Over the past several months, I have been able to visit various church services and listen to numerous sermons. I have heard great messages and some that needed work, but I always appreciated the word that went forth. For my experiment I intentionally sat in the back of the church or at an angle. I did this to get an idea of what the people who sit in these sections experience during a worship service. Needless to say, I experienced a totally different feeling than when I sat in my usual front row seat. Here are three things I learned sitting in the back of the church:
The Folks In Front Can Fool You. I have seen people in the first two rows of a church respond to the preacher while the rest of the church sits with no response. I have to be honest, there were a few times the response from the front rows was far better than the message yet the preacher left out feeling as if he “killed it” that day. The danger of this is the front rows hold the church leaders, seasoned members, and folks who are probably going to be supportive no matter who’s preaching or what is being said. Beware of measuring the sermon’s impact by the front row’s response. The people in the front may be more engaged because they know the preacher can see and hear them. It is similar to a classroom. You will either have the church “nerds” who love everything that is said or you will have the trouble makers who may doze off just to get under your skin.
Angles Matter. Sitting in the back of the church is an experience in itself, but add onto this dealing with structural or seating obstructions and the experience can be downright frustrating. One service I attended, I felt as if I watched television because due to the angle of my seat, I literally could not see the preacher except on the screen. The size of the congregation did not matter either. At one smaller church, I sat in the middle section. It felt as if the the pastor was looking directly at me. Imagine how it felt when he looked to me for a response and called out, “some of y’all aren’t saying ‘amen'”. Schedule a review of your seating layout and survey the member’s congregational experience. There may be people in your congregation who are hiding in the corners or invisible as they sit in certain sections of the church.
The People In the Back Are Awesome. The biggest mistake we can make in reading this is to say “just get there earlier for a better seat”. Though that may be generally true, I saw young families with children and people with disabilities who didn’t want to inconvenience others. I saw couples who were visibly upset with each other. I saw women with questionable attire, and men checking out the women with questionable attire. In the back of the church, I saw the church. The people who needed the most attention, the babes in Christ, the broken and hurting, the easily-distracted, social media generation tend to sit in the back.Try something different. Instead of having Ministers on the front row or on the stage, set up a rotating schedule that places them in various places around the sanctuary including the back. Finally, I am reminded that years ago, I too used to sit in the back of the church. It wasn’t until the men of the church invited me to sit with them near the front that I made my way up close. I wonder how many future ministry leaders are sitting in the back of your church waiting for someone to notice them?
Anthony C. Cobbs