Someone wrote in recently and asked if there was any particular justification for doing Messy Church in the standard order, and why not start with the Celebration? Here’s what I said, in case it’s helpful. You may have other thoughts to add.
People need time to feel relaxed and have fun. The activity time gives a gentle way in to those who are in church for the first time. The activity time creates relationships and friendships.
Lots of people lead messy lives and would miss the celebration if you put it first as they would arrive too late. Or they might arrive late in order to avoid it and just have the ‘fun’ parts.
Giving a very short introduction that explains the story very briefly is all you need to do to help people focus on what the activities are there for.
People are building bridges in their imaginations between their own world as they do the activities and the world of the Bible – this then comes to a climax in the Celebration and makes more sense when they have invested in it and have an emotional connection to the story already.
Putting activities first subverts what people think church is all about and surprises them, disarms them, makes them curious.
The Celebration is the focus, the culmination of the fun and creativity and brings it all together. Often the objects you’ve made are useful to help tell the story or praise God.
Giving the freedom of the activities first gives the power and control to the families. If you do the Celebration first, the church is in control. (This may be what many churches actually want!)
The meal can go anywhere, of course, but at the end it means that everyone leaves having received something very concrete: a meal.
The other parts of Messy Church create community cumulatively and make the meal a very relaxed and safe space where stories are shared and the Spirit moves.
The different parts of Messy Church add on to each other, creating community, relaxing people, drawing them together, helping them be increasingly open to each other and to God: the Celebration followed by the meal is the start of being sacramental.
But I would suggest each church needs to decide for itself within the values of Messy Church. A lot of breakfasts happen before the activities or celebration.