Should families always sit together in church?
This might seem like a strange question. Often if a couple sits apart from each other during a worship service, it’s seen as a sign of marital tension, because of course they should sit together! Yet the answer is not as obvious as you might think. There’s no biblical command for families to sit side by side in the same row. And the practice is relatively recent in origin: for much of the past two thousand years, men and women stood or sat separately during the church service.
More importantly, a congregation may well reflect the gospel more clearly when biological families (note the specification) sometimes sit apart.
This is the point Rebecca Mclaughlin rather provocatively makes in her recent Christianity Today article “Why I Don’t Sit With My Husband at Church.” Implicitly in it she raises the question, “Do we really believe that in Christ, we, the church, have become family to each other? Then why doesn’t the way we sit together reflect this?”
Scripture teaches us that through Christ, believers have a bond that is stronger than background, race, or blood. In Jesus, we are truly brothers and sisters; we are family. Individuals estranged from their biological families now have been given a greater one. Those who grieve over not having biological children now in Christ receive a multitude of spiritual children. This is more than just a metaphor. It’s reality.
Yet (especially suburban) churches are a notoriously difficult place for singles and the infertile to feel at home. Could it be that our sitting patterns are a part of the reason for that? When spouses are always together, when kids must always sit with their biological parents, and when singles (and newcomers) must always sit alone, it subtly undermines the truth of what we have become in Christ.
Consider the alternative. Imagine kids sometimes sitting with their favorite “aunt” or “uncle” that they’ve come to know through Sunday School and church picnics, teens all sitting together with their spiritual cousins (preferably in the second row so they can take great notes!), people talking with each other before the service sitting side by side irrespective of which home they came from or even if they are visiting for the first time. Imagine if a visitor finding a seat in the service had no idea who in the church was single or married. Do you know what that would look like? Family.
To be clear, it is often a good and God-honoring practice for families to worship together—for couples to feel the unifying effect of the gospel and for kids to see the example of their parents worshiping. But, speaking personally, this article has challenged me to think through how the place I sit reflects the gospel. It might be that sometimes it would be Christ-honoring for me not to sit with my family.