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Messy Church connects families to Jesus

By: Doreen Gosmire, director of communications

Official Messy Church Logo 3489 Pixels Wide 300dpi

The official Messy logo from brf.org.uk. Messy Church started in the United Kingdom. There is now an affiliated organization in the United States. Sandee Cole learned about Messy Church while traveling in the United Kingdom.

“Messy Church reaches out to families who might not normally come to church. It gives them an opportunity to come together in a way that they might not get to in their busy lives, in a great big family-like community,” said Sandee Cole, children’s ministry coordinator at Watertown First UMC.

Watertown First UMC launched Messy Church in May 2017. There are about 70-75 attendees and around 20–25 volunteers engaging each month. 

Cole said, “Each month we continue to see a number of ‘first timers’ attending Messy Church. Messy Church is run by the Messy Church Core Team of volunteers. I am the staff liaison who aids in facilitating the ministry of the team as well as Pastor Sara (Nelson) and other staff members who take part in supporting ways each month.”

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Baptism at Messy Church, during celebration time, in sanctuary at Watertown First UMC. Photos courtesy of Watertown First UMC.

Messy Church is making a big impact on the lives of many people in Watertown and at First UMC. “In less than a year, we have seen at least six families become more engaged in other areas of the life of the church, either through joining the church or baptisms, attending other worship services, or attending mid-week ministries and grow groups,” said Rev. Sara Nelson, Watertown First UMC.

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Making bubbles for bubble prayers at Messy Church.

It happens once a month. Families of all kinds – single-parent families, grandparents with grandchildren, multi-generation families – gather to eat, create and celebrate together. The hope of the volunteer team is to reach those in Watertown in need of knowing the love of Jesus and the abundant life they can have through him. Messy Church is usually held on the first Sunday of the month from 4:30 – 6:30 pm. The time together starts with a creative time, followed by a celebration time which includes praise songs, an interactive story and interactive prayer. Messy Church ends with a meal time to wrap-up the night in fellowship together. 

Kids are asked to make sure to bring their favorite adult with them to Messy Church to take part in everything together. Everything is integrated around a central theme or Bible story for the day, from the welcome snack to the creative activities, the celebration time experience, all the way down to the conversation starter cards on the meal tables and sometimes even the meal itself.

Messy Church is the result of one of the Missional Church Consultation Initiative (MCCI) prescriptions for Watertown First Church that focused on discerning a signature ministry for First Church that would “reach and serve Watertown with the message and love of Christ for which First Church can become known in the community."

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A volunteer, wearing an Messy Church t-shirt, guides participants through a creative activity. Every person at Messy Church creates their own nametag.

The Signature Ministry Team worked through a discernment phase, a design phase, and a launch phase. During the discernment phase, the team reviewed demographics for the Watertown area. They held listening sessions with the community as well as the congregation to discern where the needs of the community intersected with the passions and strengths of the congregation. The idea was to create a ministry that would be one where the whole church family could become involved. 

During the design phase, the team spent time reviewing and focusing on the community needs and looking at various community and ministry programs that were perhaps similar to the desired goals of the future ministry. The volunteers focused on launching a “ministry with” people—a ministry that brings people together to share their faith, grow together and transform the lives of others. Ministry with people, instead of a “ministry to” people—a ministry that is specific to a group of individuals with a particular need. 

Once the team reviewed Messy Church, a ministry out of the United Kingdom that is part of The Bible Reading Fellowship group, the group knew that they had hit upon a good match. The launch phase involved a signature event, The Easter Extravaganza, in April 20-17. A God-sized event, with over 500 children hunting for eggs, bouncing through castles, cuddling with bunnies, getting their faces painted and feeling the love of Jesus through the 50 volunteers who came together to make it all happen.

The group launched Messy Church in May 2017 by inviting all of those that had attended the Easter community event. There is continual promotion of Messy Church during worship at First UMC, on Facebook and through follow up with all the people that come. When people attend they check in, using Planning Center.  Sue Togel, the welcoming and serving coordinator at Watertown First UMC,  is on hand to meet and greet each person and follows up with cards, visits and phone calls.  

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Participants in Messy Church celebrate the Christmas season with an interactive story time involving lots of people.

“We have seen a variety of people attend and are currently seeing families with children. Families of all make-ups: single-parent families, grandparents with grandchildren, multi-generation families,” said Cole. “Many of the families who have become ‘regulars’ of Messy Church have shared how their children will not let them miss coming to Messy Church and become upset if they miss it.”

The kids love Messy Church because it is messy and fun.  Adults love Messy Church because it is a fun and unique way for families to come together to learn about God.


Messy Church received a Breaktrough Ministry grant. Grants are awarded quarterly to assist churches or related organizations in starting new ministries or expanding existing ministries to reach new people. Applications are due on January 31, April 30, July 31 and October 31.
Requirements: Ministries must be new (within the last two years) or a current ministry that is expanding to reach new people. The new or expanding ministry will assist the church in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The application is here

*Kids Count Miracle Offering funds may be applied to your grant. Funds were raised at the 2017 Annual Conference to fund grants to churches or ministries that form or expand an ongoing relationship with a school.  There are many possibilities for partnerships, including supplying backpacks, clothing, or weekend meals; tutoring or mentoring students; opening up the church to school gatherings or after-school programs; offering parenting, ESL, or literacy classes; praying for teachers and students.

UMC

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