The Day I Sat on the Wrong Church Pew (And How I Found a Place To Sit and Fit)

The Day I Sat on the Wrong Church Pew (And How I Found a Place To Sit and Fit)

I put on my brave face as I walked into the church sanctuary and chose a seat near the back. I watched as people filed in from Sunday school, talking and laughing with one another. 

This was my first attempt to find a church home in a new city. It was a medium sized church in the middle of town. 

A woman appeared in the aisle beside my pew, eyeing me curiously. She knows I’m a visitor; she’s going to welcome me to the church, I thought to myself. I smiled at her.  

“Are you sitting here?” the woman asked as she peered intently at me. Thinly veiled annoyance gave a sharp edge to her words.   

And then I realized that what she really meant was, “You’re in my seat.” 

I’d inadvertently chosen to sit in this woman’s customary spot within the half-empty church building. She had apparently marked her territory. Staked her claim.   

 “Oh, I can move,” I told her, and slid down to the end of the pew. A few minutes later her husband came in and sat beside her. They casually chatted and laughed with the couple sitting behind them. During the service, there was a time to greet your neighbors. Only one person—an usher—shook hands with me. 

I cried in my car on the way home. I hadn’t spoken face-to-face with another human the entire weekend. This interaction left me deflated. I felt more alone than before I entered the church.

It’s hard to go to church by yourself. Most churches are family-oriented, so relatively few people sit alone. Visiting different churches in the area offered similar (though not as depressing) results.

And then one Sunday I went to the church that was closest to my apartment. The service played out much as the others I had already attended: You enter and are greeted by a smiling face who gives you a bulletin. You find a seat (hopefully not one that’s already been claimed!); you sing some songs; there’s a time to greet one another; you listen to the sermon; you pray; you go home.

But this church had something in the bulletin that caught my eye: adult English as a second language classes. I was an English teacher, and I had previously lived and worked abroad! That’s a place I could get plugged in.  

After church, I emailed the person in charge of the classes. She welcomed me to come to the classes as a volunteer and told me that the church also offered a service for internationals that met at the same time as the regular service. At last—a place for my personal interests and talents. 

The next Sunday, I arrived and entered through the back entrance to get to the International service. As I walked into the room, I was greeted by other members of the class. I learned their names, where they were from, why they were in the United States, who were their family and friends in the room. They welcomed me as part of the group, and I felt like I belonged. 

Being a lifelong single, I am frequently overlooked at church. Many churches are family-focused, leaving single adults with no real place to fit in. The problem with this is not that being family-focused is wrong; it’s that being only family-focused robs churches of the chance to reach a large percentage of American adults who are not partnered with a spouse. And it robs singles of a chance to worship, serve, and love others within a church family. 

Unfortunately, many churches are not currently making efforts to reach this population a priority. These people don’t fit into the traditional church member mold. And because of this, many singles are reluctant to go to a place where they feel excluded or unwanted, or in worst case scenarios, just plain weird.

But we don’t need to fit into a mold to be part of God’s family.

We’re told in Galatians 3:28 that, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

So what should you do when you visit a new church alone? 

  • Find the welcome team if the church has one. The people on this team have likely been trained to welcome others, show them around, and give them an overview of the church and its ministries. It’s a good place to start.
  • Introduce yourself. Many churches have a time during the service for members to greet one another. Take this time to learn the names of those around you, and tell them your name too.
  • Learn more about the church. Are there any Bible studies, special interest groups, or Sunday school classes you might be interested in attending? Is there a person you could contact to learn more about these events?
  • Get involved. Look for places where you can use your talents and gifts. Join the choir if you like to sing praises. Volunteer in the nursery if you like rocking babies. It’s a privilege to serve God whenever we can, wherever we are. And through those activities in which you have a special ability, you may meet people with similar interests who will become your links to your new church community. 

Of course, as church members, we should keep an eye out for those who are new among us, those who may be looking for fellowship, encouragement, and family. We will spend eternity together, but we also have the privilege of being together and loving one another here and now. Galatians 6:10 (NIV) tells us, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” Living that out is a great joy, and an example to those around us. 

If we all offered a seat on the space beside us to our brothers and sisters who haven’t felt welcome inside the church, imagine the response from the world watching us. There are enough places in the world that feel unwelcoming. Let’s not make church one of them.

Shelly McClanahan has helped begin ESL programs in churches in Tennessee and Georgia. After teaching in Albania, South Korea, and London, she now writes and teaches middle school near Chattanooga, Tennessee.

You can read more from Shelly at Connect with her on Instagram or X (formerly Twitter).


This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Ronald

    I had a similar experience and I feel if the church should put a sign on the door letting people know that single people are not welcome. Yes I tried different churches in my life. If I’m not welcome in what is supposed to be God’s house . I figured He doesn’t want me either. So I am reading my Bible everyday and trying to follow Jesus as best as I can. But then I was thinking about it maybe God will only allow families into heaven. So singles need not apply

  2. Nita Swallows

    I went to a small country church near my home and was treated like I had some communicable disease. I visited a large church in my hometown and was made welcome they visited my home made sure I was plugged in to the church . If one place doesn’t work try another we all are fallen and sometimes we forget to be the hands and feet of God.

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