Wisconsin congregation to share emerging ministry of ‘messy church’
One Sunday afternoon each month, McFarland United Church of Christ, a congregation in McFarland, Wis., hosts families during a cross-generational event to share Christianity’s most important faith stories. The families take part in Biblical storytelling, hands-on learning through arts and crafts, share in a simple dinner, and conclude with a brief worship with group prayer and song.
This is ‘Messy Church’, one of the growing models of ministry that is slowly emerging in the United States. It was created to find ways for a church to draw people who can’t make a Sunday morning worship into a faith community, while giving them a sense of belonging.
United Church of Christ leaders are inviting the wider church to McFarland UCC to learn about the idea so that pastors, church staff and lay leaders can “think seriously about other doorways to attach people to the church,” according to the Rev. Ivy Beckwith, team leader of the UCC Faith Formation Ministry.
“Messy Church: An Inspiring Model of Ministry,” takes place Nov. 8 at McFarland UCC and will share practices and successes for attendees to take back to their local faith communities.
“I thought it was something UCC churches needed to know about. For so many churches that are thinking about young families and how to reach them, it’s an option that’s available,” Beckwith said. “I don’t see why this couldn’t catch on in the U.S.”
The first Messy Church formed in 2004 in the United Kingdom, where Lucy Moore was looking to address concerns about families who couldn’t attend the common Sunday morning worship service. She designed what became known as “Messy Church,” creating a weekday program that was intergenerational — not something that parents would just drop their kids off for — and built sessions around a Bible story.
“It just took off like wildfire, and it’s become huge in the United Church of Canada and in Australia and New Zealand,” Beckwith said. “For some reason, we’re just at the beginning of it catching on in the U.S.”
McFarland UCC is one of the few churches in the United States that has caught the vision of Messy Church. The congregation, which has focused on its vitality the last five years as a renewing church, examined its ministry context to seek out the people it had not reached.
“Messy Church ended up as part of a strategy to connect with families who weren’t sure that traditional church was the thing they needed,” said the Rev. Kerri Parker, pastor at McFarland UCC. “They wanted to be invested in their children’s spiritual development, but they didn’t feel personally equipped to do that teaching. We made the regular Sunday worship experience a little more cross generational, but we also looked for a non-Sunday morning opportunity.”
So the church adopted Messy Church and began implementing it on Sunday afternoons. Within the first three months, while teaching young children and their parents Bible stories, Parker wasn’t sure the families would entirely grasp some lengthy stories from the Book of Genesis. To her surprise, she heard that young children “could repeat the narrative of Abraham and Sarah’s travels at home with their family, and again on Skype with their grandparents.”
Beckwith and Parker both said that attendance at Messy Church doesn’t necessarily translate to an increase in attendance on Sunday mornings, but Messy Church still allows the families that attend to feel part of the congregation.
“It’s a different time and different format, but it’s church,” Parker said. “There is fellowship, learning, mutual support and sharing.”
The registration for Messy Church: An Inspiring Model of Ministry is $25, and a limited number of $200 scholarships are available to help with the cost of attending the event. More information is available on the UCC website, and by contacting Beckwith via email.
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