Butts in Seats

by New Church Starts

by Christian Coon Lead Pastor of Urban Village Church

(Adopted from Coon's own blog at Crammed with Heaven).

I felt really good about the sermon I preached last Sunday and had a couple of very heartfelt compliments from people about it. After worship, there was the potential for a long, lazy Sunday afternoon at home and I haven’t had one of those in ages. Yet I spent some of the afternoon in a funk. Why? Because of a text from my colleague Trey Hall, who told me that there weren’t a ton of people at our worship at our Downtown location.

For those who don’t know, Urban Village has three different worship sites. Two gather in different locations on Sunday mornings and Trey and I essentially go back and forth between them. The other site worships Sunday nights. Yesterday I was at our Andersonville location (on the north side of Chicago) and Trey was at our Downtown/South Loop location. I had to text Trey about another matter and mentioned that worship went well in Andersonville and he texted the news that attendance was light at the Downtown site.

This kind of thing happens all the time in churches, new and old. There are some Sundays when, for whatever reason, the people just don’t show up. Because I’ve been pastoring for 13 years, I know this. I know there are rhythms and patterns and sometimes there are explanations and other times, there aren’t. Despite my knowing this, however, it still bothers me, even though I know it shouldn’t.

What exacerbates this is the fact that this is a new church and church planters know how important “butts in seats” are. Yes, I know that when two or three are gathered in Jesus’ name, then he is present, but two or three usually don’t make a new church. You need people. You need critical mass. As we approach our 2-year birthday of worshiping, most people would see how we’ve done and say, well done! Praise God!

Yet I can’t shake the feeling of disappointment when people don’t show up. It’s a little like being spurned after having been on a few dates. Is it me? Is it something I’ve done? The problem with that comparison is that in my previous dating life, I was prone to come on too strong too fast, which would either get me into a serious relationship way too quickly or would freak the girl out. So, if a person stops coming to church, my urge is to fix it. Send a text. Send an email. Connect on Facebook. Do whatever it takes to get them to come back.

There are many things wrong with this way of doing things, including the fact that I totally shut the Holy Spirit out of this process. I pray that I can get to a point where I sometimes was at my previous church. I would take just a few minutes before worship started and be silent. I would imagine that the next hour of worship would just be myself and God. If anyone would want to join us, then that would be an joyful surprise. This little exercise did wonders for perspective and instilling a sense of gratitude. Both of things have been missing lately for me. Perhaps a Lenten practice I need to relearn.

How does we balance the pressure to get "critical mass" within a new worship community with the need to work on the Holy Spirit's clock? What are some of the ways your church has addressed low attendance?

Adopted from Christian Coon's blog "Butts in Seats" on his site Crammed with Heaven.