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The front pew in the sanctuary is closest to the action. It is the best place for seeing what is going on and hearing what is being said from the pulpit. Is the front pew the most coveted seat? Is it the ideal spot for the easily distracted person? Could it be that the front pew is the closest to God?
And yet, in many sanctuaries around the country, the first five (or more) pews are empty week after week. Church-goers are packed together in the back half of the sanctuary like too many people crowding around the perimeter of an elevator.
At first glace, the empty front pews may make it seem like the congregation is disengaged. A visitor to the church might wonder if the pastor spits too much when he/she talks, or chooses volunteers from the front to come up and help read Scripture. The empty front pews might seem off-putting to those seeing it for the first time, but there are very good reasons to avoid the front few rows of the sanctuary.
1. Jesus said the first will be last, and the last will be first. Why not practice this posture of humility every Sunday by choosing the seat closest to the exit?
2. If Jesus is the Gate, he could use a few gatekeepers. The usher handing out bulletins is an excellent first-responder in the event that someone shows up for church who really doesn’t belong there. But, in the event that the usher is busy or could use some help turning people away, having reliable people sitting nearby could be helpful.
3. Church services are messy. Bread crumbs during the Lord’s Supper, grape juice (or wine) being poured into a chalice, water splashing during a baptism, all of these things could mess up your crisp, clean Sunday clothes. Sitting at least three rows back provides a nice buffer zone.
4. The closer you sit to the preacher, the more likely you are to get “the look.” You know the look. When the preacher talks about sin and looks right at you, it’s very uncomfortable. It leads to self-reflection, and maybe even life change. If you avoid the front of the sanctuary, you will be less likely to receive “the look,” and less likely to feel uncomfortable and have to consider making a change.
5. When you sit up front, they will know you aren’t singing along. The closer you are to the front of the sanctuary, the more likely it will be for the song leader or praise team to notice you just aren’t that into the songs that morning. The song leader may give you a look – though a very different look than the preacher’s look of conviction – and the extra-wide smile on the song leader’s face will make you feel as though you have to join in and sing along.
6. You can leave without being noticed. There are all kinds of good reasons you might need to leave before the blessing at the end of the service. But, it is really awkward to leave the service when you are sitting up front. In order to avoid the “walk of shame” as you leave early, sitting in a back pew can help with a discreet, early exit.
7. Everyone else sits in the back. Worship services are much more enjoyable when you have someone to talk to – in a hushed, church whisper, of course. And, because everyone else is sitting in the back, if you move up to the front, the rest of the congregation will be staring at the back of your head…for the entire hour.
8. You can catch up on much needed sleep. Let’s face it: church services are early. And, after a long, stressful week, it’s hard to stay awake for the whole hour. If you sit towards the back, no one will notice if you doze off for a minute or two. Besides, even the Apostle Paul had people fall asleep during one of his sermons. It happens to the best of us, but we should still try to keep our snoozing to ourselves.
9. There will already be money in the offering plate when it gets to you. The closer to the back of the sanctuary you sit, the more money will have been placed into the plate by the time it reaches you. When the plate comes your way, no one will even notice if you don’t put anything in.
There are so many compelling reasons to avoid the front few pews in the sanctuary. Go ahead. Sit near the back. There’s no shame, and everyone else will be sitting in the back with you.
Do you sit near the front? If you do, what are your reasons? If you don’t, what reasons do you have for sitting near the back?