Twenty ways to develop Messy Church out of an event, festival or pilot

Published 24th April 2014 by Messy Church

Many churches take part in a festival, fete or fair at which Messy Church features in some way. Examples might be the Big Church Day Out, the Royal Norfolk Show or one of the Fusion Festivals. Other opportunities to look out for might be events like farmers’ markets, car boot sales, craft fairs, patronal festivals or other annual events. Running Messy Church at an open event like one of these is great fun and hugely rewarding but very different from holding it on a regular basis and it’s worth bearing the differences in mind.

Here are some thoughts gleaned from previous experiences of open events to make the most of the opportunities they offer:

  1. It’s worth seeing the event as a taster for the feel or mood of Messy Church rather than trying to do everything exactly as you would in your own Messy Church.
  2. Think prayerfully if it’s possible to work ecumenically in your area. If it is, try it.
  3. Be clear with the team about the difference between a one-off event and an ongoing Messy Church, and leave yourselves space to grow into a full Messy Church rather than doing a half-baked one on the day and putting people off a ‘real’ one in the future. Think about the name you use for the Messy tent or stand at the event.
  4. Remember the reputation, ‘brand’ and widespread network of Messy Church. The chances are that some of the visitors you welcome will have heard of it from elsewhere, so make the most of its popularity.
  5. As you plan the actual festival or event, schedule in at least three follow-up Messy Church sessions over the next three months so that the dates and publicity are all sorted and ready to distribute, and the team has a long-term investment in the event and a clear follow-up towards which to signpost people.
  6. Consider setting up a Facebook page linked firmly and clearly to the churches involved for people to ‘like’ on the day.
  7. Consider a chart on display on which families can mark the days, times and venues that would suit them best for subsequent Messy Church sessions after those first three.
  8. Consider collecting contact information from the visiting families so that you can remind them about the follow-up Messy Church sessions.
  9. Be up front about what you’re aiming to do with the event and subsequent Messy Churches and be prepared to tell families honestly what you’re doing and why: make sure the whole team know that this is NOT about getting bums on seats in church, but about something like: blessing your community, opening up church to families who don’t yet feel able to come, feeding the hungry, giving local people a sense of community or helping isolated parents and carers – whatever your aim really genuinely is.
  10. Remember this is an opportunity to grow your team in their faith: encourage them, thank them, watch out for gifts you can use and develop, consider all ages for your team, including children and teenagers and the elderly.
  11. It’s very public and people will meander in and out without coming for a set period. This means you need to think how long the celebration will be and how often you will have one: much shorter and more frequent has worked well. It also means that each activity needs to be stand-alone, rather than relying on someone completing all the activities to have a good idea of the theme or story. Each leader needs to be very on the ball about sharing their part of the story succinctly and appropriately at their activity – well worth practising on each other beforehand.
  12. The sense of community will be very different, may be looser, with less ownership and more need to keep an eye on small children, equipment and possessions.
  13. Providing food will be an issue, especially if traders are selling food from stalls at the same event – they won’t welcome you giving it away for free. You may have to compromise as the Messy element of sitting and eating together to form community probably won’t be feasible at open events. This principle might apply to your offer of some activities: free face painting might not sit well with the professional face painters nearby, for example.
  14. Offer unthreatening freebies which also attract families (all stall holders benefit) such as modelling balloon animals, lolly pops with dips, ice cream cones with fairy cakes pushed in and toppings added or spiro paper hats. A cross craft is always popular!
  15. Find out where water amenities are. Use water sprays and wet wipes if you are far away from water taps.
  16. If there’s room, prepare a prayer space for all ages.
  17. If it’s outdoors, include Messy bubbles – very visual, attractive to all ages and a real crowd puller, especially if you include giant bubble-blowing!
  18. Include crafts that can be tied to buggies and prams to promote Messy Church as families walk around the event, and consider ordering Messy Church balloons from BRF.
  19. Relax, chill and enjoy whatever and whoever God sends to you on the day and remember it’s simply a stage on the journey – you don’t need to get every single person to the ‘destination’ there and then.
  20. Resources that will be helpful for setting up Messy Church