In early 2000, Knightthorpe and Sileby Methodist Churches each began monthly 9.15am services as an 'experiment'. Now seven out of 10 churches in the circuit run a Messy or Café Church. Rev Jane Carter explains how it happened.
The 9.15am, half hour, informal services were for people of all ages. These went well and new people started coming; one service was lay led (team) and the other, called Arise, was led by me. This was at Sileby Methodist Church.
At Sileby we used to have coffee afterwards as a 'bridge' between the 9.15 regulars and the main congregation. It originally started because of a shortage of people to help at Sunday School; this particular church had a more elderly fellowship and this was very much seen as a new venture. We really hoped that it would attract families who were just hanging on in there at our churches, and something to invite families from the Baptism roll.
That really took off and one of the interesting sidelines was that a number of teenagers, who had never had any involvement with church at all, began to come along on a regular basis. As a result of that we started a youth fellowship.
Following a redevelopment of Sileby Church building, coinciding with the launch of the Fresh Expressions DVD showing Messy Church, the church reviewed what they had been doing and decided to stop the 9.15am service. Quite a few people had said they couldn't come to them because they were too early on a Sunday so the church relaunched the idea in a different way in the afternoons.
Knightthorpe too reviewed its 9.15 service and with the new ministers Rev Adam Wells and Deacon Jan Sutton they began a new style of service. Knightthorpe went for a monthly cafe style service and Sileby became a Messy Church, both starting at 4pm. The format was still very informal with craft, songs, Bible stories, activities, food. These again attracted new members.
Others in the circuit started to ask me what was happening at Messy Church in Sileby, and in my other churches too in Barrow upon Soar and Wymeswold. From this I then raised the idea of having a circuit team consisting of local preachers and worship leaders to offer to lead a Messy Church within the churches in the circuit and to help them to start a Messy Church on a regular basis if they so wanted. All circuit staff are actively supportive of this work.
Now seven of the 10 churches in the circuit run a monthly Messy Church/Café Church, all take place at 4pm and all have attracted new members. These are held both in town and rural churches, and one is a Local Ecumenical Partnership (Anglican/Methodist).
The issues some are facing now are: How does the church help the people who come grow in faith? How do you link them into the wider context of the church, if at all? One church is starting an Emmaus Course and is hoping and praying that members from Messy Church will come to this.
We have very good links with local schools. Every month I do an invitation containing the Messy Church details; the school at Wymeswold puts it in every school bag for the children to take home with them. Messy Church within the churches is providing a wonderful opportunity for churches to invite those on the fringes but needs to look at how people can grow in faith and discipleship.
I have been here in the circuit for 11 years but I will be leaving in 2011. However it's good to see that there are lay people already coming into leadership of Messy Church in my churches. Within the circuit we are also encouraging and developing The 'pastor in every Church scheme' and the three I am working with are all involved in the leading Messy Church, which will enable this work to continue and grow.
Although we are looking at fairly small numbers at the moment there is real long-term potential for growth and evangelism. At Barrow on Soar they have dropped their 6pm evening service to concentrate on the 4pm Messy Church, and we now get more people coming at 4 than we had at 6.
It has taken time to get things going but to me it's very encouraging that a lot of chapels with elderly congregations have seen the vision for this and gone with it. It's not only young families who are being drawn in; sometimes grandparents bring their grandchildren and in one area a farmer comes on his own from another village and joins in with the activities.
One of our practical questions here was about whether or not the church should make the food for Messy Church. Instead the Messy Churches I am involved in provide it on a bring and share basis and that seems to work very well. In Wymeswold, a dad whose family come to Messy Church provides gorgeous cakes for it because he's a chef. He never comes himself but we're very grateful for his contribution! We're now looking at the possibility of organising social events for the parents; there are lots of opportunities out there.