A View from the Pew: Where Do Your Teens Sit?

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Next time you’re in church (which should be this weekend, right?) conduct this experiment: look around, find the group of youth, and note where they are sitting.

As an unofficial churchiologist (church+sociologist, a new thing I just invented), I would humbly assert that just like in the real estate business, location is everything.

Here is a quick rundown on what each teenager group seating arrangement means:

Front – This is going to sound judgy, but I don’t mean it that way: When a church’s youth group sits up front, it’s to show off. Here’s what I mean. Congregations derive meaning and vitality from its young people. Nothing warms the heart of a church dominated by seniors more than seeing nice, clean-cut young people at church. It gives them hope for the future and helps them to feel good about the direction of their church. So if your young people sit up front, it’s all about sending a positive message. Maybe the senior pastor has had a conversation with the youth minister that went something like this: “You know, it would be really great if you could encourage the youth to sit up front.” Or, maybe, the young people themselves like the attention they get from being visible at church. Hypocrisy aside, there are young people who are motivated to be leaders in the congregation and sitting close to the front gets them noticed.

Back – Okay, admit it. When you see a group of teenagers in the back of a church, the first words that come to mind aren’t “holy rollers.” “Trouble makers” is more likely. When young people sit in the back, we can’t help but think they’re up to something. But the fact is, if you’re a teenager, that’s the worst place to sit if you’re trying to get away with something. For one, the pastor usually has a direct line-of-sight to the back. The sermon is most likely already aimed right at the back row. It’s also such a cliché that savvy young people today wouldn’t think that it was cool to sit in the back. That’s so unoriginal. So 1998. If your youth are sitting in the back, they may not be fully attentive, but they’re not trying to get away with anything. They know they’re under surveillance.

Middle – These are the ones you have to look out for. This is the group that’s just trying to blend in. They are trying to not draw any attention to themselves, hoping they can play on their phones, text friends, and post silly memes all during the worship service without getting caught. While they may appear to be reading scripture or praying, in reality their head is bowed into their phone, not in prayer. They may not be distracting others by talking, laughing, or horseplay, but they aren’t necessarily worshiping “in spirit and in truth” either. This is a suspicious crowd that you need to keep an eye on. I’m willing to wager there’s some illicit handholding going on. A dead give-away is who sitting around them. If it’s parents, they’re probably okay. They know they are being scrutinized. But if it’s a less observant sector of the congregation, you can be sure it’s no accident.

Scattered – Teenagers don’t always sit together. Not sitting together could be a cause for concern. Maybe the identity of the group is not fully developed, and they’re just not that close. On the other hand, it could be innocuous. Perhaps the parents of the youth are strict and require them to sit with their families. When there isn’t a discernible block of youth sitting together, it’s harder for visiting families to know the size and health of the youth group. It can make your young people largely invisible and unintentionally communicate that teenagers either aren’t welcomed or aren’t important. It’s worth doing a little bit of examination to understand your church’s situation if the youth aren’t all together. It might be just fine, or it might be a symptom of unaddressed problems.

No matter where the teenagers sit in your church, just be glad they are there. And pray that when they are old enough to have the choice, the experiences of church as a youth will prompt them to choose to be an active part of a local congregation.

Lance Wallace_for_webLance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA, does media relations and issues management at his day job, and blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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