A voyage of discovery

New research reveals the fertile ground for discipleship within Messy Church – with treasures for the wider church! Lucy Moore, Messy Church founder and team leader, explains.

9 May 2021

Imagine a traveller staggering ashore at Dover with heavily guarded chests from which curious bystanders notice the odd glint of gold shining through the cracks, the sparkle of jewels, the tinkle of precious metals. Imagine that traveller making their way into a great hall full of merchants, flinging open the treasure chests and… and…

What would the merchants do? Some see the label on the lid of the chests and dismiss the merchandise as not even worth a glance. Business as usual, everyone. But others ignore the label or are intrigued by it and go to examine what’s actually inside the chests. What a find!

Treasure chest

A collaborative journey

The findings of a two-year research project Deepening Discipleship in Messy Church are now online and available to everyone, merchants or otherwise. The final report – A Voyage of Discovery – summarises the hard work of Messy Churches in three Church of England dioceses (Bristol, Durham and Hereford). It’s been a collaborative piece of work between Messy Church practitioners in those three dioceses, Church Army’s Research Unit and BRF, made possible by the Evangelism and Discipleship team of the Church of England, through the Archbishops’ Council Strategic Development Fund.

The aim was to discover how Messy Churches can best make disciples. It built on the findings of a previous Church Army report into Messy Church, Playfully Serious.

Developing discipleship approaches in Messy Church

Church Army designed a participative-action approach to research, which involved each of the Messy Church leaders as the researchers, not just as the participants. They were given the tools and encouragement to use and develop a reflective approach with their team or with their families, and support along the way. Each diocese selected two approaches to pioneer – one aimed at the families and one at the teams.

Hereford chose to explore the effect of focusing on discipleship through social action or maturing their teams. Durham chose to explore either Messy Extras or peer mentoring. Bristol explored Messy Basics, an enquirers’ approach or working with young leaders. Each Messy Church then picked one of their two diocesan approaches and set out in 2019 with great enthusiasm… only to be hit by a pandemic that put paid to face-to-face meetings of any Messy Church, let alone extra gatherings for the purposes of the research.

After a few months of shock and reeling from the effects of lockdown, in July 2020, a joint decision was made to continue with the project as best we could, despite the difficulties. There was a very moving wave of enthusiasm to see this through.

Messy Church founder and team Leader Lucy Moore meets with Sharon Pritchard from the Diocese of Durham and Naomi Maynard from Church Army's Research Unit

Messy Church founder and team Leader Lucy Moore meets with Sharon Pritchard (R) from the Diocese of Durham and Naomi Maynard from Church Army’s Research Unit (L)

Treasure in the findings for everyone

The findings, like the merchant’s treasure, could easily be ignored by other forms of church, dismissed as only relevant to Messy Church. But that would be to turn away from the opportunity to pick up a number of very valuable approaches that could have a far greater impact on growing the kingdom of God in this country than if they’re left to Messy Churches alone to implement. These findings are nothing to do with the merits of glitter or glitter glue, nothing to do with sausages or fishfingers.

A Voyage of Discovery highlights two calls to action from each of the six approaches for Messy Church leaders, two for local ministers and church leaders and two for those, like bishops, with a strategic role. And there are ‘headline’ findings for everyone.

There are headline findings for everyone.

Example: reflective practice in Messy Church

Taking just one of those headlines: Decide to become a community of reflective practice – we can see how impactful the invitation may be for any form of church. The Messy Churches who set out to work reflectively together – who made time to plan reflectively and to deliver the Messy Church session reflectively – found that this had a profound effect on their growth as a team and the way they did their Messy Church. It cost nothing except time and commitment. Imagine applying the same practice to the team who plan a weekly Sunday service, a home group, an outreach event, a pastoral ministry. Simply asking ‘Where did we see God at work?’ is transformative.

Going further, the resources used by these churches to collect their reflections are available online along with the other materials from the project. They could form the basis of a refreshing approach to noticing how God is transforming church members or leadership teams, not adding on anything extra but simply changing the way we do what we do to become more intentional.

Simply asking ‘Where did we see God at work?’ is transformative.

This is only one headline, one example. Do some plundering yourself in the treasure chests of A Voyage of Discovery!

A Voyage of Discovery report front page

This new report commissioned by the Church of England’s Archbishops’ Council into discipleship approaches in Messy Church highlights ‘treasures’ for the wider church.

Playfully Serious

Playfully Serious, published in February 2019, is an in-depth assessment of the effectiveness of Messy Church overall, resulting from a two-year research project by the Church Army’s Research Unit, commissioned by the Archbishops’ Council.

‘I highly recommend reading the report and its accompanying papers, whether you are involved in Messy Church, or have an expression of MC in your church, or not.’

Richard Peers SMMS, director of education, Liverpool Diocese

Messy Discipleship

Messy Discipleship

As research confirms Messy Church’s effectiveness in growing disciples, this timely new collection of perspectives is for anyone serious about real-life discipleship or interested in this fastest-growing fresh expression of church.