I originally posted this blog on Monday. This blog generated some interesting comments.
As I re-read it I decided to give it a little more work. I also wanted to make sure that I didn’t misrepresent the atmosphere I’ve encountered at Christ’s Church and the experience I had last Sunday.
My opinion of large churches has changed since I started serving with one. Before I started working here I would have had to have been convinced that a church this size could have the impact locally that this church is having. Mistakenly, before I actually started working at one, I thought that mega-churches tended towards self-centeredness. I was completely wrong (at least about Christ’s Church). I have been blown away by the heart this church has for this community and the world.
As I write this there are almost 300 brand new bikes in our atrium and thousands and thousands of brand new presents filling every seat in every pew of the auditorium because of Christ’s Church’s Christmas for Kids outreach program (I’ll write more of this at a later date). The people in this congregation and the leadership of this church have invested tens of thousands of dollars just in this program alone. On Saturday morning over 1,500 children and senior citizens around Jacksonville will receive gifts that were purchased by the members of Christ’s Church . . . and I’m not talking about one gift for each person. These people submit Christmas lists with many items and–from what I’ve been told–most of the people get everything they ask for.
But I digress . . .
All of that to say, this church is passionately devoted to outreach, so please read my comments with that in mind.
Here’s what my wife and I experienced last Sunday . . . and I bet, if you’re honest, it might not be too different from what happens occasionally in your church, too.
My wife and I had an interesting experience yesterday.
We went through the new members’ class at church at 9 a.m. yesterday. It ran long, so we didn’t get into the 10:30 service until about 10:45.
We walked into the room and it looked completely full. It wasn’t–there was a lot of space in the middle of most of the rows–but every end of every pew was occupied.
I usually sit up front (if not on the front row) and–like every church in the world–there was space on the front row, but my wife and I didn’t want to make a seen by traipsing what felt like 100 yards to the front of the auditorium, so we stood in the entrance looking for an opening in any pew large enough for two people and on an end so we wouldn’t have to climb over a bunch of people.
There was no place on the lower level for my wife and I to conveniently and quickly sit down without making a conspicuous entrance, so we started looking in the balcony, which required us to step way out of the tunnel and look back and up into the faces of every person in the balcony.
At first glance the balcony looked full, too, but upon further review we found a couple of spots on the end of an aisle in the balcony.
We quietly left the tunnel and began walking up the stairs to the empty seats but those seats were being saved for two of the ushers.
“No problem,” we said.
Another woman, on the same row, spoke up and offered the seat next to her, so my wife slipped past the nice woman and squeezed into a slot further down the pew.
Noticing there was no place for me to sit amongst all of the women I–like a plane trying to land on a busy runway–circled back and went back to the ground level for another look.
After some time I noticed another empty seat about 8 rows above where my wife was sitting, but upon arriving at the pew I noticed a Bible in the obvious “this seat is being saved” position. Aware that the offering special was wrapping up and the sermon was about to begin and feeling a little desperate and also noticing that there was plenty of room for skinny-ole-me and the owner of the abandoned Bible, I took it upon myself to slide the Bible over and sit down.
It was high. I’d never sat this high in the auditorium before. I felt the need for oxygen, binoculars, a foam finger, and a box of popcorn.
I saw things from a whole new perspective.
May I be honest with you? I sat and stewed as I looked around the room and realized that there was plenty of room for all of the late-comers, but it was trapped between all of the “pew-ends” . . . you know . . . those people positioned at the end of the pew so that they can be the first ones out in case of an emergency or a really long sermon.
But, if I’m being really honest with you, my wife and I were eager to join them in their cause, but on another row, because we had an important lunch appointment and four kids to get from the other building and about 15 minutes to get all of that done, so we wanted to be able to leave quickly.
But, from the balcony, I was seeing things from a whole new perspective: I was seeing our services through the eyes of the late and lost.
As I said. . . I love this Church. It’s full of loving and considerate people. This church and this church’s leadership have a heart–and a plan–to reach lost people for Christ, but this church–like every other church I’ve been a part of–has some issues that need some attention. That being said . . . if yesterday had been my first visit to Christ’s Church, I probably would not be coming back.
It was an uncomfortable, but preventable experience. No one should have this experience in Christ’s Church or your church. I think it’s easier to fix than you might suspect.
I am going to offer the following solutions to our leadership team this week. Maybe some of these solutions will be helpful to you and your congregation.
- Mobilize the Immobile Membership: We need to communicate to our members that we expect them to move and make room for any and all late-comers. Our comfort is not the priority. We must create an expectation that all of our members will move, or even stand, if that’s what it takes to make room one more guest. People must be prepared to slide in and slide down without being asked to do so. Anyone who’s ever been to Walt Disney World knows the routine when you enter any theater. The cast member on the microphone will say, “Please move completely across the row to your left making room for as many people as possible to to enter the theater. Please don’t stop in the middle of the row. Keep moving to your left, so everyone will have a chance to enjoy the show.” Invariably a family, or couple, will plop down on the near end or in the middle seats of the row and expect everyone to climb over them so they can have the best seats, compelling the cast member to repeat the announcement requesting everyone to not stop in the middle of the rows. We must always be willing to make room for anyone and everyone who has come to connect with God and his people.
- Ask the Ushers to “Ush”: We have excellent ushers who do a great job before and a few minutes after the service starts, but they are also responsible for serving, so they aren’t free to “ush” throughout the entire service. I think we need to assign at least one usher at each entrance to be available to “ush” throughout the entire service to direct late-comers to available seating, or to compel one of the “pew-ends” to slide over and make room.
- Guest-Seating: Most churches have (or should have) parking spaces designated for first-time guests, but I don’t know of any churches that have seats in the auditorium designated for first-time guests. Maybe the reason is because this is a terrible idea. I don’t know, but I think it could be done in a way that ensures all late-coming guests always have a seat. Guests do not want–and should not be–identified publicly, or put on “the spot” as “guests” before the entire congregation, so this would have to be handled tactfully, but I think we could have a few rows, or maybe an entire section, subtly designated as “Guest Seating.”
- Saving Souls, Not Seats: We need to tune–and turn–the hearts of our core membership to the need of lost people for not just salvation . . . but also for seats! I understand the need to save seats for a spouse who is dropping off kids in the nursery, or parking the car on a rainy day, or serving communion, and I especially understand–and encourage–saving a seat for a guest whom you’ve invited to church, but what I don’t understand is an unwillingness to sacrifice the seat of a Christian loved-one for an hour (every once in a while) if that’s what it takes to make room for a guest to hear the Gospel. We have the potential, through a little sacrifice, to make a great and positive impression. Let’s be realistic . . . it doesn’t happen every week, but when a guests asks if any seat next to us is “saved” we should always be willing to say with a smile, “Yes. For you.” Imagine how good this would make both of you feel.
These are just some thoughts that were generated when I saw our services from a whole new perspective. Next Sunday, you might want to walk in late, sit in the back, and see if you don’t see your services in a whole new way.