Someone emailed us recently asking for advice about the name of their Messy Church to-be. I found the question raised a lot of issues, so I’ve anonymised the reply I sent and copied it below in case you’re interested.
Names… it’s an interesting one, and you’ve obviously taken on board some of the ‘finer nuances’ of the term ‘messy’, so I won’t run through those again.
The short answer is you must call it whatever you feel is best for your community.
And the people who object need to be sure they’re objecting for the good of those in the community, not out of a sense of what they themselves feel safer with.
Your suggested name (Together@StX’s) is perfectly good as it emphasises that it’s part of your church as a whole, is inclusive, and won’t put off older people from coming. Not terribly catchy to gossip in the playground or outside school gates and might be the name of a club rather than a congregation, whereas Messy Church is definitely and unembarrassingly labelling itself a church, so I guess it comes down to what you want to major on in the name: I suspect that once people experience what you do there, they won’t care what it’s called, they’ll just want to belong.
In answer to the two feelings you mention from the ‘dissenters’, I’d say, yes, God does bring order and purpose to the chaotic but he often brings disorder to the complacent and challenges their purpose, so he’s not unequivocally tidy. ‘He’s not a tame lion,’ as Aslan the lion said in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. Jesus certainly brought disorder to the temple when he turned the tables, and arguably brought uncertainty and adventure to the lives of his disciples, to his mother and in an unwelcome way to the rich young ruler and to the Pharisees too. I don’t think having purpose is the same as being ordered and tidy and prescribed. God’s unfolding plan for me with Messy Church has brought a huge amount of chaos, but he’s also blessed me with a keen sense of his purpose.
It depends on where your mission is aiming: at those whose lives are already ordered or those who feel they’re in a mess. And I suppose at some level it depends on whether you want a name that people outside church are happy with or one that pleases those inside church: and that is a principle rather than our claim that ‘MC’ is one or the other. I’m just aware that all the criticisms of the name that I’ve heard have come from people within church rather than from any people outside it. Messy Church IS messy: it’s organic and noisy and uncontrolled and alive and flexible and free to try out anything and fail or succeed: we can fling fruit over the hedge with a trebuchet or have quiet and reverent Communion round the meal tables – it’s mess within structure. We can’t prescribe what people will learn about God or whether they will meet him when we want them to and have planned for them to.
Suggestion that the activities are trashy rather than a means to an end… I think it’s important not to lose sight of the immense value of fun / joy / play / spontaneity in the activity time – something that is the opposite of materialism and something we need to learn from children again. Yes, the theme is important and the activities echo and explore it, but they are also ends in themselves: recreation / sabbath in a world of work.
Does ‘messy’ imply ‘trashy’? Perhaps it does imply that we’re not talking about the finer details of watercolour painting or sculpture in marble: but then I think that’s best said on the can. There’s a good story in the blog for trashy church, incidentally!
Oh dear, I’m rambling. I got back from our MC about an hour ago and am feeling a bit befuddled so I do apologise if this doesn’t make sense.
Any contention would not come from us: we will certainly simply rejoice with you whatever you choose to call it as you’re the experts for your situation. Have fun sorting it out! May it be an opportunity rather than a problem for you all.