emilio and the box pews

Emilio stared at the pews.. It wasn’t like he hadn’t seen pews before. He saw them every Sunday morning. And Monday morning. And most other mornings.

Emilio was an associate pastor. Pews were his business. But these were different. They were box pews, benches with sides, benches with doors.

He was visiting this church for a concert. It always intrigued him to see how other churches did things, how they were built, how they sounded. He always looked at the print materials, looked for clues about how they did what they did. It gave him the opportunity to think about church.

This evening, staring at the box pews, was no different. He knew that these neat, civilized, regular cubicles weren’t how they had started. After the reformation, in the British Isles in particular, people brought in seating, they built boxes, treating them as little personal spaces in the public space of church. It was a way to have privacy, to maintain family space. It didn’t hurt that they blocked out the breezes that blew through the cold buildings. But it didn’t help to break down barriers.

As he stared at them, Emilio pictured the cubicles in his own church, and in many other churches. This time they weren’t around families. They were around generations, around interest groups, around social strata. There were groups that went into their cubicles every Sunday, with walls around them.

Sometimes that was fine. Sometimes it wasn’t.

But the challenge it posed for Emilio tonight was huge. He kept hearing about the importance of communication. He kept hearing people talk about wanting to know what was happening at the church, what great things were going on. He kept hearing people talk about the importance of vision, of knowing what is going on.

His project was to give everyone access to the information they needed to grow, in formats and frequency that helped them feel like they belonged to the community, to the tribe.

And he knew that they were trying. There were weekly bulletins, biweekly mailers, web updates, a facebook group, Sunday school class email prayer chains. There were displays in the hallways, announcements in the services, notes on clipboards in classrooms. There was a limited circulation enewsletter. There were hundreds of pieces of information. And there were people who said they never heard what was going on who, when questioned, acknowledged that they didn’t read the newsletter.

Emilio, self-styled “social media pastor“, knew that there were tremendous opportunities for conversation using new technologies. But he was also aware that a significant number of people in the congregation didn’t want to be part of those technologies. The ages of the congregation spanned a century. The income likely spanned 6 figures. The education ranged nearly as far.

He knew the social media options. He used them. But it wasn’t a social media congregation. It was a people congregation. And his responsibility was not to social media. It was to the people and to God.

As Emilio stared at the box pews, he knew that although the people sat in chairs and pews, they might as well be in cubicles…or silos.

One core message, a hundred applications, a thousand different mailboxes.

What could he do?


16 responses to “emilio and the box pews

  1. i wish they’d mark pews
    or section off a part for the riff raff
    it’s so intimidating
    anytime i have been to church in the past
    it is with a sense of outsidedness
    if you sit in a family pew
    or the special boxes around the edges
    people get offended and angry

    and God forbid if your family doesn’t have a special pew
    we all know what that means

    oh dear
    nerve touched!

  2. oh!
    and that is why i like religion on the web
    the places i go don’t have cliques
    they have open door policy

    i need that
    it feels safe
    church is scary

  3. We talk about opening windows when doors close. Surely, reminding us about the presence of walls, and doors, and windows, is an important early step.

    Perhaps a hint that we choose which side of the wall to dwell – or whether we choose to live outside and inside the walls – helps to guide our attention.

    Yet we will still choose to box ourselves into groups. There will always be “us” and “them”. Believers and non-believers. Liberal and conservative points of view. Caring for the needy and caring for those we take personal responsibility for, and recognizing the limits to how far our personal and collective responsibility and loyalty extends.

    Just the word “charity” establishes a wall – between those on the inside of our wall, and those on the outside that we *also* have some responsibility for basic needs support, without responsibility for their complete well-being and personal growth – and growth of faith.

    A congregation, a family, a tribe – these are all different names for walls. We need to make conscious decisions about what doors and windows to use, or to avoid.

  4. it IS scary, even for people who know church well
    even for people who are paid to go to church.
    and the boxes aren’t always visible. In fact,
    they often aren’t seen until your nose is smashed with you walk
    into the invisible wall.

  5. and yet, Brad, at some point there are choices, there are tribes, there are
    things which are mutually exclusive. It’s just that we often pick things
    which are not significant and elevate them. I like the intentionality and
    awareness that you are bringing to that choice.

    Seth Godin talks in “tribes” about micromovements. He lists six principles.
    The 5th principle is “Exclude outsiders.” Which makes us cringe. Until we
    get to the 6th principle: “Tearing others down is never as helpful to a
    movement as building your followers up.”

    The danger is that we create competitive subtribes within our larger tribe
    who then spend huge amounts of energy on making sure that there are clear
    lines within the building…when the whole focus of the tribe is outside the

    Emilio’s challenge is to build a communicative infrastructure that speaks in
    ways that different gorups can understand, and yet helps break down the
    barriers between the groups.

  6. Pingback: The Box Pew Metaphor : Being Presbyterian

  7. perhaps what he needs to do is decipher the tribes in the church, their leader (if there is one), and then how they naturally communicate. For example, youth may communicate well by Facebook msg while those of an older generation want someone to verbally tell them.

    If emilio can find the natural lines of communication all he needs to do then is tap into them. Tell the leader of the older generation tribe and leave it to him/her to pass the information in the way that that tribe communicates.

    the problem is when those lines of communication aren’t already set.

  8. Philip. At first my reaction is, “That is soooo slooow”. But then I think
    about what matters. Isn’t church about relationships? Is it about
    connections? Although there may be urgent things, should the important
    things work this way?


  9. once the network is set it’ll move fast. Emilio communicates only with the leaders of the tribes. Emilio leads a tribe of leaders. Emilio can’t talk to everyone but can talk to tribe leaders. If it’s their preferred way to communicate shouldn’t it be the fastest?

    This should also help to solidify the tribes building stronger relationships. the trick will be how to integrate new people into the tribe as the church grows. it also allows the communication to be tailor by the tribe leader to language that suits that tribe.

  10. You have all hinted at the importance of delegation of leadership. As the church grows, the leaders can’t connect with the rest of the body. So it’s time for *real* connectors to be found to fill that gap.

    Our church is in this place. I’m not sure the “greeters” fill that gap.

  11. *If it’s their preferred way to communicate shouldn’t it be the fastest?*

    powerful insight.

  12. I think that you are right. It isn’t the greeters. I’m betting it’s the
    trust agents. (hurry you @chrisbrogan and @julian)

  13. exactly Paul, no one every felt connected to a place because of a greeter. they can feel welcomed and the space and feel warm but you don’t get connected to greeters but what about connected BY a greeter?

  14. I found myself feeling your frustration as mine after reading this morning, because I’ve been there before — both in the church and corporate settings. And to be honest, probably within my own family. And the comments so far haven’t helped me much, except to convince me that communication is hard work, and it has to be done with as many tools as we can find. But if you do discover the silver bullet, let me know!

  15. you know, Jim, it is hard work. We think that since we start talking when
    we’re two that we will be good at it by the time we’re 50.

    But I realize regularly that we’re all starting over.

    But my responsibility is to just keep trying.

    And delete the meandering addition that I just wrote.

    Because sometimes the clearest message comes when we just shut up.

  16. I like the idea of “connected by”.

    At the church in New Port Richey that I worked at, I did some undercover reconnaissance before I was even interviewed. My wife and I (and daughter) showed up as guests without telling anyone. And the greatest thing happened.

    The greeters greeted us, then walked us to the nursery to connect our daughter with an appropriate class. When we got to the auditorium, someone else came by and introduced themselves and gave us some additional information about the church. At the welcome time in the service, people actually came over and welcomed us.

    It wasn’t about communicating (solely) it was about connecting.

    I’ve been to large churches that nailed communications but neglected connections and I’ve seen some get it.

    I’ve also been to (and worked at) small churches who completely missed the connections in an effort to be better communicators.

    The silver bullet, I think, is that if we focus on connecting with meaningful content, then even if we are not perfect with our communications, we still struck value. Tools, then, are secondary since the first question is connection.