor of New and Emerging Ministries. During this time Robert took a leadership role and launched new ministries which include simple church, Messy Church, and the Community Meal. He is passionate about creating new opportunities for prayer, spiritual community, and loving service. Robert is now in Cincinnati, Ohio serving at Mt. Healthy UMC as a lead pastor.
Robert and his wife Allison, who is a priest in the Episcopal Church, have two daughters. Robert enjoys spending time with his family, hiking, running, and listening to podcasts.