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Empty Seats at Optimal Times

August 28, 2010

Here in Timonium the Maryland State Fair is underway, the definitive sign that summertime is over.

The passing of the season is always a little wistful and also exciting as we look ahead to my favorite season of the year, fall.  

It has been a quick summer filled with some significant accomplishments: our trip to Haiti and the development of a mission plan there, the mission to Nigeria, the Vacation Bible School, the ongoing Strategic Planning, capital improvements on the Church campus, and the repair of my house (not to mention summer vacations). 

As we look ahead to the fall there is a lot of planning going on: our Small Group leaders met on Thursday night, our children and student leaders are meeting today, other ministry teams have their planning meetings too, our pastoral staff is meeting on Monday and our fall launch weekend is in two weeks. We have a great line up of message series for the fall, as well as Small Group messages; the kids and student programs are all planned and ready to go and our staff and volunteer ministry staff are rested and ready.  Oh, and one more thing…

This weekend Tom is speaking in our “War of the Worlds” series and he is going to propose a new idea for the fall that will strike some people as strange, unexpected, maybe even unwelcome.  Changing Mass times.  Specifically, changing Mass times if you attend 9 or 10:30 Sunday morning Mass to one of our other Masses, preferably 5pm Saturday or noon on Sunday.  

Why, you might ask, would we make this challenge at this time? Shouldn’t the Parish be happy that people are coming to begin with, shouldn’t people be encouraged whenever they are coming?

The basic exercise in discipleship is all about taking the next step, and then the next one and the one after that.  Discipleship is not about the status quo.  It is always about change and growth.  It is also about other people.  Specifically, the people who are not disciples.  

We have a problem at Nativity.  To be sure it is the kind of problem you want to have, but its a problem none the less.  We are maxed out at the most popular times on the weekend, the times people most want to come to church: from 9 to about noon we have no seats, no standing room, no parking. That’s a problem because it means we can’t welcome visitors and newcomers to our church at the times they are most likely to come.  

What we want to do is what our friend Andy Stanley calls “creating empty seats at optimal times.”  To do that, at least some of the people who are in a seat right now will have to move to another time.  Obviously, there are plenty of people who can’t do that.  And there are others who have already done it.  Our challenge is to those of you who haven’t and can.  

Let me be clear: this is a form of ministry and service,  it is true evangelization because it is putting people you don’t even know ahead of your own needs.  The commitment is just for the fall, the challenge is simply to give it a try, reorganize your Saturday afternoon schedule and come then, have lunch later on Sunday and come at noon, or for that matter Sunday evening.  Help create empty seats at optimal times this fall.

By the way, if you can’t change times, try and bring a friend: someone close to you and far from God.  If you can’t free a seat, then fill one. Either way, lets have a greater impact in our community for Christ this fall.

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