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The People And The Pews

How comfortable should we be in church? What makes a service too formal or too casual? How easy should it be for visitors to attend and understand what is going on? Our ideas and attitudes about worship often reflect so much of what we think about God and what he values. Many churches in recent years have moved towards a more informal worship style. Not everyone thinks this is a good idea. For one church in England, it’s possible to get too comfortable and casual.

A church in Warwickshire wanted to replace its old, hard wooden pews with something a little softer. In particular, there was a desire for some kind of padded seating which would be more comfortable for parishioners and visitors. But the Diocese that oversees that particular congregation rejected the idea. Padded seats were, in their view, “overly casual and incompatible with a house of God.”

The church building is quite old and two preservation societies intervened in the case to say that comfortable seats were ‘unworthy’ of the building. The Diocese sees part of its role as a steward of some of Warwickshire and Coventry’s finest historic buildings. It would appear that the needs of the building come before the needs of the congregants.

Some members of the congregation are understandably upset. For them, coming to a place of worship shouldn’t bring about discomfort. They believe that it is possible to honor the historic nature of the building while not having to bring their own cushion to the service.

I’m glad that historic buildings are being preserved, but I can’t help but wonder if the priorities are out of line. Church isn’t about the building, it’s about the people. Recent statistics indicate that only about 1.5% of the population attends a service at the Church of England (Anglican) each week. There has been an increasing decline in church attendance all over Britain in the last thirty years. Comfortable seating isn’t going to fix that problem. This situation, however, demonstrates what happens when leaders focus on the wrong things.

The gospel message is unchanging. It might be helpful to remember that Jesus shared it with sinners as he reclined at dinner functions in ancient Palestine. Yes, we can go overboard and become disrespectful in our worship. But more often than not, we should be thinking about how we can get more people into church rather than how to preserve the shine on the floor. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21) The treasure in every church is the people and not the pews. We need to make sure that everyone understands that.

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