This morning, for the first time ever, I found myself being physically turned away from church—the doors sealed and a line of people out the doors told to go home.
"We’re so sorry. Come back next week. Have a CD."
Justin and I were visiting a church we’d never been to before. We anticipated a crowd and arrived fifteen minutes early only to find the parking lot full. The guy in the orange vest pointed us across the street and around the corner to a secondary lot. He said we could ride the shuttle. Shuttle?
Anyway, we parked at the bank.
Waiting in line to register the girls for class, we overheard the family in front of us being informed that their four-year-old son’s class was full. He’d have to go into the auditorium.
A full class? I figured I’d heard wrong.
Luckily we checked our girls in without a problem and headed to the lobby only to find a line of people waiting to be escorted into worship. I noticed someone counting and then heard a woman say, “We only have single seats left.”
"That’s fine," I thought. "Justin and I can split up."
We stood in line. We waited. The line didn’t seem to move much. And then, the seats were gone. Even the single seats.
I kept waiting to hear what I should do now. Wait to be escorted to a room with a video feed. Wait for seats to be placed in the aisles. But that didn’t happen. The line slowly dissolved as everyone filed out the big glass doors.
Justin and I were the last people standing in the lobby. Completely confused.
I’m still a little confused.
That has absolutely never happened to me. Not even in a door-knocking campaign daydream.
At first I was pretty frustrated and a little perturbed with the church for not planning ahead. Justin and I had driven all the way to Dallas to visit churches. And here I’d wasted my Sunday morning slot.
But then Justin and I were talking, and he said he was glad we were the ones turned away—so that maybe a couple who didn’t know Christ had our seats—and I thought that was a wise thing to think.
Then I got to thinking about how many people had come to this church on this day—a lot of people—and I wondered how many churches in America were turning people away because they didn’t have enough room.
And I realized the overcrowding wasn’t so much this church’s “problem.” This church had to turn people away partly because churches all over the country are failing to bring people in.
The seats here were full, in part, because other seats in other churches were empty.
Truth is, all across America, most of our buildings have scores of empty seats. But, what’s also the truth, people don’t want to come in most of our buildings.
So some get swamped. And most stay empty.
That’s a problem for all of us.