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Messy Church focuses on intergenerational worship

Messy Church focuses on intergenerational worship

Church Vitality Next Generations

Jesus told His disciples to let the little children come to Him. That ancient biblical commandment was meant to reinforce the idea that those who are introduced to God during the innocence of childhood are more likely to form a lifelong relationship.

But kids today can be so, you know … messy. They get dirty, they spill things on themselves and each other, and sometimes they might even laugh out loud during church.

Hence, Messy Church: It’s designed for kids and families, and it’s about bringing everyone closer together and to God.

“It is a movement that began in Great Britain in 2004 that is a different way to try to reach families, especially intergenerational,” said Janet Westlake, minister of discipleship at Mount Dora United Methodist Church.

The Messy movement is catching on throughout the United States. It’s not like church as most people understand it, but the goal is the same—glorify God through worship and fellowship.
Bring grandma. Bring your family and friends.

Bring everyone.
Various generations at First Ocala United Methodist Church enjoy attending Messy Church, a program designed to bring generations together to learn about Christianity in a fun environment.

Messy Church can offer activity stations for all ages, and each one has a lesson. Kids learn about love, or the value of friendship or they learn about Jesus Christ. The adults don’t just sit in the corner and watch, either. It’s a participation event, and many churches include a meal.

“I first heard about it through the Fresh Expressions movement," Westlake said. “We are targeting the community. We have business cards, and we are inviting people to come and advertising it on designated Facebook pages.”

It is open to all denominations. There are plenty of resources available on sites like Facebook and Pinterest for churches wishing to start the ministry.

“Our goal is for those in the church to act as ambassadors and welcome new people when they arrive,” Westlake said.

“We’ve been doing a series of what we are calling family nights but looking to make them more open to people coming in for the first time and adding in the worship component.”

Don’t be misled, though. This is not just a social club. It is a church, where the timeless message of Christ's love is delivered in a fresh way.

Everything wraps around a Bible theme where the kids are involved up to their elbows, and it can get, you know … messy. It’s all good. It’s nothing some soap, water and maybe a broom can’t handle.

Activities might include finger painting, crafts, coloring, or heading outside for planting or clean-up projects—with heavy doses of smiles and laughter, with the good news of Jesus as the overriding theme.

One evening participants planted seeds to focus on how we grow. They made people silhouette paper chains and talked about a friend they wanted to get to know better.

One Sunday at First Ocala United Methodist Church, the topic was the Lord’s Prayer.

“We had a coloring station with time to color and meditate and understand what prayer means,” organizer Shannon Vianello said.

There was even a Play-Dough station where families could pray for themselves and make a person with a heart or make a ball representing the world they were praying for.

As Valentine’s Day approached, messy cards were being created at churches across the globe, built around the theme in 1 Corinthians 13:4: “Love is patient and kind.”

There is the reminder of John 3:16: “God so loved the world that he gave his son….”

There are Bible lessons and prayer time, and evening’s worship theme is talked about over dinner around a family table.

At the United Methodist Church of the Palm Beaches, Kate Marr, director of the children’s ministry, heard about Messy Church and started to use the principles in an established Sun Day Fun Day.

“I liked how it went. I enjoyed the activities, and the kids seemed to have fun and get some things out of it. I decided to keep it going,” Merr said.

A child plays around a "stable" built with cardboard boxes at Messy Christmas at the United Methodist Church of the Palm Beaches.

“For Messy Christmas, we had a build your own stable out of cardboard boxes. We did some collaborative art where they could make a shepherd or angel and created the scene of the shepherd hearing the Good News.”

She did a science night and used activity stations, with activities about water, making slime, using salt, pepper and water, and dish soap to make the pepper disappear.

“Once I saw this concept, it is something I easily flowed right in to,” Marr said. “The kids at our church really responded to the hands-on.”

They are kicking off another Messy Church about Jesus at the temple when he was 12 and was left behind. The aim is to help children understand and relate to a pre-teen Jesus.

“For me, it is reaching families who don’t do church,” Marr said. “Nowadays, a lot of people have so many activities in their lives, this is a way to get families engaged as a unit.”

To learn more about training available to churches, visit

—Yvette C. Hammett is a freelance writer based in Valrico

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