Most of the time, we like an empty chair — at the movies, in the bleachers, or just a place to rest while shopping at the mall. In many situations, an empty chair is a welcome sight.

But not all empty chairs are a welcome sight.

An empty chair around the dinner table can be a reminder of a loved one who has passed on. For them, the chair is a reminder that holidays and ordinary times will be missing a familiar face. For others, an empty chair in the bleachers is a painful message that a parent has missed another game.

As a pastor, I see empty seats in the sanctuary and think of people. Seats are designed for people. And when a seat is empty, that is a visual reminder that someone is missing. It might be someone we know or someone we’re just getting to know. It’s also those in our community we haven’t met yet.

These aren’t imaginary people, composites of a demographic study. No, this empty seat represents a real person, a real family.

These are real people with real hopes and fears, with real needs — who are trying to find their way through life without Jesus. For a person who believes Jesus is the ultimate answer, that is heart-breaking.

Within the church, empty seats ought to bother us.

  • If we were producing a play, we would want to sell every seat.
  • If we were playing a championship game, we would want a packed house.
  • If we owned a restaurant, we would want a fifteen-minute wait to be seated.

In the church, we are offering something even better — the opportunity for a person to meet the God who loves them and to be changed by the power of the gospel.

It’s my prayer that wherever you attend worship you will see empty seats differently.