Messy churches attract young families

THORNHILL, ON—We need to messy-up the way we do church in order to reach young families, say Sue Kalbfleisch and Nancy Rowe of Fresh Expressions Canada.

"I've been to so many churches of different denominations where they are crying out about not having young people in their churches,"Kalbfleisch says.

She tells the story of one pastor who finally asked one mother directly why she only brought her children to church for baptisms and Christmas.

"The mom said, 'We see this church as our church. We just can't get here on a Sunday morning.'

"So churches are really looking for something new to reach families," Kalbfleisch adds. "Families with young children have changed over the years, and now a Sunday service no longer works for a lot of them. For many it's the one day a week they really get to hang out with their children, and they don't want to spend a few hours in a service while their children are off somewhere else in a Sunday school."

Kalbfleisch describes Messy Church as a "template" for creating an all ages, family-friendly service. The typical Messy Church is held on a weekday evening, and includes crafts and a meal. A key element of the evenings is that the entire family spends the night together, and the events are flexible to accommodate the families' busy schedules.

An estimated 1,000 congregations are running Messy Churches worldwide, including 30 in Ontario. It is one type of a "fresh expression" of church. The Fresh Expressions movement sprung out of Anglican churches in the UK. It now helps churches of different denominations around the world find new ways of "doing church" for those who don't attend traditional services.

Kalbfleisch and Rowe visit churches of different denominations to talk about how they might use Messy Church to reach young families. They will be holding a Messy Feisty workshop in Thornhill on February 18, at Christ the King – Dietrich Bonhoeffer Lutheran Church. They are also planning an event at Emmanuel College in June.

Rowe is associate pastor of St George's Anglican Church in Georgetown. Rowe found Messy Church so successful in her own congregation that it branched out into a pub-based adult Bible study.

Kalbfleischsays, "We find those most attracted are the 'unchurched' and the 'de-churched'—people who had some connection with church in their past but for whatever reason it didn't stick."

Fresh Expressions Canada is made up of a team of committed volunteers, who seek to encourage the development of fresh expressions of church in Canada, alongside more traditional expressions.

"There are Messy Churches springing up in every province," she adds. "All of Canada is getting messy."

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