Church Worship

Is PDA in the Pews Ruining Your Worship?

Is PDA in the Pews Ruining Your Worship?

We’ve all seen that couple before.

You know the ones. They seem to be sitting on top of each other in an otherwise empty pew, their limbs so intertwined that it’s impossible to tell whose hand is flipping the pages of their Couples’ Devotional Bible. But those are definitely her fingers roaming through his luscious hair. Those are his knuckles rubbing oh-so-gently against her upper arm. Sometimes they sit during the worship songs, caressing each other in rhythm with the drums. Sometimes, at a funny moment in the sermon, they turn to each other with eager eyes, noses so close they’re almost touching, like Siberian Huskies going in for a kiss. 

I knew a couple like that back in college. Well, okay, I didn’t actually know their names. But I didn’t need names to identify them to the other people at church. “You know,” I could say instead, “that couple who looks like they might start making out at any moment.”

“Oh,” people would answer, “that couple.”

(A word to the wise: if you’ve never seen that couple before, consider the possibility that you are that couple.)

I’d like to say a few things to that couple:

First of all, I’m glad you’re in love. Really, I am. In a world where marital love is so often mocked or discounted or abandoned for something easier, it’s refreshing to see people who genuinely enjoy their spouses. Thanks for choosing to honor God by directing all your physical affection toward the person God has given you for that purpose.

Second of all: Please stop. I get it. You’re in love. You’re so head-over-heels that you can’t be together for more than two minutes without spontaneously giving each other backrubs. You’ve been saving yourselves for marriage, and now that you’re married you’re making up for lost time. You’re keeping the romance alive. You’re worshipping Jesus by enjoying your hunky husband or your smokin’ hot wife. I’m happy for you. Keep up the good work.

But there’s a big difference between what I hope you’re doing in private and what I want you doing two rows in front of me while we pass the offering plates.

So please, with all due respect, just stop it.

I don’t mean to be one of those crotchety singles giving relationship advice that I’m thoroughly unqualified to give. I’m willing to admit that maybe, even though you seem to be distracting each other from corporate worship, all this PDA is actually helping you to focus. Maybe you can hear the pastor’s words best while you’re gazing deeply into each other’s limpid eyes. Maybe spiritual insights sink into your brain faster when your spouse’s fingertips are massaging your scalp. Maybe.

But even if all that were true, your PDA isn’t helping me worship. In fact, it’s pretty distracting. My eyes can’t help but be drawn to the thing in the room that’s moving the most. And sometimes, especially if our preacher is a bit stiff that day, the most-moving thing is you. So I end up watching you, trying not to watch, watching again, trying to think about Jesus, still watching.

For unmarried folks, or for divorced folks, or for people who feel trapped in loveless marriages, this dynamic can be especially tricky. Watching you in church can make us feel even more lonely and isolated, at precisely the time when we ought to be feeling most connected with the body of Christ. But I’ve talked to plenty of folks who are happily married or dating or engaged and still feel the same way:

We love you. We’re glad you love each other. But you sure are distracting.

Of course, it’s not your responsibility to make sure the people around you are worshipping. If I waste a whole church service staring at your cool earrings, that’s my fault, not yours. But we all have a responsibility, as followers of Christ, to make sure that we’re building one another up when we gather together. The way you choose to engage or disengage with corporate worship is a testimony to the rest of us—for better or worse. You are just as much a witness for Christ within the walls of the church as you are outside them.

I’m not trying to tell you what you can or can’t do. That’s between you and Jesus. I’m just asking you to consider what is most constructive, what is most loving to the people around you.

As the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:23, you have the right to do anything—“but not everything is constructive.” There are probably things about your marriage that, even though they’re great for the two of you, aren’t going to be constructive for me to think about.

This is why Barnabas Piper has argued that married Christian guys need to quit calling their wives hot. It’s not you shouldn’t think your spouse is hot, or even that I object to knowing that you think your spouse is hot. I just don’t want to focus on your spouse’s hotness. The more you talk about it, the more you show it off in front of me, the harder it becomes for me to think of you both in the way I want to think of you.

By all means, be deeply and passionately in love with each other. Be affectionate, even in public. Kiss and interlock fingers and give long, hearty backrubs.

But if you could take a break for 90 minutes or so this Sunday, I’d really appreciate it.

Gregory Coles is an author and an English instructor at Penn State University. Learn more at

Publication date: September 12, 2016