Archived Story

Why don’t people sit in the front pews?

Published 8:32am Monday, September 24, 2012

Column: Something About Nothing

Church pews have been on my mind this week. The reason I have been contemplating the use of church pews is because I have been watching various church services on the Internet, including my church.

I decided to find out when church pews originated. Church pews were nonexistent in medieval times. At that time church services were held standing and the most important feature of the churches was their dome at the top.

It appears church pews came into popularity in the 1600s to the mid-1800s. During that time everything became about social structure. Pews became a feature in a church for just that reason. Church-goers were seated in the pews at worship according to social rank. The highest-ranking pews were close to the pulpit with the lowest being the furthest away.

According to articles that I read, this structure changed between 1840 and 1930. The class structure no longer was a factor.

My take on this is that pews add structure to a church service.

I myself don’t like sitting in pews. They are hard, and the back is straight. I am short so with a cushion my feet don’t touch the floor. I am always fidgeting because of the structure of the pew. Maybe that causes me to pay more attention to the service and that is a good thing.

What I noticed in watching the different services is the emptiness at the front of some of the churches. It is the age old question: Why don’t people sit in the front of the church?

I don’t sit in the front of the church. If I sat in the front row I would feel awfully silly if I was standing and everyone else was sitting and I didn’t know it. I would have to always keep looking over my shoulder wondering if I was doing the right thing. Do you suppose other people feel the same way?

Maybe it has something to do with having to walk to the front of the church and everyone is watching you while you find your place in the pew. That can’t be the reason because it doesn’t matter. Many church services are broadcast on cable TV so people see you no matter where you are sitting in the church.

I never liked sitting in the front of the classroom either. I was always afraid the teacher was going to call on me and I wouldn’t know the answer. Or it could have been I didn’t want the teacher to see me passing notes or whispering to my neighbor. Could that be the same reason that people don’t sit in front in church? Perhaps they are afraid the pastor is going to call on them during the sermon and they are not going to know the answer. Maybe we want to whisper to our neighbor during the sermon and we don’t want the pastor to see.

I wonder what would happen if we took the front pews out of church and replaced them with comfortable couches and chairs. Would people flock to the front to get a seat in the comfortable chairs?  That would be an experiment I would love to see the outcome of.

Somewhere in my investigation of pews I found that in the first years of churches and before pews people met in homes and church was more community and family. It was discussion, teaching scripture, praying with one another and sharing a meal. When the church moved into buildings the structure changed so the focus was on facing the same direction and listening to the pulpit.

When pews were first established people also could rent a pew or buy a pew for their spot in church. That doesn’t happen these days unless a pew space is put up on a church auction for a fundraiser and you buy the privileged spot where you want to sit each Sunday. However many people have their spots picked out and most people know where not to sit because you might be stealing someone’s spot.

The important thing about finding a church is not the church pews, it is finding somewhere to worship that you feel comfortable. I don’t mean comfortable chairs I am talking about a comfortable church where you feel at home. A place where you are being spiritually fed and a place where you feel you are at home with family.

As for me: I am just wondering why the front church pews are empty?


Wells resident Julie Seedorf’s column appears every Monday. Send email to her at Her blog is