I can’t understand people who choose to sit at the back of church meetings. I understand parents with small children who want the option of taking them out or whisking them off to the toilet. But everyone else?
Some people, perhaps, think they are less exposed to the preacher’s gaze. As a preacher I can tell that’s false. You see over the people at the front. It’s the people at the back who you notice.
It’s also more comfortable at the front. You get more leg room and more oxygen.
But here are some better reasons to sit at the front.
You’re a recipient
When you sit towards the back the majority of the congregation are facing away from you. All you see is the back of their heads. When you sit at the front they are facing towards you. When they sing, they sing in your direction. Half the songs we sing are directed towards God. But the other half are directed to one another. We extol God’s glory and grace to one another and exhort one another to worship the triune God. I need that exhortation. And when I sit at the front I get from both two barrels, as it were. There is a wall of noise coming my way which is stirring my affections. If you sit at the back you have all the effort and none of the benefits.
Indeed one of the things I like to do from time to time is to stop singing and listen as if the song is begin sung just for me (which it is – only without the ‘just’). It can be a very powerful moment. All the truth of the song is directed with all the power of the music to my heart. Wham! Of course, we can’t all do it at the same time otherwise no-one would be left singing. But give it a go from time to time.
You’re a participant
Whenever I find myself at the back of a church gathering I feel like I’m hedging my bets. I’m kind of involved, but I’m also detached. I don’t know what comes first for most people – the half-hearted participation or the sitting at the back. But I notice that it’s the people at the back who are more likely to be looking at their phones during the meeting. Certainly for me sitting at the back makes me feel detached. I feel like an observer.
And why would you want that? Speaking for myself, I need to the public preaching of God’s word, corporate acts of confession, affection-stirring singing. I can’t afford to be peripheral to these moments because that makes them peripheral to my life.
Of course we can’t all sit at the front. But there should be a scramble for the front in our churches.
Leave space for visitors
There’s a final missional reason for sitting at the front. Unbelievers often only want to be observers of our meetings. They feel uncomfortable participating. Partly that’s for some practical reasons. They may not know the songs. They may worry about standing or sitting at the wrong moment so they want to follow everyone else. Partly it’s for spiritual reasons. The sentiments we express are alien to them. But we can and should encourage them to observe the Christian community (as Paul anticipates in 1 Corinthians 14). And one of the ways we can do that is by leaving space for them to sit at the back (as well as families with small children).
Imagine the late-coming unbeliever who is forced to sit near the front. It may be they feel so uncomfortable that they don’t return. Is that what you want? Of course not. So sit near the front.