Empty Chairs

It happens to all preachers at one time or another. It’s bound to happen again, eventually. It’s awkward. It’s a little embarrassing. It can be so discouraging. There’s little we can do to completely avoid it. What is it? It’s that dreaded monster called ‘low turnout’ – when the time to begin your meeting is upon you, and most of the chairs are empty. It’s when you plan for 100, but 20 show up. It’s when you realize that those people who said they’d be there aren’t – and won’t be. What then? What should you do, and what should you not do, to fight discouragement in yourself and to keep it from infecting those who did show up? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Do keep a smile on your face, and be thankful for whoever did come. Let the people who came know how glad you are for their presence. The important ones are those who came, not those who didn’t.
  2. Do focus on the few who came, reminding yourself how the Lord Jesus loves each one individually. This keeps you from fretting about the ‘no-shows’ and allows you to better meet the needs of those who came.
  3. Do take advantage of the intimate setting. Continue with your study, discussion, or lesson, but feel free to be creative. Consider a cosier atmosphere. Tailor the meeting to the needs of those who came.
  4. Do proceed with confidence and assurance. Your attitude will become infectious.
  5. Do expect God to show up no matter who else doesn’t. His grace and Spirit are not proportional to the number of people at the gathering.
  6. Don’t make excuses for those who didn’t come. Don’t even mention their absence.
  7. Don’t explain that there are usually more people at your meeting. This will only serve to discourage yourself and others by emphasizing the small turnout. More people do not necessarily make a better meeting.
  8. Don’t denigrate the non-shows for their absence. This only creates negative feelings. Keep a positive atmosphere.
  9. Don’t postpone your starting time, hoping for more people to show up. Start on time.
  10. Don’t ever, ever apologise for low turnout. God can work as powerfully with a few as with many.

Most of all when the seeds of discouragement begin to plant themselves in your mind, remind yourself again that the Lord would have died for just one. As long as you yourself have shown up, there’s one whom Christ loves and gave His life to save. If you are there, so is He, and that’s enough.


This is not designed to encourage complacency. There may be reasons for diminishing numbers. Desires for greater things should always be developed. Editor