PEW SURVEY Pastor's reactions
The Rev. Susan Cox-Johnson of Broadway United Methodist Church in Kansas City, Mo., didn't read too much into the results. She said parents may sit in the back so they can make a fast exit to take a child out of the sanctuary while some people sit in the back if they have to leave early. Older people may sit in the back or on the sides so they can get up if they need to, and some may sit up front to hear better. Likewise, people many arrive late for many reasons, she said. Families with children, especially babies, may run late, and some people come late because they are busy. "But these may be faithful people," she said.
The Rev. Alan Tilson, pastor of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Kansas City, Kan., said one survey result that seemed accurate to him was that Episcopalians are the least likely to arrive early, with 77 percent of them coming just as services start. The majority of his congregants are, he said, "fashionably late or just about on time. People who come early want to know what is going on, or they're extroverts and want a little party before the service." He added: "People in the back pew are one of two kinds. They want a personal, private space or otherwise they may be newcomers and are much more comfortable in the back. People in the front are one of two kinds -- either fearless or want to be seen."
The Rev. Ellis Robinson of First Baptist Church in Kansas City, Kan., wasn't convinced seating choices reflected commitment. "But it may be, for example, that people sit in the back of the church for the same reason they like to sit in the back of the movie theater or other event. Some people like to see who's coming in, and you can't do that from the front."
Available seats also may be a factor, he said. In a crowded sanctuary, some people may just sit in the first empty seat, and that might be in the back. "I don't think it has a lot to do with commitment," he said. "You have some people right down front who sleep. So I don't think we can draw any conclusions about commitment from where people sit."
Source: Knight Ridder Newspapers