For all the hundreds of initiatives, activities, clubs and groups. Messy Church has captured the imagination and become hugely popular and common across England. Its being run in established churches, in schools, in places where there hasn’t been an active church presence for over 20 years (such as Ludworth in County Durham). I dont know the numbers exactly, of attenders, of exact geographic spread, given that some messy church groups havent registered on the official website. That to one degree is beside the point.
Given that the statistics arent hugely favourable (see the Brierley consultancy stats
in regard to the previous formula of children growing up through Sunday School to youth groups and youth ministry.
Does Messy Church represent an opportunity to re think working with young adults from 10-11 onwards, who have been used to sharing space in church with their family ( unlike Sunday school which ‘separated’them), they are used to hopefully a variety of learning styles, being in community, and possibly being given responsibility especially if they’ve been given it, as older ones in the groups.
There’s no pressure, but its only in messy church where the activities of the church, by volunteers is being frequented by children and families from mostly outside the church families. So, its as missional as the original historic Sunday Schools, as popular, and even if it acts as ‘free after school activity’ its as needed.
So, the question is, if lots of families and children are enjoying being part of church in this form, does this form continue so it keeps them, or more depressingly, how are messy church congregants educated so that they can cope back in the institution of the predetermined ‘sunday church’ (and i feel wretched asking this- but is this what is expected?)
Post Messy church what happens – when young people start to show signs of being ‘bored’ – and possibly start being disruptive in the space – How might messy church grow up with them? – What is going on with the 12-14 year olds whov’e already grown out if it? thats assuming that they have. But given the longevity of Messy church, there will be young adults around who may at least have had a positive experience of church as messy church as a child ( which is different to how they would have potentially not engaged with an equivalent Sunday School?)
How might the same messy church leaders maintain relationships with the same young people? – forget being ‘just a messy church’ leader, be a leader of people and sustain long term relationships with young people as they grow up through and beyond it..
Does Messy Church provide a better foundation for young adults and an opportunity for continuing community and youth work methods and principles as the young people grow up in the ‘margins’ of the church, but those margins will become the core, almost become the mainstream, given the ageing of the mainstream congregations, or their absence (see the example above).
Will it be easier or more difficult to enable continued exploration of the faith in families subsequent to their participation of messy church?
As you can tell, more questions than answers. And whilst the Messy model might be easier to be universal, practices of ongoing eduaction, formation, discipleship and ministry with young people might involve local improvisation, rather than a one size fits all. Your young people are different to someone elses. They have transitioned through messy church at a specific age, time, church and setting.
Id hope so as id say that the future of the church depends on how this happens. This is the group of people the church has to do everything to keep. And keep for a very long time.
What do i suggest? We need to think about it, and then not impose one solution for every messy church congregation, but think within each context, communicate within each one, and encourage continued active participation, empowerment and responsibility.
Messy church does not work everywhere, but that doesn’t matter, what matters is that the ‘core church’ learns practice from the ‘fringe church’ and gradually adopts the education styles, the format and the community aspect of it. Whilst im not in favour of even the terms fringe & core, learning from what church is looking like where it is growing with people who aren’t normally in church as-it-was, is the challenge.
The challenge with all of the things of ministry, whether youth ministry, community work, it enabling not the functionality of the ministry to continue, but that discipleship occurs from within, with families. Its not about keeping, but creating ongoing participation.
Beyond messy church – is still a vague challenge for many, but even to start messy church is to think about what happens with young people and their families beyond it. Start building up the tool kit, start looking for opportunities, start having future orientated conversations. (Theres plenty on this site on developing conversations with young people)