Our History - The Message | UK Christian Charity

Our History

The Message Trust is a worldwide movement passionately sharing the love of Jesus Christ in words and actions with the hardest-to-reach young people and communities.

You’ll find us doing this through creative mission, schools work, community transformation projects like the Community Grocery and Eden, as well as Christ-centred enterprise. Whilst also equipping evangelists across the globe through Advance Groups.

For 30 years The Message has been sharing the love of Jesus with young people in word and deed. From Andy Hawthorne receiving a vision from God in 1988 to share the gospel with people across Manchester in a city-wide festival, our work has grown but our heart has remained the same – to see lives and communities transformed through the gospel.

Today we’re an international ministry sharing the good news of Jesus in schools, communities and prisons across the globe. Whether young people meet our team in a school lesson, on a bus, at a youth group, in a community or at a gig, we want them to discover the love and hope Jesus offers them for themselves, and for them to become lifelong disciples of Christ.

From the day he gave the vision for Message ’88 to today, Isaiah 43:18-21 and its call to the church is at the heart of everything we do:

‘Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. The wild animals honour me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.’

Our Beginnings

Back in 1988, having discovered how little the young men employed in their clothes factory knew about Jesus, Andy Hawthorne, our founder and CEO, and his brother and business partner Simon had a vision to do something to change this and the idea for Message ’88 was born.

Message ’88 was a massive faith venture, involving the most credible bands, theatre companies and special guests of the time and was seen as a breakthrough moment for the church in Manchester. Over 300 missions were run in the build-up to the event and the Apollo was packed for five nights with an estimated 20,000 young people hearing the gospel message.

Having run a second mission in 1989, Andy Hawthorne and Mark Pennells (a member of one of the bands) formed ‘Message to Schools’ with the sole aim of taking the gospel to young people in schools through pop and dance music.

Creative Mission Begins

In 1991, our schools work began in Cheadle Hulme High School, with a week of lessons, assemblies and lunchtime meetings. At the end of the evening 39 spiritually hungry young people decided to follow Christ. And that night a ministry was born.

Message to Schools launched as a duo, with pop performances from Mark Pennells followed by gospel messages from Andy Hawthorne. Singers Elaine Hanley and Lorraine Williams and dancers from local youth groups were the first line-up of what was dubbed the World Wide Message Tribe.

The band’s sound fitted right into the culture of the time proving instantly popular with young people. Despite their popularity growing and the band receiving mainstream attention, radio play and chart hits, especially in the United States, they never strayed from their core mission – to share the gospel in schools and serve the church in its mission.

Over the following years, the World Wide Message Tribe (later shortened to The Tribe) toured the United States, the UK and Europe (all in school summer holidays), performing face-to-face to over a million young people and selling hundreds of thousands of albums.

In 2004, after several line-up changes – and many more changes of outfit – The Tribe felt that God was leading them in different directions and the band stopped performing together. But Creative Mission continues to be at the heart of The Message and a key part of what we do today.

BrightLine, SoulBox, Amongst Wolves, OTC  and Vital Signs, together with several non-musical creative teams – sex and relationships team Respect ME and disability-engagement team Enable – go into schools day in, day out sharing the good news of Jesus with young people.

Associated mission bands have also developed under the wings of The Message including LZ7 and Twelve24 (now known as Social Beingz) who continue to produce music and take the gospel Ito young people across the UK and the globe.

Eden: Transforming Communities

Five years after the first Message to Schools mission week, God prompted The Message to start thinking more widely about its work with young people.  

One schools week took us to Benchill, Wythenshawe, which at the time was the most deprived neighbourhood in the UK. At the Friday night concert over 100 local young people chose to give their lives to Christ. But what surprised the local church was how many of them came along to next Sunday’s service – and how disruptive they were! 

Whilst doing all we and the church could to bring these baby Christians, with all their issues and challenges, to full maturity it was hard and over the next few months many of them fell right back into their old destructive lifestyles. It was absolutely gutting. There had to be a better way than this. 

Andy and the team began to have a vision to see Christians moving into areas like Benchill to live and work, supporting local churches particularly to reach young people. This bold initiative was named Eden, and the first Eden partnership was launched in 1997 in Benchill. 

Thanks to a partnership with Soul Survivor, a large number of enthusiastic (and mostly young) volunteers applied to join Eden, resulting in several new Eden projects in some of the toughest areas and estates of Manchester. Others followed and word spread about this innovative and courageous mission adventure. 

During Eden’s first decade, over 300 people joined teams, making it one of the largest missionary-sending movements in the UK for over one hundred years. One of the most memorable stories of recruitment came from 73-year-old grandmother Liza Fawcett, who in 2002 chose to relocate from Chorleywood, Hertfordshire, at the time the richest council ward in England, to Harpurhey, at that time the poorest. 

Around ten years after the first Eden, God began to open doors for Eden outside of Manchester and the Eden Network was born. So far over 70 teams have been launched in some of the neediest neighbourhoods in the UK and overseas. 

To support the early Eden teams’ work and to pioneer new partnerships with churches, we converted a double-decker bus into a mobile youth centre. Fitted out with state-of-the-art technology, games machines and more, the Eden Bus (now called the Message Bus) was quickly in demand and gives us a fantastic way in which to take the gospel to young people where they are. 

Today we have five buses working across the UK with young people and churches. 

Words and Actions

Key to The Message is that our ministry is characterised by both social justice and unashamed gospel proclamation. In other words, we seek to bring the kingdom of God in both seen and unseen ways. 

In 2000, The Message took this to the next level through Message 2000. The ambitious city-wide youth mission saw around 10,000 young Christians give up part of their summer holidays to volunteer on social, environmental and crime reduction projects across Manchester. The project once again saw the church across the city and was hailed as a massive success by the police and many others. 

In Swinton Valley there were no recorded incidents of crime during the 10 days of work and police have reported a sustained reduction in crime. Message 2000 acted as a springboard for new Eden projects which went on to bless these local communities for years to come. 

In 2003, we went again this time partnering with the Luis Palau Evangelistic Association, to put on Festival:Manchester, another week-long city-wide venture. Over 5,000 young people got involved in 317 local community projects, many in association with the Greater Manchester Police. Around 55,000 people attended the open-air festival that took place in Heaton Park the following weekend. 

In Prisons And Enterprise

Since 2004, The Message have been working with young offenders in prisons reaching out to the young people there and sharing the love of Jesus with them.  

Today our prisons team work across the UK. Their work spans first-contact detached work on the prison wings, Alpha and discipleship courses in association with prison chaplaincies right through to running Peacemaker courses and offering mentoring and resettlement support to those they work with. 

As we approached our twentieth anniversary, God opened up to us a whole new area of ministry. 

Every year, hundreds of men and women were finding new life in Christ through our prisons work. However, in too many cases vulnerable young men and women were leaving prison with little or no support, no job and in some cases no safe place to live. Too often new believers were ending up back in their old criminal lifestyles. 

Something new was needed: a combination of a supportive, mentoring community, decent housing and a way of providing training and work for those who had often fallen out of the education system at a young age. A vision was cast for a partnership between local churches, Eden teams, local housing providers and a new unique business and training hub, specifically for young men and women from disadvantaged communities and those leaving custody. 

After the miraculous acquisition of the property next to our HQ in Sharston, work began on developing the Message Enterprise Centre in 2012. Opened in January 2013 by the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, Sir Peter Fahy, the Centre now offers training and jobs in one of our nine social enterprises. 

If we can actually meet those young men and women in prison and start putting together a pathway for them so that when they come out – particularly through a place like this where we can start getting them into a trade, getting them to set up a small business – it’s a massive opportunity for them to transform their lives and a massive saving for society in general.

Sir Peter Fahy

Taking The Gospel Higher

Evangelism has always been at our core of The Message’s DNA, but in 2015 God gave us a new vision for bold gospel proclamation and the Higher Tour took to the road. 

At its heart, Higher is all about disciples not just decisions, and partnering with the local church is key in this. We want young people to see having heard the gospel become lifelong disciples who are supported and encouraged as they start their journey of faith alongside the local church.  

The Higher Tour  

The Higher Tour begins in schools. Our mission teams take lessons and assemblies sharing their faith. Following the schools days we hold high-energy evangelistic gigs for the young people. As well as cutting-edge music each of the young people at the gigs hears a clear presentation of the gospel and has an opportunity to respond and be connected to a church. 

But Higher doesn’t stop there. Our goal is that they would be quickly connected with a youth worker from one of our partner churches, taking them in groups through cutting-edge follow-up resources that explore the basics of the Christian faith and what a Higher Life can look like. 

What started in Manchester in 2016 has spread across the UK with tours held in Jersey to Yorkshire and South Wales to Cambridge.  

In 2020, we planned to take the Higher Tour to the next level, running 14 tours and sharing the gospel with around 200,000 young people. However, as the coronavirus pandemic hit the UK and the country shut down, we decided to take our tour online in partnership with local churches to reach young people the length and breadth of the nation. Combining brand new online lessons tackling topics from resilience to safety online, with high energy online gigs and small discipleship groups, we were able to share the gospel and disciple hundreds of young people across the UK as they started their faith journey.

The Message Grows Internationally

As doors have opened to share the gospel we have launched hubs across the UK, making it possible for us to reach more young people than ever before. But as our work at home grew, around the world others were catching the vision too. 

In March 2014, we launched our first international hub, Message South Africa. Beginning with prisons ministry around Cape Town and an Eden team in the Salt River neighbourhood, the team has expanded its reach across South Africa as God opens the doors. We now have three Eden teams, a suite of enterprises employing ex-offenders, an Oaks house in Cape Town, Respect ME running in schools and bands taking lessons and assemblies. 2019 saw Message South Africa run their first-ever Higher Tour! 

2016 saw the launch of our work in Vancouver, Canada with a flagship Eden team in the challenging environment of Downtown Eastside. And in 2017 our work spread to Germany where we’ve got Creative Mission teams and Eden teams reaching out to young people. 

Training and equipping others 

We’re passionate about equipping and empowering people to share the gospel and develop the call of the evangelist and want to invest in this. Our Message Academy and Advance Groups do just this. 

In 2001, we launched the Message Academy (formerly Genetik) – a gap year for young evangelists aged 18-25 to come and be equipped and used in cutting-edge missions. Spending a year at The Message they receive Bible teaching and practical experience in sharing their faith with young people. To date over 400 young people have been part of The Academy, with all being commissioned into the new missions and initiatives God has planned for them. 

Alongside this we want evangelists across the globe to be sharpened and encouraged through the Advance Network.  

In 2016, Andy Hawthorne began meeting regularly with 12 other evangelists to encourage one another in their ministry. Andy’s group members each established their own and with this began the Advance Groups movement. Over the years, small groups of men and women have regularly met to press into God and the calling to share the gospel in every opportunity.

In 2017, The Message became a founding partner of Advance 2020 – a year of coordinated mission across the UK and beyond. Along with the Church of England, Evangelical Alliance, Hope, the Luis Palau Association and the Redeemed Christian Church of God, The Message is leading the way in gathering key ministries and denominations together to make a significant kingdom impact. Despite the coronavirus pandemic, we launched over 400 groups in 13 new nations in our online Global Advance Day where we commissioned men and women across the world who are passionate about answering God’s call to live as an evangelist!

Today over 1400 groups meet in 65 countries across the globe to be equipped, encouraged and released, and we have also produced a number of resources to support people in their evangelism including podcasts, books, and guides in multiple languages. Find out more here.

Message Live

In 2020 when the country was in lockdown, we were determined to seize new opportunities to reach the young people in our nation with challenging, equipping and encouraging teaching and resources – so Message Live was born! Every day of the week, we release brand new content for all ages including free PSHE schools lessons, fresh teaching live streamed several times a week from Message HQ, videos to equip you in your evangelism and so much more. We have seen thousands of people engage with this material and we are so encouraged to see how many people are responding to the gospel despite the global pandemic.

Bringing #FoodForAll

When the announcement came in March 2020 that the UK had to lockdown, we started to think about how we could support the poor and vulnerable in our communities who had been hit hardest by the financial impact of Covid-19 – and we came up with the idea to run a Community Grocery.

Community Groceries are all about bridging the gap between supermarkets and foodbanks. Using surplus food fresh from local supermarkets, our groceries make the cost of the weekly shop more affordable. Members can come and shop for just £5 – saving up to £20 per shop – getting all the food they need for their family.

But it’s about more than food, We also provide members with free wrap-around support and access to courses too. Courses include debt management support through CAP, cooking lessons, investigating Christianity courses and Alpha courses, plus many more.

Our first store opened in Sharston in September 2020, and was quickly helping almost 1,000 local residents with their shopping. Since then, we’ve opened 21 more stores across the country!