Thursday, June 6, 2013

Deck Chairs

Yesterday, I rearranged the chairs in the church sanctuary. Since the second Sunday in the Easter season (the 1st Sunday after Easter), we’d been sitting in a circle with the altar inside the circle. Many people loved this arrangement. An smaller number of people hated it and there were a minority with no [expressed] opinion.

In an effort to be more visitor-oriented for the summer (our biggest visitor season), we moved the chairs back into their neat little rows. I did not put out as many rows as we had previously because we just don’t need that many chairs. We have moveable chairs and fixed pews. I arranged five rows of six chairs each on two sides (60 chairs). We also have four pews on each side, which could easily accommodate 5-6 people each. Let’s say 5. Thus, we easily have seating for 40 people in the pews.

Sixty plus forty is one hundred (100). We have available seating this Sunday for 100 people.

Last Sunday, at our regular service, we had 37 people.


I thought about each of those 37 people as I arranged the chairs yesterday. The circle put us all closer together and made the space seem full and warm. This Sunday, forty people will be spread across seating for 100. The empty seats will be obvious.

And I arranged the chairs.

So frequently I am drawn into conversations about the shrinking church, about lowered attendance, about why people no longer make church a priority.

These are serious questions.

The answers are not really about the style of music or the kind of preaching or the kind of coffee or whether there is childcare.

All of those things are just a different arrangement of the chairs.

The truth is that the people who do regularly attend church (of whatever kind) have to be convinced that what is offered to them, what matters to them, could and would matter to other people. And then they have to act on that thought.

Our desire to see other people experience what we experience in church (if we experience something worth sharing) must be greater than our fear of rejection and failure.

We have to reject, forcefully- with the help of the Spirit, the forces that seditiously whisper the words “inevitable decline”, “too small to matter”, or “too old-fashioned” to oppose God and God's work. 

We can arrange the chairs in all kinds of ways.

But if we believe that the message of Christ ever mattered, then we must move out in faith BECAUSE THE MESSAGE IS AS IMPORTANT NOW AS IT HAS EVER BEEN.

The message is as important now as it has ever been.

If we do not think it is worth sharing… worth conquering our fear… worth sinning boldly for… then it doesn’t matter. 

And it never did.

In that case, I have some chairs for sale. 

1 comment:

Martin Eldred said...

Spot on, Julia. I like the metaphor of arranging chairs and the connection to the key metaphor of futility in the face of decline/sinking.

We focus so much on the "deckchairs" of church and rush around trying to emulate the latest relevancy, but ignore the obvious.

As my mentor, Duane Priebe always reminded us, "Every sermon should be about life and death, heaven and hell or you have nothing to say." Is what we have to share life? I think so. How do we share that with those who seek life? Do we (pastors, laypeople, both) arrange deckchairs in church, in life in general, and neglect to show people the lifeboats? Or help them get in?

I think so.