As fall arrives, many of our ministries will re-gather, perhaps for the first time in a long time. Maybe you intend to kick things off with a large family event, followed by a fresh introduction to kids gatherings in Sunday school classrooms and in large groups for children’s church. Many of us will have new volunteers and new visitors and new opportunities to engage in ministry. Let’s absolutely make sure to appropriately celebrate those who attend. Greet her warmly, look him in the eye, call them by name, and let them know that they are welcome and wanted and valued. But even as we celebrate those who are present, I want to challenge you to also make an effort to be aware of those who are not there.
I like to make a practice of praying over an empty chair. You can do this alone, with your volunteers, or even with the children in attendance. By praying over the empty chair we acknowledge that there is always room for one more, and that we want the Lord to bring someone into the group and fill the empty seat.
The empty chair may represent someone who had been a regular attender who is no longer able to come to gatherings, or it may represent someone new to the area who is looking for a place to belong. It may represent someone who has never attended church before at all.
By praying for the empty chair we make it known to all involved that our desire is to invite, welcome and celebrate those that God wants to bring to himself. It also lets children know that we pray for them even when they are not with us.
As you return to gathering for ministry this week, consider starting a new practice of prayer for the empty chair. And ask God to bring newcomers into belonging in your church and in His family.
Chuck Peters is Director of Lifeway Kids. Before his role at Lifeway, Chuck had a prolific career in television and video production. He is a 3-time Emmy Award Winning producer, director, writer and on-screen talent. A graduate of Columbia Bible College, Chuck, and his wife, Cris, have served in Student and Children’s Ministry for many years.