'We're reaching people who have never been to Sunday church'

Breaking down barriers on hard-to-reach urban estates

Good news in tough places

Do you share our passion about resourcing the local church to help people grow in faith? If so you’ll be as excited as we are to hear what's been happening in Messy Churches serving urban estates.

Before she moved on this summer, we tasked our Messy Church intern, Ellie (right), to find out more about how we could better support these Messy Churches. After an online questionnaire and numerous visits and discussion groups, we now have the results.

And like the apostle Paul on hearing good news of his fledgling churches from afar, we praise God for the Messy Church 'missionaries' faithfully taking God’s good news into some of the most challenging places to live in the UK.

What is Messy Church?

Eleanor Bloxham

From Dundee to Portsmouth, Kilmarnock to Edgeware, Bradford to Telford – we’ve heard how estate residents of all ages are coming to faith through the inclusive, generous and informal way of being church that is Messy Church. One respondent to Ellie's research said:

It's a family! We have grandparents, parents, children, friends, neighbours all coming together. The families know each other well, the children see each other at school, and Messy Church is always a happy, relaxed and sometimes chaotic gathering!… It’s sometimes where you share the hard things too, and we've had many opportunities to have quieter conversations, to pray and to comfort.

'Doing things differently to make a difference'

Wythenshawe estate

Poverty, including food poverty; a sometimes total lack of knowledge about Christianity; mistrust of church and authority; a reluctance to read; complex family problems; the absence of an actual church building – these are just some of the challenges that confront Messy Churches volunteers ministering to large housing estates.

'Many said they try to respond by making their Messy Church a warm, loving and accepting environment,' says Ellie.

That can mean dispensing with the official welcome, as people wander in at different times, and making sure each individual is greeted personally. It can mean tasking one volunteer solely with chatting to people and building relationships. Occasionally activities are tweaked to meet the particular needs of the people coming, or to save money.

Like Messy Churches elsewhere (as reported on by the Church Army in Playfully Serious), those on council estates tend to meet monthly, though they’re more likely to meet on a Saturday and in a variety of venues.

Read Playfully Serious

'We see first-hand how much the families enjoy their time with us and stop us on the street to ask when the next one is!'

'We have had the same families coming now for four years - some are getting more involved. They feel it's their church; it feels like home.'

A church for the unreached

Mirroring the Church Army findings, Ellie’s research tells of families coming back, attending regularly and inviting their friends, and of individuals making a firm commitment to Christ.

While some people do start coming to other church events, many Messy Churches have developed an identity as a separate congregation, or 'fresh expression', one that provides a strong sense of belonging for those coming.

'The majority of families have no other church background. There is real enthusiasm, a real buzz. And sometimes... true worship.'

Releasing ordinary Christians for service

Though it’s not always an easy sell, Messy Church presents a huge opportunity for members of the regular congregation, helping them in 'growing together and releasing gifts', unleashing energy and 'achieving something they never expected'.

Messy Church craft

One respondent praised the way church members worked together, from teenagers to those in their 80s. Another noted the faithfulness of those who had been leading and helping for a decade:

'We have one lady who has some learning difficulties and struggles to find a place of service in church. At Messy Church we have seen her flourish as she has great crafting skills and is able to produce some fantastic ideas to portray the story.

'Her dad, nearly 80, also has started to help recently, after poor health stopped him doing the more physical roles in church.'

Inclusive, diverse, intergenerational

'One regular member of our congregation - a partially disabled lady of 63 – lives several miles away and comes by dial-a-ride. So I think we can claim to be all-age and inclusive.'

 

Getting the message across that Messy Church is for everyone can be a challenge on estates as elsewhere – for both the host church and the local community. Says Ellie: 'The biggest issue respondents gave was children attending unaccompanied or not being properly supervised by parents or carers.'

Yet others reported seeing children making relationships with adults, and 'grandmas sharing faith with their grandchildren'. One Messy Church on an estate told us how at the beginning parents would sit at the back of the church chatting or using their phones, but as time went by they started joining in more themselves and eventually were taking part in the celebration (worship) time.  

Join the Messy Church mission!

BRF nurtures, trains and equips over 100 volunteer regional coordinators and thousands of Messy Church leaders, creating a constant supply of imaginative new ideas and resources and developing new ways to grow the ministry.

Wherever you live, if you’re as excited as we are about what God is doing through Messy Church, we’d love you to get involved. Could you help us bring the good news to tough places in the UK and around the world?

Lucy Moore and Jane Leadbetter

Start a Messy Church

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Get in touch with a member of the Messy Church team.

Cupcakes

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Messy Cathedral

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Your gift can help us sustain and grow this ministry in more places that are otherwise hard to reach.

Image acknowledgements

Street image © 2019 Google