One Sunday morning, I observed the empty first two pews at Church. There were about 40 people in the congregation that morning, all of whom had chosen to sit somewhere else other than the front two pews. It made me wonder why, and it made me examine myself as to why I don’t either.
I did research the way that all good researchers get information - I put two questions out on instagram stories and twitter. Firstly, ‘do you sit on the front row of Church?’ and secondly, ‘why/why not?’. The majority answer to the first question was "no", here are a couple of reasons why not.
Fear of Being Watched
Many people replied “because I feel like everyone’s looking at me”.
If you get your phone out, to write notes or otherwise, everyone can see you. If you fidget, everyone can see you. If you’re not doing the actions to Our God is a Great Big God, or if you’re doing them half-heartedly by not reaching up high at ‘higher than a sky-scraper’ and doing a limbo at ‘and he’s deeper than a submarine’, then everyone can see you. Or worse, if you are going full Doug Horley during the actions, every one can see you. If you fall asleep… everyone can see you! But isn't it interesting that for many people, Church is a place that they feel looked at, judged perhaps, inconspicuous...
Not only did the responders feel like they were being watched by the people behind them, but the preacher too. I can’t speak for everyone who’s ever led from the front, but generally, if I make eye contact with you, I haven’t processed who you are or what you’re doing, with a couple of exceptions. The first exception is that if, for example, the majority of people were on their phone, then my brain would probably clock that. Or if the majority of people were talking to one another, my brain would probably clock that too. The second exception is that there are one or two people I’ll look at in the congregation because I know they’ll be smiling back at me or nodding along. If you’re not one of those few people I look out to for a push of support, and you and other people around you aren't doing anything distracting not doing anything, then I more than likely won’t notice, and I mean that with love. My brain just doesn’t clock it, I’m thinking of what I’m saying next, or the props that I’m using, or that I need to remember to finish with a prayer.
Fear of sitting in the seats of the superior
Many people seem to think that the front row is reserved for the preacher, the leader, the worship team, anyone who steps up onto stage. Many people seem to think that sitting on the front row means sitting in the seats of the superior.
I hate to break it to you, but that’s not how the Kingdom of God works. There is no hierarchy system with God. He doesn’t tell people to form an orderly queue with the people in leadership at the front, and the women and children at the back. Remember, Jesus healed the woman with the haemorrhage, Jairus's daughter (Jairus was a leader of a synagogue) and a Centurions slave.
By sitting at the front, you’re not stealing the seats of the superior, because they aren’t ‘superior’. Sure, they are serving that morning and have a responsibility, spiritually as well as physically, but they are not more worthy of experiencing God than you are - “for all have fallen short on the glory of God” (Romans 3:23) They’re probably just sitting there because it’s easier and faster to get up on stage from the front. Also, I don’t know about the shape and size of your church, but there’s plenty of space for all of the leadership team plus a few families on the front two pews of my church.
Fear of Changing the Culture
As a young person, my friends and I would always sit on the very back row. Nobody else dared to sit there, because it was ’The Youth Row’. You knew you were no longer a child anymore when you got to sit on The Youth Row.
I’ve observed that many Churches have these cultures. For example, the Youth sit on the back row, the students all group together on the third row, the parents with babies sit on the other side of the back row so they can get out of the room easily, but not be confused with The Young People.
In the responses I got, I think there’s a fear in changing the culture of the group you belong to, or the culture of the church. It seems that if your people group - family, child, teen, young adult, student, elderly, single - never sit on the front row, why would you sit somewhere else? Especially in the place that nobody sits?
I often fear raising my hands in worship. It’s silly really, I know that, but it just isn’t the culture of my Church. I would be perfectly comfortable jumping, dancing, raising my arms in worship, but only if everyone else around me is doing the same. I have been known to go right to the back of church when a song that I really feel the Spirit moving in, and I can move around and lift my hands, because I feel more comfortable at the back, where nobody can see me. This links to fear of changing the culture, and fear of being watched. If I won’t raise my hand in worship whilst sitting on the forth row on the side - my usual space - you can bet I won’t be doing it on the first. But perhaps I should. Perhaps it would encourage other people to let go in worship if I were standing at the front with ‘arms high and heart abandoned’.
On a sillier note, I recently showed my young people a comedy video, in which a man names different hand-raises, and now, in worship, they’ll make notes of what action people are doing and tell me “I saw the village people action!”
I understand that many people are far more comfortable sat where they are, not at the front... I am one of those people! Perhaps you have a baby and you’d feel more comfortable knowing that you can dash out if they start crying. But know that there’s space for you at the front if and when you feel comfortable to move. Perhaps you have anxiety. I don’t mean that you, like most of the congregation, are a bit nervous about it, but I mean that just the thought of being at the front makes your palms sweaty and your legs stiff, and breathing faster. But know that there’s space for you at the front if and when you feel comfortable to move there.
As I challenge myself, I challenge you this Sunday to sit on the front row of Church. Face the fear of being watched, because realistically, nobody is. Face the fear of siting in the seats of the superior, because realistically, that’s not how the Kingdom of God works. Face the fear of changing the culture. Drag a friend along with you, sit at the front, raise your hands if that’s how you engage in worship, have a party when Our God is A great Big God is sung, fidget to your hearts content.
If after this blog post you need some counteractive arguments, or some satire, check out this list of 9 reasons not to sit in the front row http://aprilfiet.com/my-thoughts/10-reasons-sit-front-pew-church