Naomi, Lucy & Sharon get stuck into some planning for Messy Church Action Research (Picture: Keith Blundy)

The Diocese of Durham has launched a programme of activity that it hopes will lead to the growth of discipleship through its Messy Churches

The programme will equip leaders of Messy Churches with the skills to deepening the faith of those families and children attending through the use of action-based research.  

The Church of England announced in August 2019 a grant to fund the research and that Durham Diocese would be one of three dioceses that would pilot it. They commented that Messy Churches were non-traditional church gatherings that attract tens of thousands of worshippers across the country.

Sharon Pritchard, Children’s Ministry Adviser and Messy Church Coordinator for the Diocese of Durham said: “We will be working with Messy Church (The Bible Reading Fellowship) and The Church Army’s Research Unit on the project. We will work with them on two different strands of the research. The first strand is called Messy Extras, where Messy Churches develop an extra session per month. This work will be designed to further engage with their communities, something that will look slightly different from their usual activity. We will also be looking at Messy Mentoring. This is where teams select a mentor to work alongside them to help deepen discipleship.

We think that the programme of action research activity will probably last about 12 months, but, beyond that, we will learn from this research, being a pilot diocese and so build on that for the future.”

Asked why the research was needed, Lucy Moore, founder of Messy Church and lead of launch session said: “The big problem we’ve had is that we know a lot of Messy Churches are making progress in discipleship and people’s lives change because they come closer to Jesus. But the evidence is mostly anecdotal up to now. How do we prove that Messy Church is making a difference in people’s lives? 

Naomi with Lucy at the workshop (Picture: Keith Blundy)

“This project gives us a chance to build on the research findings of Playfully Serious (recent research into Messy Church discipleship) and work out the efficacy of some practical outcomes from that. So working with Church Army’s Research Unit, we’re trying to say what is discipleship? What does it look like, and how can we tell if somebody has changed through being in touch with a Messy Church?”

Each of the three dioceses will look at two strands of gathering that evidence through their Messy Churches. As Dr Naomi Maynard, Senior Researcher at Church Army’s Research Unit, explains, this is a method of supporting the leaders of the Messy Churches to be the researchers. She said: “They’re the experts in their own Messy Church. So we’re training them to be researchers, to notice and observe what’s going on. We will then support them to write and reflect about that at the end of the project and share that learning with other Messy Churches.”

Lucy added: “The reflective strands of research are the two for Durham (mentoring and extras), Hereford are looking at what happens if you do Social Action. Does that make a difference? They are also looking at Maturing Teams, investing in the teams running Messy Churches. Bristol is looking at how best to support and nurture older children and teenagers in Messy Church. They are also going to trial a Messy Basics course which is about faith conversations.”

Messy Church Action Research train(Picture: Keith Blundy)


Durham churches involved in the programme include:

  • Wonderfully Made Messy Church at St Lawrence’s South Shields
    (additional needs)
  • St Alban’s Windy Nook
  • St Matthew’s and St Wilfrid’s Sunderland
  • Oxclose Church Washington
  • Messy Minster at Sunderland Minster
  • St John’s Neville’s Cross
  • Messy Clare’s at St Clare’s Newton Aycliffe
  • Woodhouse Close Church Bishop Auckland

Messy Church started in St Wilfrid’s church in Portsmouth Diocese 15 years ago and has been supported and resourced by the Bible Reading Fellowship (BRF) charity. A typical Messy Church offers families and others Bible-based exploration through activities such as experiments, crafts and games followed by gathered worship and a shared meal. The movement has spread across the world, with churches meeting on Saturdays and weekdays as well as Sundays and there are currently about 3,800 Messy Churches in about 30 countries. 


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