Running Messy Church sessions

Advice for churches on how to safely run Messy Church sessions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Post-lockdown, we're all wondering if or when we can start meeting face-to-face as Messy Churches. The situation is changing so fast and there are Messy Churches in so many different contexts that it's very hard to interpret the guidelines for every place and for every stage of the pandemic. For simplicity, this page refers to the situation in Messy Churches hosted by Church of Scotland congregations.

Please ensure that you have consulted with the Minister and Kirk Session and are complying with the Church of Scotland Reopening Church Buildings Guidelines and the current Scottish Government Covid-19 guidance for the safe use of places of worship during the pandemic.

This is a guidance offered by the Church of Scotland Children's and Youth Team and the Messy Church Team after carefully considering the current restrictions. It isn't trying to dictate what you must do. It's trying to make life a little easier for those of us who want to continue with best practice for both worship and safety by providing a suggested way forward.

Messy Church is an act of worship, not a school, children's activity or toddler group, so comes under the guidance provided for acts of worship. Key factors to consider are maintaining physical distance, reducing contact between people, limiting contact with materials and equipment, and maintaining good hand hygiene.

A risk assessment detailing your activities and how you will reduce the risk of Covid-19 transmission must be completed. (Please see the end of this page for an example). We want everyone who runs, volunteers with and attends Messy Church to have a fun, positive and safe experience, whilst reducing the risk of Covid-19 transmission to as low a level as possible.

As always with any Messy Church, the assumption is that there are no unaccompanied children. The Messy Church values of being Christ-centred, creative, hospitable, celebratory and for all ages apply more than ever in what we do and the way we do it. Part of hospitality is providing a safe space and that must be our priority.

Things to consider before you get started

  • A detailed walk-through of the factors that should be considered when thinking about reducing the risk of Covid-19 transmission is provided below. Please note, other health, safety and welfare risks such as safeguarding, choking and slips, trips and falls are not included in this guidance. However, you should update all your other risk assessments to ensure that they are compatible with the control measures implemented as a result of Covid-19. (Please note, normal considerations such as safeguarding, tripping or choke hazards are not included.)
  • Messy Church can be held inside or outside of the church building
  • Set out either tables and chairs, picnic rugs, taped-off zones, tents or "sheep pens" made from church furniture. Have at least1m between the closest points of these spaces (for example,1m from a chair at one table to the nearest chair at the next table) and allocate a household(or groups of households depending on the relevant covid protection level, for example level 0, 10 individuals from 4 households)to one space, having all the materials and equipment they require in a container within that space*.Note that individual households in a group must also distance from each other
  • The number of households you can welcome is dependent on the size of your space and current government guidelines
  • The household group must stay within its own allocated spot for the whole service.
  • Meals are a vital part of Messy Church,and it is nowpossible to include foodand drinks as part of your gathering, albeit carefully managed and risk assessed.Careful consideration should be given as to what type of food is provided and, at this point, it may be prudent to think coffee and cake rather than a three-course meal.Hospitality guidance must be followed and those attending Messy Church must remain in their seats and be served in their place.
  • *(In each instance, the "household base" could represent something relevant to the story, like a boat, an oasis, a cave or a house: ‘Don't step out of your boat, whatever you do!' One activity might be to build your household den or decorate your space in the theme of the day, while everyone arrives.)

A suggested Messy Church pattern

  • A short welcome and introduction to the Bible theme.
  • Half an hour of 1-3 Bible-based activities
  • A story and prayer (at present time, singing is not allowed as part of worship, and this includes Messy Church)

If it's still not possible to meet in your situation

  • Messy Church can only meet in church buildings that have been approved to reopen. If your building has not yet reopened, you may wish to gently speak with your Kirk Session and Minister to discuss their plans for reopening.
  • It's very important that your team is confident about being safe. THERE IS NO RUSH to get back together face-to-face. God can manage perfectly well without us and understands.
  • Relax and be positive. Perhaps your team needs a rest and a chance to start afresh some months down the line, with even more purpose and direction when the time is right.
  • Remember God wants us to do what we can, not what we can't
  • What is appropriate and possible for one church may not be so for another
  • The vital thing is to stay connected with your families and team members and let them know you care

If you can't meet yet, here are some of the great ways Messy Church teams have been staying in contact:

  • Phoning or texting families or team members to see how they are and to offer prayer, pastoral or practical support
  • Providing "Messy Church in a Bag", either delivered to the door or collected from a central spot with good safety measures
  • Doing Messy Church online via Facebook, You Tube or Zoom
  • Emailing families and individuals the "Messy Church at home" sessions
  • Checking the Covid-19 section of the Messy Church website for ideas and resources
  • Listening to the regular Facebook Live half hours on the Messy Church BRF Facebook page on Wednesdays at 9am or 8pm to connect with other leaders

Safety walk-through for a face-to-face Messy Church

The weeks before

  • Have you planned a sensible (short) length of time for your Messy Church?
  • Have you calculated how many households you can safely fit in your building or outdoor space safely?
  • Have you invited households to book in, so you know how many people and households are likely to attend beforehand?
  • Have you asked for up-to-date contact details from the team and the households of those attending, including names, mobile telephone numbers, and email addresses for Test and Protect and permission to keep these for the required amount of time? Note that as part of the Church of Scotland congregation, it is the Kirk Session who will keep the details as part of their register. Make sure that you speak to your congregational Data Protection Officer who will be able to assist you further with details of the process, privacy policy etc.
  • Have you invited households to arrive at slightly staggered times to avoid congestion?
  • Have you worked out the optimum number of team members you need and given those people one designated role per person and a role description? (We suggest: Leader, Loomeister, Welcomer outside, Welcomer inside, Host, Runner, Shepherd, Celebration leader - see below for role descriptions)
  • Have vulnerable team members been invited to pray at home rather than attend?
  • Has your Risk Assessment been submitted and approved by the Kirk Session in advance of your first Messy Church?
  • Have safety measures and a copy of the risk assessment been sent out to team members and households beforehand?
  • Have you decided the contingency plan if somebody breaks a rule and puts themselves or others at risk?
  • Have you selected activities that don't break out of the segregated space, drip, ooze or explode and are not edible?
  • Have you considered how the space that you will use will be safely cleaned and disinfected after use?

Setting up

  • Is signage in place clearly showing the precautions everyone should take?
  • Has each team member sanitised their hands as they arrive?
  • Has the leader given a safety briefing to the whole team?
  • Does each team member know how vital their role is in keeping people safe?
  • Has someone been allocated solely to clean and disinfect the toilet and handwashing facilities?
  • Has every table and chair been cleaned and disinfected before they are used?
  • Has all the equipment and material been cleaned and disinfected before use? Family groups/different households should not share equipment and materials unless they can be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected after use.
  • Has every table got everything that the household needs, including printed instructions, so there is no requirement for sharing between tables?
  • Has a system been set up outside to ensure households are distanced if they arrive at the same time? (taped markers, signage, team member)
  • If your space is very large, have you provided a ‘We need help!' sign on a pole for each table to summon help without needing to shout?
  • Has the microphone been sanitised?
  • Have enough microphones been set up so nobody needs to share them?
  • Have you provided a container for each household to put their equipment in at the end?
  • Have you provided a rubbish bag for each household to clear all their waste into and tie up securely?
  • If you're playing background music, is just one person touching the equipment? Are they non-singalong tunes?


  • Is the Outside Welcomer in place outside the door in good time?
  • Has the Inside Welcomer ensured every person has sanitised their hands as they come in and explained the basic rules while hands are being sanitised?
  • Has the Inside Welcomer asked everyone to wear a face covering unless they have a medical exemption or are under the age of 5?
  • Is the Host in place to guide each household to their table?


  • Is the Runner alert to the needs of the households (such as craft items needed)?
  • Is the Loomeister alert to when the toilet/basin have been used?
  • Is the Shepherd prepared to deal with love, humour and uncompromising firmness with anyone breaking the rules?
  • Is the Celebration leader aware that there must be no moving, passing of objects, singing, calling or whispering from one group to another during the Celebration?


  • Have you explained to each household that they should leave their containers and rubbish on their table?
  • Have you prepared a system for households to leave one by one to avoid congestion?

Clearing up

  • Have you planned to store the containers of used equipment for 72 hours before you re-use the equipment or sort out the containers? Note that equipment should be cleaned and disinfected even after 72 hours.
  • Have you cleaned and sanitised each table and chair or followed the instructions of your Kirk Session for clearing up?
  • Has the Loomeister sanitised the toilet and handwashing facilities or followed the instructions of your Kirk Session?
  • During clear-up, when the team is relaxing, is the Shepherd still enforcingphysical distancing?
  • Have you made clear to everyone who has worked so hard that you still can't give each other a hug?

Role descriptions with regard to being Covid-secure

Each team member should take on only one role.

Leader: The ‘go-to'person

  • Take every measure to self-protect and protect others
  • Consult with Minister and Kirk Session over any procedures or protocols required to be implemented for Messy Church to operate safely
  • Self-check for coronavirus symptoms before the Messy Church
  • Coordinate the Messy Church from preparation through to clearing up
  • Be ultimately responsible for making sure all the safety measures are taken
  • Give the safety briefing


  • Take every measure to self-protect and protect others
  • Self-check for coronavirus symptoms before the Messy Church
  • Keep the toilet and handwashing facilities sanitised
  • Keep cleaning products in a safe place
  • Sanitise facilities before the start, between each use and at the end

Welcomer (outside)

  • Take every measure to self-protect and protect others
  • Self-check for coronavirus symptoms before the Messy Church
  • Be outside the door before the Messy Church begins
  • Ensure people arriving maintain safe physical distancing
  • Check the track and trace contact details are correct
  • Remind people of the basic safety procedures
  • Keep people outside until it's safe for them to move inside
  • Remain outside until the last household has arrived

Welcomer (inside)

  • Take every measure to self-protect and protect others
  • Self-check for coronavirus symptoms before the Messy Church
  • Be at the door until all households have arrived
  • Be responsible for each person sanitising their hands as they enter
  • Remind each person to wear a face covering unless they have a medical exemption or are under the age of 5
  • Remind people of the basic safety procedures
  • Pass the household group on to the Host


  • Take every measure to self-protect and protect others
  • Self-check for coronavirus symptoms before the Messy Church
  • Take the household to their designated space
  • Show them the instructions and materials and invite them to begin while people are coming in
  • Explain that if they are missing anything or need to move from that space, to summon the Runner
  • Throughout, work with the Shepherd to ensure distancing is maintained


  • Take every measure to self-protect and protect others
  • Self-check for coronavirus symptoms before the Messy Church
  • Be alert to watch for any household who need help
  • Respond to requests for help appropriately and apply to Leader if in doubt


  • Take every measure to self-protect and protect others
  • Self-check for coronavirus symptoms before the Messy Church
  • Be involved in creating robust contingency plans for dealing with infringements of rules
  • Responsible for reacting with grace, humour and firmness to any person on the point of breaking the rules or actually breaking them
  • Knowing the households expected, being alert to any likely flashpoints
  • Preventing or pre-empting any rule-breaking wherever possible
  • Have a suitably amusing distancing pole (a tickling stick/ shepherd's crook/ pool noodle or similar) to keep people apart in a fun way without inviting them to push boundaries

Celebration leader

  • Take every measure to self-protect and protect others
  • Self-check for coronavirus symptoms before the Messy Church
  • Once everyone is seated, give a short welcome, prayer, safety reminder and introduction to the story
  • Play suitable (non-singalong) ambient music during the opening part of Messy Church if required
  • Be the sole operator of laptop, projector, sound equipment and other technical equipment
  • Lead the Celebration in such a way that keeps people distanced

Sample risk assessment

A sample risk assessment document is available for you to download, adapt and use while planning your Messy Church session.

Every blessing, as you prayerfully work out how best to serve the households in your community.

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Messy Church® is a registered trade mark of

The Bible Reading Fellowship, a Registered Charity.

Messy Church is part of The Bible Reading Fellowship (BRF), a Registered Charity.