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Questions to ponder in quest to fill pews

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I was listening to the sermon. Really I was. But eager to get back into the spiritual swing of things after summer vacation, I sat in church on Sunday and thought about some of the questions congregations are wrestling with in the quest to fill the pews.

As if Sunday morning's message, music and fellowship wasn't enough inspiration, my wife, Sharon, leaned over during a lull in the service and wondered whether churches should reserve a few pews in the back so latecomers won't feel funny marching to the front during the opening hymn.

In the name of evangelism, lots of other ideas pop to mind.

Should churches allow worshippers to applaud, whether it's an inspiring number from the choir or a precious program from a Sunday school class?

What about cameras and camcorders — discreetly used, of course, during infant baptisms and graduation ceremonies?

Should the relaxed dress code in place for summer worship (the fellow next to me wore a white knit shirt without a tie) be extended to the rest of the year?

Many churches combine two or three Sunday morning services into one during the less busy summer vacation season. So its members can feel more like a united congregation, should churches with enough sanctuary space for everyone stick with one service all year 'round?

When it comes time for the pastor to share concerns of the congregation, should he read a list of the sick and grieving that was prepared in advance? Or should he ask worshippers to stand up and share what's on their heart at that very moment?

When the pastor welcomes everyone to worship, should he or she ask people to turn around and greet their neighbor? Or does that form of friendliness seem more ritual than real?

Should church members wear name tags to make it easier on visitors? Or is that forced friendliness, too?

Speaking of visitors, should a church reserve its best parking spots for them?

Should a pastor preach from the raised pulpit found in sanctuaries where a more formal, high-church style of worship is the rule? Or is the message better heard when the pastor isn't speaking down to the people?

Speaking of relating to people, should a pastor wear robes?

When is the best time to slip in announcements about the church secretary's vacation schedule and the softball team's next game?

Should worship end after 60 minutes or, if the spirit is flowing, is it OK to run long?

Should a choir stick with the familiar old stuff or take a break from "Amazing Grace" and branch out with new material even if no one knows the words?

If a church is too small or apathetic to supply enough voices for a complete choir, should ringers be hired from outside to fill in the vocal gaps?

Should young people be allowed to help take up the tithes and offerings?

I'm mentally strained just posing all these questions, so you're on your own as far as figuring how best to do God's work in the faith place you call home.

But I will leave you with this:

No way should we save pews in the back for latecomers, I told Sharon as we drove home from church on Sunday. They feel awkward enough without us ordering them to do the spiritual equivalent of "Go stand in the corner."

Ken Garfield is the religion editor at The Charlotte Observer. Write to him at: The Charlotte Observer, 600 S. Tryon St., Charlotte, NC 28232.