Recently, we’ve been receiving a few requests from churches wondering whether it is okay for them to call what they are doing ‘Mini Messy Church’, and this has got us thinking as a team. Is the idea of Mini Messy Church a really great idea, or is it something that actually goes against the values of Messy Church?
Let’s say right at the start that we have a delicate balance to keep between the two extremes of ‘You can only call it Messy Church if you adhere exactly to our prescribed formula’ and ‘Oh, just slap the name Messy Church on anything involving a child, glue or a sausage’. You see our issue: if the name ‘Messy Church’ can apply to anything remotely sticky, it means nothing. We want to encourage mission in and through the local church; we also want to have an integrity about what Messy Church is and isn’t for the sake of transparency and clarity of communication.
And then on the Mini Messy Church front: interestingly, the word ‘mini’ itself can lead to confusion as there are several understandings of the word when we add it in front of Messy Church. Some people use ‘mini’ to describe a shorter session of something very like a Messy Church. Other people use ‘mini’ to describe a group only for young children and their parents or carers, like a toddler group.
In terms of discipleship, the concept of a slimmer version of Messy Church held fortnightly (or even weekly), for a smaller group of families – perhaps with fewer crafts or a Bible study instead of a celebration, followed by an intimate family meal – is a really good idea. It could help to build a community, but without totally draining our resources or energy. It could also be a great opportunity for those families eager to learn more about Jesus to have the opportunity to ask questions and read more of the Bible in a less busy context. It would be easy to see how you could use the name and logo (with the name ‘Mini’ or something else in the banner underneath the splat) with complete integrity.
And then there is the whole ‘toddler group’ question. We have had queries about ‘doing Messy Church in our toddler group’. When unpacked a little, this turns out to be ‘taking a Bible-based craft activity to the toddler group, singing a Christian song and having a snack’. Hmmm. Let’s face it, toddler groups have always done this without any need to call it anything resembling ‘Messy Church’! There’s no need to use the name ‘Messy Church’, mini or otherwise – it could even be offputting for parents who don’t want ‘church’ and misleading for those who thought they knew what Messy Church was.
If we understand why the ‘all-age’ value is so crucial to the spiritual nurture of adults and children; if we take seriously the responsibility of labelling ourselves ‘church’, it becomes very hard to justify calling a toddler group ‘Messy Church’. It may also have the unwanted knock-on effect that your actual Messy Church becomes seen as somewhere only for younger and younger children and their families, as the ‘brand’ becomes identified predominantly with preschoolers. Hard to encourage your teenager to join in if it’s seen as a toddler event. Hard to share the more challenging gospel stories if you’re worried about being ‘too Christian’.
Being able to use the branding of Messy Church is a real strength because it is widely known; it is an attractive name to people; and there are a lot of resources available. But there is a risk with letting things other than Messy Church use the name of Messy Church. People may get confused about what Messy Church really is. This is why Messy Vintage is called Messy Vintage; Katie Norman and her team who came up with the concept of Messy Vintage were clear that they wanted to provide something else for their messy community, with a link to their Messy Church, but at the same time they wanted it to be something distinctive.
Here are some questions for us to consider when thinking about the idea of Mini Messy Church:
Will the session you are planning still have the five core values of Messy Church: Christ-centred, creativity, hospitality, celebration, and all-age?
Will it be church (or, at the start, at least aspire to be church)?
Is it an extra for your Messy Church families to come along to? What name will best communicate the link with Messy Church but the distinctiveness of the group?
What are the possible knock-on effects of using the Messy Church name and brand in this new context for a) your own existing Messy Church, b) the Messy Church network more widely, c) church toddler groups beyond your community, and d) parents in your community?
Do share your thoughts on Facebook or in the comments below.