Messy Church is a ministry that is “Christ-centred” and “not a pipeline to Sunday morning church,” Lucy Moore, founder of Messy Church underscored at a keynote address during the Messy Church Canada conference October 26-27.
The two-day conference, which was held at Wycliffe College in Toronto, kicked off with an address led by Moore and team member Martyn Payne. In addition to an overview of how Messy Church began and its new initiatives, the talk focused on the organization’s “foundational values” and the importance of being “Christ-centred.”
Adopted by many Anglican congregations, it aims to present church in a way that is less formal and more accessible than a traditional service. It involves a meeting—typically monthly and not on a Sunday morning—where people of all ages eat together, do crafts and activities designed to demonstrate a biblical lesson, and participate in a “celebration” that usually involves prayer, music and storytelling.
Founded in the U.K. in 2004 under the banner of the Bible Reading Fellowship (BRF), there are now 3,700 registered Messy Churches in 30 countries, representing 500,000 people, according to the BRF website. Messy Church Canada is affiliated with the U.K.-based Fresh Expressions and Wycliffe College. According to team leader Sue Kalbfleisch, there are now 246 Messy Churches in Canada, 81 of which are either Anglican or a partnership between an Anglican church and a church of another denomination.
In front of a gathering of around 150 conference attendees from across Canada (and some from the United States), Moore and Payne stressed the importance of being “Christ-centred” as a foundational value of Messy Church.
The other core values, which those registering a Messy Church must state a commitment to, are creativity, hospitality, celebration and accessibility to all ages. But having all these values in place means nothing without a focus on Jesus, Moore said.
“When we sat down to sort these values out…very soon we thought, we need to add something, because people are doing something like Messy Church, but they’re not including Jesus in it.” Moore recalled one Messy Church themed on Thomas the Tank Engine. “They weren’t actually mentioning Christ,” she said. “They weren’t celebrating the story of God. They weren’t ‘church’ at all.”
Moore and Payne presented a list of what Messy Church could become without an emphasis on Jesus, which included items like “a club for kids,” a “machine getting the job done” and “tidy.”
Moore also touched on a criticism commonly heard from the wider body of traditional churches, saying, “I wonder how many people in this room have been asked by their congregation, ‘Well, it’s great that you have people coming to Messy Church. When are they going to start coming to church?’ ”
The aim is for Messy Church to be a church in itself, said Moore, not a “pipeline to Sunday church.”
Rather than an outreach ministry, Messy Church seeks to be a reimagining of the format of church that works better for families, as well as those unfamiliar with or who dislike typical church structures.
Moore said they wanted to work against the mentality that those who attend Messy Church “aren’t worth anything until they come on Sunday.”
“What if we accepted them to come into this thing, and that was church? What if we brought all the riches of church into that, and made it happen here? Without any expectation that these people would ‘move on’ to another form of church? What would that look like?
“Jesus was a revolutionary, a rebel,” said Moore, in the address. “He came into neat and orderly households and turned everything upside down, and threw out the old rules, and made it new, changed it…he wasn’t a tidy person.”