Note: After 10 years of writing “View from the Pew,” I will be offering 12 final installments in 2024 to round out the collection and end this blog in December. Thank you for reading, and I hope these final expressions are meaningful and helpful.

In most churches, there are a limited number of people who have the opportunity to look out on the congregation from the pulpit.

The list includes but is not limited to the announcement giver (usually a staff member), the leader of music, soloists and other musicians, the pray-er over the offering, the reader of scripture (again, usually a staff member), the preacher, and of course, the kids who run around on the platform after the service.

For 10 years this tiny corner of the internet has been devoted to what the regular pew sitter experiences at church. This time, though, I thought it might be a helpful exercise to consider what those who lead in worship see when they look out on the faithful who gather each week for worship.

It’s my working hypothesis that the view from the pulpit is changing as much or more than the view from the pew:

Empty seats. Church goers have been slow to return post-pandemic, and the decades-long trend of declining attendance plays out each week with fewer and fewer attending worship, even at mega churches. Ministers who rely on numbers for their inspiration are increasingly challenged to muster the strength to lead with enthusiasm when their view of the congregation reveals an ever-shrinking family of faith. They have been seeing their congregations disappearing in front of their eyes.

Weariness. Our 24/7, Sabbath-ignoring culture saps us all, and our ministers look out over parishioners each week who are completely spent. There is no such thing as leisure, and what passes for rest defies logic. It must be hard to issue a challenge or even try to rouse a response from people who only sit still for an hour a week and are in desperate need of restoration.

Wariness. With the entirety of the world’s accumulated knowledge at our fingertips, it’s not likely those who do not believe or those who are not in the inherited habit of attending worship regularly will find their way into a church to seek answers to their questions. But those who do often raise issues pastors have never had to face before. It cannot be easy to proclaim a message from scripture to skeptics and doubters. To be fair, churches and their ministers have done plenty to erode trust over the years, and messages can be proclaimed from the pulpit from more than just the sermon. Music, scripture, prayer, and other forms of worship can connect with even the least receptive of audiences.

Diversity. Depending on the region of the country, local churches are more and more reflective of their populations. Eleven o’clock on Sunday is still the most segregated hour of the week in America, but the racial and ethnic make-up of churches is diversifying as churches experience the same demographic shifts as our communities.

Age. As unavoidable as religious research on declining attendance, so, too, are studies revealing what is obvious to anyone who stands in the pulpit—congregations are aging. It used to be an unwritten rule that young people might take a sabbatical from church after leaving home but they returned to regular church attendance when they had kids of their own. That’s no longer the case. The percentage of church membership that is 65-plus grows each year.

Neediness. We all come to worship with different needs, and even the most affluent bring their troubles with them into the pews. Worship leaders see it just as plainly now as they have for centuries. This is one part of the view from the pulpit that is unchanged. What has changed is the nature of the needs. Physical hunger, shelter, and clothing could still be a need, but more often in American churches, the needs are higher up Maslow’s hierarchy—love and belonging, esteem and self-actualization.

Faithfulness. Rather than seeing the empty seats, pastors can still see living, breathing humans in front of them each week, no matter the number. Those who find meaning in worship and prioritize church attendance can inspire ministers as much as they take inspiration from them. It’s my hope that in spite of all that clergy face today, they can receive a gift of hope by looking into the faces of those who are committed to God’s mission of reconciliation in the world on a weekly basis.

Lance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA, does higher education marketing and communications at his day job, and blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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