‘We should have more say!’ wrote Abigail (14). Abigail’s sentiment was one shared by the Methodist Church and Messy Church, so it made perfect sense to run a joint event, inviting teenagers from all over the UK to come together for a day looking at the role of teenagers in Messy Churches. About 90 young people and adults from several denominations and from as far away as Selby, Scarborough, Birmingham and Bristol came together at Methodist Church House in London last week to celebrate the role of teenagers at Messy Church, to explore how they might contribute more to the Messy Churches they help run and to learn techniques for continuing to share their ideas in their own churches.
Messy Church has been around for about seven years now, usually meeting once a month and working within a structure of welcome, creativity, celebration and eating together. There are over 1070 Messy Churches listed on the Messy Church Directory, bringing all ages together to find out what it means to be a Christian in their own contexts.
Many Messy Churches are delighted to have teenagers on the leadership team in one capacity or another and, from the calibre of the young people contributing to the Youth Voice Day, this group is certainly giving a huge amount to their local churches. They are without doubt a resource to be thankful for and to nurture as best we can in the Church. Instead of expecting everything to be laid on to suit them, there was an overwhelming feeling that these young people were willingly, cheerfully helping others, serving God and using their own gifts to help families enjoy being part of their local church. During the day we heard about the ways different young people use their gifts in this context: James creates stop-animation films of the Bible story each week with the help of the Messy families. Other roles include one smiley person telling us about her job as welcomer. There are actors, quiz-runners, craft leaders, sport leaders and worship band members, all combined with the immeasurably vital role of just being there: being a role model to younger people and proof to all ages that there is more to teenagers than rioters and roisterers. One of the outcomes of the day was that young people went away inspired by what others are contributing and with ideas of putting similar ideas into place in their own Messy Churches.
Increasingly churches are asking how to keep children in Messy Church as they hit the teenage years when they may be less inclined to do things as a family and when they have more of a choice about whether they come to church or not.
There was mixed opinion among the young people as to whether Messy Church is suitable for teenagers to invite friends to: some were emphatic that teenagers should be encouraged into a youth congregation instead of to a Messy Church, while others claimed that this was isolationist and was an invitation to be selfish about how church should be.
They were asked to finish the statement: The most important things I think Messy Church can do for / with young people are…
And the answers are very telling, as this sample shows.
It gets people together
Getting everyone involved
Bridge the gap between old and young
Give them things to do whilst helping them get closer to God
Messy Church is about bringing / finding things to connect and bring together all ages and genders
Keep them fixed on God
Interact with teenagers and engage them to feel important and to be role models for younger children
Connect the teenagers with members of the community
Try to build close relationships with them
To teach them more about God through fun
Give them responsibility, something to do with their faith. They can bring their gifts with them
If Messy Church didn’t have teenagers, it wouldn’t be an all-age thing
Evidently the ‘togetherness’ of Messy Church is of huge importance to this age group, who, typically in the Church and elsewhere, we often feel we should segregate from the rest of us. Something to take seriously in a fractured society.
This was intended to be a one-off day but the huge enthusiasm for the day and the groans of ‘Why does it have to be in London when we’re five hours away?’ has encouraged the team to plan a set of similar regional consultation days and to devise a focus day for new teenage leaders to get to grips with what Messy Church is and to make the most of their gifts within it. If your church would like to host one of these days, please drop an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. It is our hope that we can encourage and inspire this generation of leaders and give them space to make their ideas happen in the service of God and their communities, but also to let them inspire and equip us with their ideas, energy, enthusiasm and faith.