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What is Messy Church?

By Jim White

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There they were. Four dads. Wearing shower caps. Shower caps covered in shaving cream. There we were. Four lines of kids and adults. Each line had a one-cup measuring cup and an extra-large bowl of Fruit Loops. The mission of each relay line was to gather a cup of cereal, race to our respective “king” (aka Dad) and bejewel his crown by tossing the Fruit Loops onto his shaving-creamed head. What followed was four minutes of hilarity. (By the way, we were learning about the kings of Israel!)

Welcome to MESSY CHURCH, an interactive and intergenerational worship experience that combines faith, food, fellowship, and fun. I first discovered the Messy Church movement when I was serving Aiea United Methodist Church on the island of Oahu. Rev. Nicole Reilley (who at that time was the Director of New Ministries for the California-Pacific Annual Conference) trained me and a few Aiea United Methodist Church leaders, and our community wholeheartedly embraced it. Ours was a church with three different language ministries (English, Korean, and Samoan) and two separate congregations. Plus, we were partnering with a local elementary school kitty-corner from our church. So, every month at our Messy Church gathering, we had a conglomerate of children and their families from all over Aiea. Some folks worshiped with us on Sunday mornings, but many others did not. And that was perfectly okay!

Welcome to MESSY CHURCH, an interactive and intergenerational worship experience that combines faith, food, fellowship, and fun.

The Messy Church movement started in the mid-2000s, when leaders of an Anglican Church in Portsmouth, UK, tried to address their lack of children and families on Sunday mornings. They had good facilities, good leaders, and even some good ideas, but still, few children. Facing the harsh reality that they obviously weren’t truly connecting, they began searching for fresh new expressions for ministry with families. Eventually, Messy Church was born. And what do you know: it turns out that one Anglican church in Portsmouth wasn’t the only faith community in need of an intergenerational worship experience that attracts new people and brings new life!

Messy Church is usually a once-a-month gathering for two hours at a time. Each experience involves an opening activity, various games, crafts, and science experiments, a celebration time (think songs, prayer, and storytelling), and then finishes with sharing a meal together – all focused around one theme or biblical story. Personally, I find it an incredibly liberating way to release creativity in using all of our senses to experience God’s love, truth, and hope.

At the heart of Messy Church are its five core values. It is Christ-centered. The goal of every gathering is to share the love of Jesus and God’s inclusive kingdom. It is intergenerational. There’s no breaking off into age groups here. Everyone experiences it together. It is grounded in celebration. Messy Communities take the time to celebrate both the ups and downs of their participants, acknowledging that they’re all in this together. They relish creativity. We serve a God who majors in creativity. Why shouldn’t God’s creations have creative ways to take all that in? And Messy Church is committed to hospitality. All are welcome, and the table (literally) always has room for at least one more!

The bottom line is that Messy Church is not some “program” (or even children’s ministry) that a church can “use” to get people to weekly Sunday morning worship services. Messy Church is a church community in and of itself. It’s designed to be a fun and interactive experience that people would naturally want to invite their friends, neighbors, and co-workers to. I truly believe that people are looking for meaningful opportunities to deepen their faith and spiritual lives. Messy Church helps congregations with a connection that works.

If you’d like to be introduced to what Messy Church is all about, there’s an upcoming training event on Saturday, March 13, from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., CDT. You can find out more (and register) at messychurchusa.org. Click on Resources à Training Options, and at the bottom of the page, select “Click here to find a regional training event” (or click here to go straight there).

I absolutely love Messy Church. I look forward to having it as a part of whatever congregation I’m called to serve. It’s that powerful (and fun).

Click here to download a PDF with more information about Messy Church.

Rev. Jim White, lead pastor at Palmdale UMC in Palmdale, CA. Jim is a board member of Messy Church USA. He has been active in Messy Church in Palmdale and at his previous church appointments in Hawaii.

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