I have been listening to and watching groups of teenagers and pre-teens who weren’t born when Messy Church started in 2004. Many of them joined in with Messy Church as children, brought along by their parents or by their friends, and are now serving as young leaders in those same Messy Churches. I’ll say that again, because it’s something very important to those of us who are older. It’s easy to miss and is vitally important as the Church moves into the future: these young people have never known a time when Messy Church did not exist. It isn’t a new wacky thing that will disappear like all the latest fads. It is part of the church landscape to them, not some weird edgy idea but just a part of what church is. They have grown up in Messy Church, just as previous generations grew up in Sunday school. They are finding their way through other forms of church too – more traditional Sunday services, youth groups, summer camps. How will they shape the church and what will they long for, for the next generation, when they are in a position to take on recognised positions of leadership in a few years’ time?
I met children whose parents are on the Messy Church team, some who started coming to church through belonging to the Messy leadership team, invited by a friend and encouraged to stay by loving gentle, approachable adults. Some have been babysat in their childhood by those very adult leaders; some have moved into the area as teenagers and found the Messy team to be a place of belonging from absolutely no church background. And we’re not talking just nice, bright middle-class youth who will go off to uni and be professionals. The groups that I met had a real mix of characters, abilities, job prospects, expectations, family backgrounds, senses of self-worth and Christian understanding. Messy leadership is ministry; it is also evangelism; it is pastoral care for a group of people who have needs but who also have plenty to give; it is also teaching, learning, developing leadership skills, personal confidence, connectedness and well-being among young people. It is a phenomenal way of doing youthwork in the church.