We have loads of space but...
I have only been a regular churchgoer for the last three years and a Methodist member for two, so I certainly do not have all the answers, but many questions, but what became clear in the beginning of 2010 was a need to try something new. Churches are very welcoming when people walk through the doors and “come in” but clearly not enough people are coming in. My rationale was, I didn’t believe all non-churchgoers weren’t open to hearing about God. Indeed if some of these people prefer christenings to blessings, or want a church funeral service or marriage, there is some inherent belief to build on. But if these people had turned their back on the traditional sermon-based Sunday Church, what could we do at Kingsley Park Methodist Church, Northampton, to successfully fish and grow.
Armed with my faithful laptop, I read up on The Methodist Church with all its various studies which bear witness that the only bright spots in growth are the evangelical black churches or mission-based churches which offer a non-traditional approach and not necessarily on a Sunday. Rather taken with the non-traditional models of church, I researched further and kept coming back to Messy Church. This I liked for a number of reasons. Unlike Wesley, I didn’t need a horse and could use the existing church rooms, it was aimed at the adult and child learning about God together, not a kids club, and more importantly the format was fun and interactive.
A telephone conversation with the Messy Church regional coordinator answered a number of practical questions - from funding, marketing, helpers, role allocations, activities, timings etc. In June the Church Council were given, scribbled down on one side of A4, , background to Messy Church, experience of setting up a Messy Church and proposal that Kingsley Park run a Messy Church, with the headline question “we have loads of space but do we have the ambition to try something new”? The answer was a unanimous ‘yes’ and an offer of funding immediately promised. Likewise, volunteers came forward to create a core Messy Team.
Launch date was an ambitious September one, and I say ambitious because we had two months and it was coming up to the holiday season. We needed activity stock, meal planning, leaflets and posters to print and deliver, celebration songs to rework with movie maker etc. Thursdays were chosen to avoid the busy weekend and to come straight from school after 15:30, and held monthly.
The format would be in keeping with the successful Messy format, six activities involving paint and glue, set around a Biblical theme, celebration with two songs, storytelling and a prayer, finishing with sitting down to share a meal and chat. This is reflected in our mission statement which says “Our mission is to go out and share the word of Jesus Christ to those who are not part of the mainstream worshipping congregation through providing a means of church that reaches out in an untraditional manner”.
On 9th September 2010 the Kingsley Park Messy Church was launched with the theme “I am The True Vine”. Was it a success? If you define success as bringing new people into church then ‘yes’ - we had ten new folk through on this day who were not part of the worshipping congregation. With hindsight this was in our best interest as it allowed us to interact on a more personal basis which a big inrush might have negated.
And now with five Messy Churches behind us, as I write in January, how, you might ask, are we getting on in our mission. Well so far we have had steady incremental growth with a high rate of return. We did learn from second Kingsley Park Messy the constant need to remind folk as being unused to church it wasn’t on the radar to look out for. Some of the growth has come from new Messy folk doing the inviting - something we very much encourage by asking them to help spread the word and we always ask for feedback to ensure we are continuing on the right track. The highlight so far was the Christmas service where we ran an interactive Nativity in the main church which attracted thirty two who were not part of the worshipping congregation.
We are nurturing through giving a sense of ownership. Our celebration songs use images taken from previous Messy, which folk enjoy. Two activity helpers who are not part of our worshipping congregation are encouraged and happily participate in Messy celebration and another new attendee was invited and came to the January planning meeting to give input. A couple of the boys have been invited to help put a celebration song together so, fingers crossed, we don’t get nativity pictures against the track ‘Arky Arky’. Luckily so far we have always had at least one ‘Official God person’ present so any deeper questions regarding faith can be shared and discussed. We don’t know long term what disciples we are creating but at least the seed is being planted and we are watering regularly.
Moving forward in 2011 an action plan has been formulated which includes incorporating Messy into a couple of festival Sundays to bring both churches together but in the Messy style. We hope to encourage more from our new Church to become involved and become part of the team. Dialogue with the other Northampton Messy Churches has begun and the ambition is to collaborate and see if together we can do something in Northampton Christmas 2011. Having been inspired by the story of the Liverpool Messy Christmas initiative, there is nothing to stop us looking at how to engage the Grosvenor Shopping Centre and town shops and plan an event and so take our mission into the heart of Northampton. Ideally some camels and a donkey would help, so any offers or ideas will be much appreciated!
If it is God’s will we will continue to flourish and I hope our journey so far is very much the beginning without an end. We have a great core Messy Team and other folk from Kingsley Park have been very supportive with help, donations and prayers and of course the Ministerial Team, Rev Glayne Worgan and Deacon Maureen Spinks, have given much needed hands on practical assistance. Is it easy? No, but it is certainly rewarding when both children and adults say they enjoy Messy Church.
Learning about Christianity should be stimulating and we welcome anyone to come and visit us to share and learn
Rachel Pell is co-ordinator of Kingsley Park Messy Church, Northampton.
MET Connexion Spring 2011, pp14-15