Sheila, who organises our Messy Church (and a variety of other things besides) is a super recruiter. Her team is the perfect balance of older and younger members of the congregation, people who’ve been around for ages and newcomers, core churchgoers and those who are on the fringe of church. I don’t attend the planning meetings very often, but I went to the last one because it was a bit unusual, not just plotting the next session but also discussing how the whole thing works more generally.
Sheila had just filled out a survey for the Church Army, who are conducting research into how Messy Church functions across the country. Meanwhile the Diocese has also produced some research about Messy Church specifically across this area. Whereas the idea of Messy Church is that it reaches out to people who never normally come anywhere near a church, in the Guildford diocese this is less true than in other places: here more attenders at Messy are churchgoers in some other way, and this is what we find in Swanvale Halt. Meanwhile I’d tabulated details of everyone who’s been coming over the last two years so we can identify who our real regulars are.
One of Sheila’s team is a mum whose elder daughter has just finished at the Infants School and apart from Messy the only occasion they come to worship each year is the Crib Service on Christmas Eve. ‘Lana, you’re the guinea pig on this,’ said Sheila. ‘If we were to start talking about, say, offering Messy Church parents an introduction-to-the-Bible course or something like that, would you feel you were being pressurised?’ ‘No’, answered Lana, ‘My first reaction would just be “no time”’, and she went on to explain in some detail why this was the case and why she suspected other parents in her position would say the same. Work, family visiting, children’s parties and activities, work, work. ‘It’s a Surrey thing,’, she agreed.
We wondered whether, in fact, offering parents anything ‘extra-curricular’ in the faith-building and discipleship area is a non-starter until their children reach at least the upper part of junior school. The trouble is that the children usually abandon Messy Church, and therefore their parents do along with them, rather before that happens. Keeping in touch with people until they reach the point where life actually allows the Spirit a word in edgeways is the challenge, it seems.