One of the larger expenses of many churches, and often an area of contention, is the type of seating in the worship center. I have been amazed to hear stories of intense church arguments over seating in a church facility. In this brief article, I do my best to offer some objective analysis. I understand there are emotional attachments that go well beyond this mundane prose.
- There are really three choices of seating instead of two. Most of the debate is between pews and chairs. But there are really two choices beyond pews. Design/build firms often call the latter two pew chairs and theater seats.
- Pew chairs refer to the mobile, stackable chairs. They can be moved and configured as needed. They tend to be a bit more expensive than comparable seating of regular pews.
- Theater seats are fixed and not mobile. They are typically bolted to the floor.
- According to design/build experts, the actual capacity of pews is much lower than the stated capacity. In fact, pews are considered full when they are at 70% of stated capacity. Pew chairs fill at 80% capacity. And theater seats fill at 90% capacity. So, from this perspective, theater seats are more economically efficient.
- Pew chairs engender greater flexibility, but the church must have a place to store them when they are not in use in the worship center. Frankly, many church leaders are surprised to discover how much space those chairs actually need for storage.
- The parking capacity of the church is directly impacted by the type of seating chosen. Zoning authorities look at the seating capacity to determine the number of parking places a church must have. Theater seats fare better here, because each seat is counted as a capacity of one. Pew capacity related to parking counts one person for every 18 inches. For the record, most of us can’t fit in 18 inches, so more parking is required beyond the real capacity. If a church has the moveable stacking chairs, the number of chairs is irrelevant to parking. Instead, the total square feet of the assembly space is calculated.
- Pews tend to have more sentimental attachments, particularly in more liturgical churches. But a number of non-liturgical church members express strong emotional attachments to pews as well.
- Because Americans are getting larger, many of the pew chairs and the theater seats must be larger. So more churches are getting both 21 inch and 24 inch seats. The latter, obviously, reduces seating capacity.
- Theater seats allow for easier cleaning and easier access because they fold up when someone is not sitting in them. Obviously, that is not the case with pews and pew chairs (stackable chairs). Both have to be moved to clean around and under them.
As I look at the three alternatives, I see three simple perspectives. Pew chairs, or stackable chairs, allow for greater flexibility. Theater seats engender greater efficiencies. And pews engender greater sentimentality.
Of course, there are more issues both functionally and emotionally. I probably have oversimplified the matter here. So I know there are many more discussion points. And I have little doubt that my incredible readers will add to this conversation.
What type of seating do you have in your facility? If you could change the type, which would you prefer?
Posted on May 12, 2014
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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