Is Messy Church Really For Kids?

Messy Church is just for children, right? So as churches we focus our crafts, food, worship at these cherished mini adults with varying degrees of success and perhaps that’s fine?
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A bit of background first.  Over recent years as churches and denominations there has been an increasing focus and emphasis on what makes us church, both structurally and as believers.  Especially in terms of what we believe spiritually and theologically about God and as we come to terms with an increasingly diverse spiritual and religiously pluralistic context. On the most part we realise we have to refocus ourselves, and our ecclesiastical emphasis, on Jesus.

From this continuing period of reflection on who and what God wants us to be, religious movements have sprung up that have become church in their own right, just as the Methodist church did 300 years ago. Messy Church, its what is known for the uninitiated as a fresh expression of church. These and similar expressions of church, have flourished in recent years and found their identity having emerged across a 8 stage process, see below.  

FX journey

The FX of Church Journey

Messy Church has evolved and has had an increasingly high adoption rate across mainstream Church. What however has it evolved into?

The values of messy church are and continue to be about being Christ-centred, for all ages, based on creativity, hospitality and celebration. I see and fear that it is evolving into a space that whilst welcoming families, it has become geared wholly towards children. Perhaps this is part of its evolution? But family focus is as much part of its DNA as Jesus rising from the dead is for us as Christians. 

Too often in recent years I have come across comments from those who are part of messy church, who I fear see what happens their entirely differently. From one parent I overheard the following comment to her daughter,

 "Now you go through to the church for the singsong, and mummy will wait here for you in the hall." Parent to her daughter

On another occasion two children describing worship commented 'Its time for the show now, come on.'

Children focused verses all age.

The above comments are illustrative of a trend. I fear that we as church, are doing the easy thing in terms of messy church development and that is to focus our energy on the children. The rubber hits the road when it comes to adults, they are harder, less predictable and less easy to engage about the things of our faith.

The risk of what might happen, here is illustrated by what has happened to a messy church I used to lead. We failed to properly engage the parents, who now don’t bring their kids even though he kids apparently would like to attend. But the adults themselves do not feel they can make time. Or perhaps put another way  the adults do not feel invested in it, because they don’t get anything out of it!

If we are serious about messy church being for the whole family, we need to change what we do and soon. We need to reclaim the messy church values for our own contexts, re-envisioning our mission to mum and dad as well as their children. But fundamentally we need to reeducate our teams, to catch the vision, to spend as much energy on the crafts, worship and food for the adults as we do for the kids.

Is our messy church healthy or is its growth stunted?

Just as the wider church of God has reflected on its purpose. Those running messy church myself included, perhaps need to follow a similar exercise. May that reflection and reengagement with its purpose, bear fruit and cause us to consider how healthy our all age engagement in messy church, really is.

Finally what will I be doing about the issues raise here? A starting place is to gather the leaders and helpers to pray, remind ourselves of where we have come from, to identify where things are not as they should be, alongside the things that work really well. Finally to set achievable and measurable goals.

God Bless and have a good week. This post on messy church is part of a theme where I will be looking at various forms of fresh expressions in the coming weeks.

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