All age or age limits?

Published 11th March 2011 by lucy moore

One of our regional coordinators recently wrote that she was thinking of having the words ‘IT’S ALL AGE!’ tattooed across her forehead as she was so fed up of explaining that Messy Church isn’t a children’s event. I enjoyed some recent correspondence with a Messy Church about this very subject, and it might be useful to others.

The leader wrote:
We’ve come up against an interesting challenge for Messy Church which we feel certain others must have encountered. Our Messy Church provides for 4-11-year-olds and their families – occasionally we get preschoolers, but they fit in where they can and it isn’t a problem. We now have a group which are 11 and who ‘belong’ to Messy Church. The activities aren’t suitable for them – this was made really clear when we did ‘trust’ games instead of crafts last Sunday – they are too big and boisterous for the infants. They don’t want to be left out, they’re not old enough to take responsibility for the activities, although they do help from time to time and their families want to attend together. There is a Youth Club every Sunday evening for secondary school pupils. As more and more children enter this ‘in-between’ stage the ‘problem’ will only increase. What do you suggest?

Thanks for this – yes it’s not a unique problem. My alarm bells do tinkle slightly when you say your MC ‘provides for 4-11-year-olds and their families’, simply because this sets exclusion zones as you’re now finding, whereas MC originally deliberately set out to be all age to avoid this problem of ‘You’re too old / too young to belong’. To me, then, it runs the risk of not being church as some are excluded, simply by age and behaviour appropriate to their age, instead of feeling welcomed just as they are. I know that being the thoughtful and prayerful person you are, you and your team will have carefully pondered this before setting those parameters and will have done it for a reason. But yes, if your activities are designed for 4-11s, of course the older and younger ones are going to feel it’s not for them and won’t find it so easy to cooperate ‘appropriately’ within them. And are we saying non-verbally then that Christianity has nothing to say to you once you’re 12?

We haven’t got it right ourselves by any stretch! But we do make it clear our MC is for absolutely anyone from 0-100 and plan with that in mind.

So you may have found you’ve come to a watershed: do you go on as you are, for the reasons you thought through at the beginning, or do you remove the age barriers totally and alter the activities accordingly?

For the little ones, this might involve rethinking the room space and having a place with a few open-ended creative activities where parents / carers can just go and flop with their babies and know they will find there a safe pair of church team hands to play with baby while dad goes and does arc-welding with 8-year-old sister on the other side of the room.

The activities that are effective with teens tend to be to give them real responsibilities (PowerPoint operation, taking photos, running craft tables, the welcome desk, organising and leading the celebration…), inviting their whole family to run a craft or activity, including activities that aren’t crafts but just involve ‘doing’ together (science explosions… fiddling with magnets… sandpit (you’d be surprised – I was!)… dressing up (ditto)…), making sure that there are crafts that they find satisfying – and of course adults will too – enamelling with a kiln…, glasspainting…, watercolours…, intricate colouring in…, beads…, woodwork…, drama…, puppets…, music, but also encouraging them to be together as a peer group and working on a project together or just having permission to ‘hang out’ together (= have fellowship).

Some MCs have a teens-only zone… others have a table that only people aged X and above can go to. I don’t actually like the idea myself but it works for them.
Is that any help?

Much love to you and the team – it’s all interesting stuff, isn’t it? Talk about us all learning on the hoof!

The generous reply:
Thanks so much for these thought-provoking words; it has really made me re-think my assumptions about Messy Church! For some strange reason I hadn’t absorbed the ‘ALL AGE’ message of Messy Church – I’ve seen your presentation, read the information, etc. but, I suspect that the visual images of primary-aged children at Messy Church had overridden that message. So at a recent event I was able to emphasise the importance of Messy Church being a whole-family event, in all its ages and guises, and speak personally about the challenges we are facing as our ‘children’ grow older. Action is now in hand to ensure that we broaden our Messy Church activities and I’m planning a meeting with our five secondary-school pupils to talk through the sort of challenges, limitations, and opportunities that we’re faced with; it’s important that they feed into the process.

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