Messy Church – Principles concerning Nurture & Discipleship

It is essential to recognise that Christian nurture and discipleship are happening in Messy Church events/communities:

  • It is suggested that Messy Church provides “shallow end” discipleship.
    Whilst we shall argue that there is considerable scope to strengthen discipleship in most Messy Church events/communities, we should not ignore the discipleship that is happening. This is in teaching bible truth; experiencing praise, worship and prayer; participating in fellowship and community; corporate activity and meals. For some participants in deprived areas, sharing in the cooking and eating together is discipling in quality family life they know little of.
  • It can be acknowledged that although all-age, we enter the kingdom as children

So whilst the level of content takes children into account, in some aspects adults can learn at least as well from this approach.

  • Not only invited participants experience discipleship but the volunteer helpers also

Although many team/helpers admit that their church is still elsewhere, they are nonetheless being in discipleship as they are exposed to all that the invitees are and have the added discipleship of service.

Broad Paths to enrich Nurture & Discipleship

In principle there seem to be two approaches to deepen and extend nurture and discipleship in Messy Church events/communities:

  1. Add to the discipleship in the Messy Church event/community itself
    One evident way to do this is to increase the frequencyof the events/gatherings. Since many Messy Churches only meet once a month this is not difficult from the point of spaces in the month. But is a challenge in terms of team workload.
  2. The second way that this can happen is by enriching the content of some or all of the events. The challenge here is preserving the ethos and values of the event and managing the expectations/trust of those invited. But varying the content so that not every time is it deepened in nurture/discipleship could provide some scope.

Complement the Messy Church events with other activities and groups

This is obviously a way that has the merit that it avoids changing the MC event itself. The extra elements are offered in parallel to the MC event.

This has the further advantage that only those participants who are ready to go deeper respond to the further opportunity – it is not imposed on the rest, with risks of violating expectations/trust.

The extra elements can be resourced Either by the existing MC team – with likely overburdening; Orby organising the invitees to initiate them and manage them themselves (thereby extending their discipleship); Or by developing partnerships among a range of congregations/cluster of parishes (giving further legs to the mixed economy).

Messy Church – Challenges to Nurture & Discipleship

Here are some that occur to us from relating to several examples:

  • It is aimed at reaching the non-churched
    Today they have so very little knowledge of the Christian faith or biblical story. “We are re-creating the ozone layer!” (the lost knowledge of bible story and worldview previously learnt through socialising in Christendom).   May not be easy to get Christian basics discussion in MC.
  • There is only a short time for worship and word
    An MC event itself needs to be within limited timeframe and with diversity to keep involvement and attention. Within this overall pattern of a MC event this leaves only a short time for these discipling elements, which with children anyway need to be short.
  • MC events usually infrequent
    Lucy originally started with monthly MC events. This is typical though some run fortnightly. Anyway it’s rarely weekly and participants may be only semi-regular. So there is patchy take-up and you can lose momentum.
  • All age focus
    The level of Christian input is all-age and therefore can’t be tailored to discipling needs of any one age group. Some don’t see this as limiting as children’s level reaches all.
  • The volunteer team are already stretched to run the event
    So it’s unrealistic to expect them to resource and run other discipleship activities.
  • Those drawn to MC events don’t expect “discipleship”
    There is an issue of trust here. Also the very attraction of the MC ethos and style creates a strong identity which can lead to assumptions that “this is it”.
  • There are trust issues
    The promotion and invitation to MC only carries implication of a wholesome family time and some light Christian content and values. To go beyond this can undermine trust of those who come and who stick. It could put them off altogether.
  • MC is limited as any event must be, by having single social dynamics
    Discipleship Jesus style includes 1-on-1 relationships/mentoring, ministry work-parties; prayer workshops, etc. MC has internal diversity but a single social dynamic.

Messy Church – Ideas to enrich Nurture & Discipleship

Here are ten that occur to us, any of which can be resourced from outside the MC team from either mobilising the invitees to organise themselves and co-opting them into the planning (which is excellent discipleship) or by partnerships among different congregations.

The ideas can express (as Stephen Lindridge has proposed for discipleship) the full range of the four streams of human nature:-  community (Belong); understanding (Believe); kingdom action (Behave) and spiritual experience (Bless).

  • Provide resources for families to do nurture in their daily life at home.
    And today they have so very little knowledge of the Christian faith or biblical story. These can focus on particular seasons like Advent/Lent. Again “We are re-creating the ozone layer!” The resources can include family prayer; readings/bible; family rituals/traditions and activities and social engagement/outreach.
  • Activities focussed on kingdom concerns (they organise themselves)
    Offering MC participants the chance to share in social action – from supporting mums having babies to clothes for Rumanian orphans to supporting the bullied & all in between. Jesus discipled his people by mobilising them in action focussed on kingdom issues.
  • Baby massage and prayer
    Mums love their baby pampered and blessed … and they experience different prayer
  • Parenting support – courses and groups
  • Cell Groups – separate for adults/children or inter-generational
    Sally Gaze has planted 5 adult cell groups and two teens cells from a MC-type event. Then there can be “Jesus & me “groups; use of Nooma, etc
  • Standard courses like Alpha; Start; Emmaus; etc
    Some fit better in that they have a style and ethos that flows more with MC culture
  • Lifeshapes – offering these tools as support for “how to live life better”
  • Storytelling workshops – to equip families with these skills and use bible stories
    For resources – visit  Story Runners
  • Offer “adoptive Grans/dads” – encourage older Christians to volunteer as friends, supporters and mentors. This is part of the wider option of visiting individuals and families in their homes.
  • All age prayer school
    In an all-age setting adults can learn informal prayer and break the sound barrier
  • Links to other church/“parish” activities/events
    Such as baptism preparation; festivals.
  • Work into the schools of participating children
    Things like Open the Book are perfect to build discipleship into the associated schools
  • Plant a “Sunday Church” with direct link to MC
    Alongside midweek MC at least one is planting a similar style but ‘deeper’ Sunday gathering

One of our main conclusions follows from Lucy’s conviction that most of the MC volunteer teams round the country couldn’t consider adding anything further to their work load … already being fully stretched resourcing/leading the MC events.

This crystallized the idea for us that a perfect expression of the mixed economy would be for any/all of our discipleship ideas to be run by either the non-churched participants themselves or by partnership between different congregations in a mixed economy parish or cluster of churches. We already see a tiny example of this at St Thomas where Alpha’s run centrally have groups from different missional communities each with a table with their name on it.

Now this also raises the issue that when we are so often addressing the question … “is it fully church?” we may be mistakenly assuming that all of church has to be all delivered in a single expression. If church becomes more of a verb, then we can see church done in its different aspects (constituent actions/parts) in different activities, engagements, families and get-togethers (which seems truer to the New Testament references to church of the town/city or equally of the household …all doing bits of church in that place and contributing to one-another to make it fully church).

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