Making Disciples in Messy Church

Growing faith in an all-age community

Paul Moore

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Written with clarity and conviction, Making Disciples in Messy Church is a timely and helpful book for a movement that is deeply serious about discipleship. Drawing on biblical, monastic and catechetical approaches, the book contains much wisdom and inspiration for those seeking to make disciples in all forms of church, not just the phenomenon that is Messy Church. The affirmation of the places of family and community in discipleship formation is especially welcome. I warmly and wholeheartedly commend this book.
Andrew Roberts, Methodist Minister and Director of Training for Fresh Expressions


Messy Church has been widely and enthusiastically adopted as a proven and effective way of introducing families to an experience of Christian community and the good news of Jesus. Sceptics ask, 'Are people becoming Christians through Messy Church?' The evidence is clear that they are. But the next challenging question is, 'Can Messy Church also nurture their faith and make these converts into disciples?'

The aim of this book, by telling stories, analysing the journey to faith, and reflecting on what being a disciple means and the various methods of making disciples found in scripture and church tradition, is to encourage ministers and lay leaders to see how their Messy Church can be an intentional disciple-making community.


  • Is Messy Church making disciples?
  • What are disciples and how are they made?
  • Old Testament discipleship
  • Jesus and discipleship in the Gospels: kingdom community
  • Disciples in Acts
  • Disciple - making in the Epistles and Revelation
  • A community discipleship curriculum
  • An alternative - catechesis then and now
  • Intergenerational discipleship
  • Discipleship and faith at home

Paul Moore writes...

It was a Thursday afternoon back in 2004 when the first ever Messy Church took place at St Wilfrid's Church in Cowplain, near Portsmouth, where I am vicar. Our prayer was to introduce people to Jesus by providing a positive, fun-filled experience of Christian community for families who rarely, if ever, go to a traditional church service. Back then, we had no idea that Messy Church would develop and spread the way it has done from Shetland to Cornwall and from Alaska to Australia.

But it's one thing to be able to draw a crowd; are people becoming Christians through Messy Church? Praise God, the answer is definitely, 'Yes'. The key challenging question is, 'Can Messy Church nurture the faith of these new believers and make them into disciples?'

In my new book Making Disciples in Messy Church I aim to help church leaders to grasp how Messy Church really can become a disciple-making community, provided we go about it in a deliberate way. To help us become more intentional, the book contains insightful stories and tips from the experience of Messy Churches in the UK and abroad. It provides some tools to enable us to chart what may be a long journey towards faith for families who have little or no Christian background, so that we can offer people the right support and encouragement at the various stages of their journey into discipleship. It also explores what becoming and growing as a disciple means today, looking at the different ways in which disciples were made in Old and New Testament times and later in the history of the church in various contexts. Out of this come recommendations for leaders and questions for further thought and creativity.

It's amazing to see how God is using Messy Church to bless people and draw them to Jesus. I hope this book will be an encouragement to all who are involved in leading and helping in Messy Churches to reflect on the wonderful stuff God is doing. Paul Moore


Messy Church is a gift from God, one of the Holy Spirit's wonderful surprises, where a step of faith by one very ordinary church has opened the way for more than a thousand others to engage with families who had no serious connection to a church. No one anticipated that the story publicised in the first Fresh Expressions DVD in 2006 would take on such a life of its own. Messy Church is now a movement in its own right, within the wider Fresh Expressions movement. This book, from Paul Moore, the vicar of that church, presents insights from the oldest member of this young family of churches. They are insights from which all who are committed to disciple-making can benefit.

Those who have been unsure of Messy Church, who would like it to be less messy, and who wonder if it really is church, have frequently raised the question of discipleship. How can you possibly make disciples among all that mess, especially if you meet just once per month? On the contrary, I have always believed that Messy Church is as valid a fresh expression of church as any of the many other models and examples. Because of this, I have always been convinced that the secrets of making disciples through Messy Church lay within the gift itself, in the DNA of the original idea given by the Holy Spirit, and that they would emerge over time. The temptation to bolt on ideas from a different model in order to answer questions or solve apparent problems about disciple-making has always been misguided. It is also evidence of impatience. As the gift of Messy Church has been unwrapped during its early years, the secrets have begun to be revealed.

The Messy Church world is not closed to learning from other sources. Paul draws helpfully from Scripture, from ancient tradition, from other mission practitioners and researchers, from educational theory and from the worldwide Messy family. But, above all, he draws from the underlying values of Messy Church. He tells us not so much how to make disciples through Messy Church as how to create Messy Church as a disciple-making culture, which is much more important.

He sets realistic expectations about the time it takes to journey from no church connection to active faith. He robustly defends intergenerational learning. He wants parents equipped to take responsibility for their children's spiritual development, and team members to see Messy Church as their church, not just the place where they volunteer once a month.

I suspect that there may be even more to be unpacked from this surprising gift over the coming years, but for now this will do very well.

Bishop Graham Cray
Archbishops' Missioner and Leader of the Fresh Expressions Team

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Written with clarity and conviction, Making Disciples in Messy Church is a timely and helpful book for a movement that is deeply serious about discipleship. Drawing on biblical, monastic and catechetical approaches, the book contains much wisdom and inspiration for those seeking to make disciples in all forms of church, not just the phenomenon that is Messy Church. The affirmation of the places of family and community in discipleship formation is especially welcome. I warmly and wholeheartedly commend this book.
Andrew Roberts, Methodist Minister and Director of Training for Fresh Expressions

Discipleship is probably the biggest single issue the Church needs to grapple with in our present times. This book has some vital things to say on this central issue, not only to those interested in Messy Church but to all churches. My advice would be: read it, think about what you read and then apply it in your own situation.
David Male, Director of the Centre for Pioneer Learning, Cambridge

Messy Church is growing from a single fresh expression of church into a whole movement of mission. Making Disciples in Messy Church brings vital wisdom culled from scripture and from experience to all involved in making disciples. Its lessons are vital for all those engaged in Messy Church and for all those involved in making disciples.
Steven Croft, Bishop of Sheffield

The Messy Church movement is fantastic, helping connect people to Christ and his church through community and creativity. Paul has been on the journey with Messy Church since the start, and in this fascinating book shows how Messy Church is not only reaching people with the Gospel, it is raising up disciples across the world.
Canon Mark Russell, CEO Church Army

A joy to read and a contemporary Epistle from a Paul of our time, Making Disciples in Messy Church is a timely and essential read for all who are serious about building upon the good connections to the local community made through Messy Church and seeking how to making disciples in our contemporary age.
Stephen Lindridge, Fresh Expressions Methodist Connexional Missioner

Paul Moore writes out of first-hand experience. To this he brings deeper and wider thought. The book brings disparate things together in one place: various frameworks to assess progress in discipleship, lively material from a wide range of Scripture, some ecumenical perspectives and sensible questions to ponder. It ends with solid practical suggestions and knocks on the head the critique that Messy Church has no answers to questions of discipleship. It deserves to be read and applied.
George Lings, Director of the Sheffield Centre

Author info

Paul Moore is a member of the team that launched Messy Church in 2004. Paul is Archdeacon for Mission Development in Winchester Diocese.


Ministry Today - July 2016

This interesting book delves further into the thorny issue of whether Messy Church really makes disciples. To do this, Paul Moore asks what disciples are and how they are really made, as well as showing how Messy Church moves people onto the discipleship journey. He then carries out a survey of discipleship in the Bible, applying the models he finds there to the practice of Messy Church. It's a good attempt to drill down into a difficult area in order to make sure that Messy Church is not only fun but fruitful. Once again, the connections for All Age Worship of every kind are obvious.

Sometimes the balance between describing discipleship patterns in the Bible and actually applying them to Messy Church is too heavily weighted in favour of the former. As a book simply on biblical patterns of discipleship, it is not really sufficient. The real value lies in the application to Messy Church, and I feel more space and depth of analysis could have been given to that application. Each chapter ends with questions for further reflection. 3.5/5.

Richard Dormandy

From Magnet Summer 2014

Paul Moore was part of the team that launched the first Messy Church in 2004. Since then Messy Church has spread worldwide as an intergenerational movement. Bishop Graham Cray in his foreword says, 'As the gift of Messy Church has been unwrapped during its early years the secrets have begun to be revealed.' Moore reveals some of these 'secrets' and shows how Messy Church has become a disciple-making phenomenon.

For those sceptical about the worth of Messy Church, this book should be read. Paul convincingly explores the journey of discipleship through biblical, monastic and early church material and draws on various frameworks to assess progress in discipleship. After much thoughtful and clearly stated discussion on this important issue he concludes. 'I believe there are lots of good reasons why age-segregated discipleship groups is not necessarily the best way to go. I believe we should persevere with intentional intergenerational disciple-making in our Messy Churches and see how God makes us grow as disciples together'.

Reviewed by Tania Brosnan

Review from Simon Martin in Country Way - January 2014

This is an important book, not least because messy churches, and church leaders more widely, are increasingly asking questions like:

  • Are people coming to faith through Messy Church?
  • Is it making disciples?
  • Can it justify its claim to be a church?
  • Or is it just a form of pre - evangelism - a bridge to something deeper, perhaps an Alpha course, and then graduation to Sunday church attendance?

(Of course, these questions are just as urgent and relevant for traditional or inherited forms of church!)

One of the key things considered in Making Disciples in Messy Church is what discipleship looks like for people with messy lives, as Messy Churches are genuinely attracting large numbers of non - churchgoers. Not just children, but teenagers and adults - both the children's family members and others; not just fringe members - but people who have never been to a church. As Messy Church grows, collectively and individually those involved are having to face up to the need for nurture and discipleship for this disparate group of would - be believers.

In terms of discipleship in the contemporary world, rural people and communities are not much different to those in this book. There are recognised issues to do with the nature of small, relatively close - knit communities that may affect the way rural churches engage in evangelism and mission; but most of the key elements of the process of Messy Discipleship outlined above are very important in rural circumstances: suspicion of traditional church, a need to identify and become involved, a desire to support something that is of clear benefit to their children, an appreciation of the holistic and communal elements of becoming part of a Messy Church 'family'.

There is a great deal more to this book than just these things. It considers several potential models of discipleship that might be appropriate (community discipleship, a catechetical approach, intergenerational discipleship, and discipleship within the family); and it lays firm biblical foundations for discipleship from both Old and New Testaments. There is also some more theoretical background on how people come to faith and how their faith develops. Making Disciples in Messy Church is not the whole answer, but it is a vital and readable tool in helping all of us work out what is appropriate in our own places. Read it!

From Childrenswork magazine - December 2013

Making Disciples in Messy Church provides wisdom and theological support for the successful movement of Messy Church. If those two words (Messy Church) don't mean anything to you then I'd encourage you to read the book and learn more about a God-given strategy for doing all-age church. For those of you, like myself, who are already involved in leading some form of Messy Church expression, then you might find this reasonably light read useful.

Certainly, some of the questions posed at the end of every chapter are provocative and helpful. However, I often found myself asking, who is this book written for? Children's workers? Clergy? Or just those who work at Messy Church HQ? But for a quick read and a book that starts and finishes well, I'd recommend it. Certainly if you're asking the question, 'How do we pass our faith on from one generation to another?' - then it's for you. And if you're not asking that question, perhaps you should be!

From Diocese of Gloucester Clergy Bulletin - July 2013

Among the questions often asked about 'Messy Church' are 'Is it really church?' 'Doesn't it just entertain people on the fringes of the church?' 'How can such a simple approach actually help people become disciples?' Paul Moore, who with his wife Lucy began Messy Church at St Wilfred's, Cowplain, seeks to address these questions in this book. It's very readable and straight-forward but has some very profound things to say about how people become disciples with lessons on making disciples whether or not you are doing 'Messy Church'. He presents a very helpful overview of how the Bible shows disciples being made in a variety of contexts. He also looks at ideas such as catechesis and inter-generational discipleship. Along the way there are helpful insights into the ways people come to faith, the importance of relationships and involvement in helping people learn and grow, how different learning styles need to be considered. He argues that the Messy Church approach addresses many of these challenges. This book will help those doing 'Messy Church' to think through what they are doing and how it can make disciples but it will help everyone think about how we are seeking to make disciples too.

Reviewed by Revd Brian Parfitt

From Church Times - 2 August 2013

When a Christian community begins to form, requests for baptism and possibly holy communion often follow. Requests for support in growing disciples in an all-age community has resulted in Making Disciples in Messy Church by Paul Moore. He responds to the claim that messy churches are not real church communities with examples of how families have come to faith through messy church, although some would unfairly question his definition of church.

A significant number of those attending messy church have little or no church background. Moore offers a helpful beginners' guide to faith development, as participants move through stages of openness to, and spiritual awareness of, God. He makes a strong biblical case for the part played by the all-age community of the church in discipleship and formation, while recognising the substantial commitment of time and resources that effective discipleship demands. Making Disciples in Messy Church would be an excellent resource for PCC members who are engaging with issues of mission and evangelism in general, as well as required reading for those who lead a messy church.

Reviewed by Revd Dana Delap is Assistant Curate of St James and St Basil, Fenham, in the diocese of Newcastle.

From Pobl Dewi - June 2013

This book of 120 pages divides into three. The first section looks at what it means to be growing as disciples of Jesus and where this might be happening in Messy Church. The second considers discipleship in scripture and how that might affect Messy Church. The third offers recommendations.

Prototype disciples

If you are familiar with models of discipleship, the first section will probably offer little that is new, and "success" stories from elsewhere are not always encouraging. The central section gives much food for thought: Abraham and Sarah as prototype disciples and the messiness of their situations; how, in the Old Testament, growing in discipleship was done with others, as a people. Community is a recurring strand, and the "doing together" element of Messy Church does help to build relationships.

How do we grow a community of disciples, rather than concentrating on the individual? Jesus and the apostles formed a community that teaches us to model discipleship where responsibility is given early, and where learning is, initially, largely through experience and doing. Similarly in Acts, it is argued, baptism comes early to the disciple, followed quickly by doing and serving; catechesis comes only later. Does Messy Church mirror that of the epistles in being more rooted in the everyday and less- focussed on "the special"? It's not just about Sunday morning - there is a space for hospitality and serving and not just for worship services.

The conclusions are well drawn and they are valid for all work across generations. If you are not a fan of Messy Church, the book's subtitle, "Growing faith in an all age community" is surely something we are all interested in. However good the recommendations, the temptation to jump straight to the end and miss out the central discussion is worth resisting.

Melting pot

I admit to having been predisposed to recommend this book. I was already convinced that the principles of Messy Church are simple, achievable by most congregations, and that they can create the melting pot of church and community in which disciples might grow. I was hoping for ideas to add to my Messy Church to encourage that growing of disciples. (And the book did challenge me about the need to be "intentional about faith building.") So, did I get some ideas? Yes. Very much so. The book assumes that there is a core team overseeing the Messy Church. I need to identify that core team. If we can study this book together, the accompanying thought, discussion and prayer might, God-willing, move on our Messy Church from being a melting pot into a crucible in which faith is forged.

Reviewed by Revd Alan Chadwick

Book details

  • ISBN: 9780857462183
  • Published: 22 March 2013
  • Status:
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 128
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