A plea to come forward
June 23, 2014
One of the perennial problems in all churches is that of chairs. When I candidated at the church where I serve I remember being asked on numerous occasions what I thought about the directions of the chairs - should they be in straight rows or a kind of horse shoe? My reply was I couldn't care less, though there were strong opinions on both sides within the congregation. There are also pews of which I'm a fan, in that it's easier for parents with kids to have them at their feet without people noticing but my issue is not what kind of chairs or pews you use. I've heard the arguments about architectural vandalism and all that sort of thing, but my concern is simply the perennial one of where do you sit?
I want to seek to encourage, cajole and even rebuke you to move to the front.
1. Move to the front for the sake of singing - It encourages the singing. If you're all spread out as a congregation it's obviously going to be harder to sing. If you are far from the musicians as a congregation it will be more difficult for them to accompany. Believe it or not, but our singing is an enormous witness to outsiders and particularly the children of the church. You men who stand there like wet fish barely opening your mouths should be ashamed. The number of preachers I hear bang on about the regulative principle and then you see them sing with all the enthusiasm of going for root canal surgery (don't give me that about deep joy!) Open your mouths and sound forth his praise. Make a joyful noise to the Lord! Don't be namby pamby about not liking certain tunes; just throw yourself into it. If you move more towards the front then the singing will sound better. Come forward.
2. Move to the front for the sake of outsiders - You've been praying for your friends to come to church. You've had good opportunities with them and have finally plucked up the courage to invite them to church. You've waited for them outside but they've not shown. You go in to take your seat, then they arrive unnoticed by you just as the hymn before the sermon is ending. They don't know whether to come in but the greeter does a good job in convincing them. They thought the service started at 11 not 10.30 but anyway they are here now. The problem is the only seats that are left are in the first 3 rows. The greeter does their best and walks them to the front but it's a bit obvious because the hymn before the sermon has now finished and everyone is sat down and the preacher is into his introduction. The seats are in the middle of the row and both ends are filled up with people. As the new person, who has never been in church before, moves past these regulars apologising quietly, she doesn't notice the drink of water that someone's left on the floor and accidentally kicks it over. The ensuing melee means that Bibles are dropped and the child with a handful of coloured pencils suddenly drops the whole lot complete with clipboard. The friend you've been praying for finally sits down. Her face is a shade of beetroot and as she sits there praying nothing else goes wrong, she vows never, ever to come to church again, unless someone dies or gets married. From your seat at the back of the church you think to yourself: Isn't it great she's here!
Lots of outsiders who come for the first time want to be inconspicuous and the best way to do that and for them to feel comfortable is by allowing them to sit at the back. Come forward.
3. Move to the front for the sake of the children - Families are different. Some like to sit at the front but most families, particularly with young children and toddlers, like to be at the back. They can be in and out without disturbing the rest of the congregation. I'm a firm believer in children being part of the church but to make it easier leaving room at the back is a massive help to them and their parents. As a preacher I don't find children really distract me. Adults on the other hand are a different issue. Come forward.
4. Move to the front for the sake of the preacher - Somebody recently defined preaching to me as a sustained monologue to a group of people. Isn't that horrific? As minimalist definitions go it's diabolical. Preaching is always, always dialogical. The faces of people talk. There are people praying for you while you speak. Most preachers can tell when they are not being understood and so need to state something more clearly. The smiles and nods and appreciative noises people make are important. The children who look at their parents and smile and their mother or father nods at them is a massive encouragement whilst you're preaching, or the time they look up at you with utter bewilderment - there is a dialogue going on between preacher and people. The person whose eyes shut and head drops, you know you need to raise your voice or at least make a banging noise. If you're at the back and your preacher's eyesight is not great like mine, they just look like lemmings. You could be asleep and I wouldn't know because I can't see. So MOVE TO THE FRONT!!! COME FORWARD!!!
In church life there is nothing so powerful as an anecdote, so let me finish with one.......
I was once at a church in South Wales during August and most of the congregation were away. The back 2 rows were full and then there were, maybe, 5 of us near the front. The preacher announced the first hymn and said 'During this hymn I wonder if you'd be willing to move forward as we're so few in number.' He said it politely and I assumed they'd do the decent thing. We sang the hymn and no one moved; to which the preacher, who wasn't having a happy time in the congregation, said unforgettably 'I moved from a church where I was living in a 4 bedroomed house overlooking the sea to that terrible bungalow over there and you can't even be bothered to move two rows forward.' Let us pray.....
Within 12 months he'd resigned and moved to another church.
MOVE TO THE FRONT, Come forward