This morning, while drinking my coffee and reading my morning dose of Tim Challies daily “A La Carte,” I came across an article written by pastor and author Tim Chester called “Why I Sit at the Front.” If you have some time, please read it. While I agree with most of his defense as to why the congregation, if possible, should sit towards the front during Sunday worship service, I am going to give my case as to why our family chooses to sit in the back.
When our family first started attending our church we had a nine-month-old baby, so it was obvious that we needed to sit in, what our pastor calls “the peanut gallery.” As our family grew, we stayed in the back out of courtesy towards our brothers and sisters as to not distract them with all the “pew wrestling” we were doing with four children. Now that our kids are older, it only makes sense we start making our way up front, right? No. We have chosen to stay back for two reasons that we feel are missional:
1. To help other struggling parents or single moms.
I have never been a single parent, but because my husband is an elder and oversees the sound and video ministry, I am practically a single mom on Sunday. There was a time that our church didn't offer children's church due to lack of workers, so the kids had to sit with us. Although this wasn't a bad thing, it does raise some struggles for parents. One of the most meaningful memories during those hard times were the sacrificial, older women that would sit near me and help me with my children. Their reasoning was that I needed help (it was obvious) and they wanted to make sure that I was being spiritually fed by the sermon.
If you are a mom to young children you know firsthand that you don't get much time in the Word at home. Maybe you don't get much out of the sermon because your time is spent keeping a little one quiet. My sisters in Christ were laying aside their own preference for my sake. This example was so profound and selfless to me! We live in a culture that wants to be served, but these women followed the example of Christ by dying to themselves. My desire is to do the same and make the most of every opportunity the Lord may give me with other women.
2. To catch visitors before they run out the door.
We attend a small, rural church in Western New York, so we don't see a huge influx of visitors each week, but when we do, they all seem to gravitate towards the back of the church. I think this is the norm in most churches.. While I agree with Tim Chester that we want to leave the back open to visitors, the problem with that idea is we don't get to interact with them. Visitors, especially the unchurched, don't normally stick around. I love people watching and observing their quirky patterns and one thing I have noticed is visitors normally run for the door the moment the preacher is finished in his closing prayer. You practically need to jump over the pew so you can greet them!
This is something those in the front cannot do! On various occasions, I have had conversations like this one with my lady friends: “ Have you met the Smith family yet? They have attended twice so far and they seem so nice.” Most of the time their reply is “I've never seen them because I sit up front.” Our desire is that visitors feel welcome. First impressions are huge. Author and teacher Thom Rainer says “ Good interaction with guests is a huge step towards breaking attendance barriers.” Also, interacting with the visitors in the back can launch into hospitality opportunities or an invite to a small group. I'm not saying you don't have opportunities if you prefer to sit up front to meet people, but those of us in the back are some of the first, and maybe the only, people they see.
Wrong reasons for sitting in the back
If you are a member of the peanut gallery so you can can take your morning snooze, or tune out, you may want to consider moving toward the front. Also, if you are an easily distracted person that has no self control when it comes to playing Candy Crush on your phone during the sermon, you may want to move closer to the pulpit so you can hear.
In summary, sitting in the back has its benefits and can lead to some good ministry opportunities. I am constantly having to remind myself that church isn't all about me. Yes, Sunday is a time we gather corporately to worship the Lord and hear the preached Word, but Sunday services give occasion to serve others.