There has never been more variety than today when it comes to seating and furnishings for both worship and non-worship spaces within a church facility.
Churches trying to figure out the best way to seat people in the sanctuary have options running from old-school pews to newer incarnations of this worship facility standard as well as stadium, auditorium, theater, stackable, fixed, and flexible places to plant your parishioners on Sunday morning.
Meanwhile, common areas, lobbies, cafes, and other non-sacred gathering places in the worship facility also have a wide array of choices in configurations, colors and materials.
What's best? It all depends on the atmosphere you want to create, mixed in with efficiency, comfort, cost, and (in the case of sanctuaries) style-of-worship considerations.
Not Too Soft, Not Too Hard Sanctuary Seating
For churches looking for more efficient usage of sanctuary space compared to that offered by the traditional pew, as well as a more contemporary aesthetic look-and-feel, fixed auditorium (sometimes also referred to as theater) seating is increasing in popularity among churches these days.
Remember that there are a couple of major differences between the cushy seat you enjoy at your local theater and the one you sit in during church services, according to Amanda Opdycke, worship market manager for Sauder Worship Seating.
The company's Clarity and Vista styles of church auditorium seating are designed to minimize the noise typically made by this type of seat when you're sitting down and standing up from it.
"When you get out of an old-style auditorium or theater seating, the seat itself pops right up after you, which results in a lot of noise with components of the seat banging together," says Opdycke.
Sauder's auditorium seating addresses this problem through a gravity-lift seat mechanism, according to Opdycke. This system provides both quiet operation and, because there are no springs, inner moving parts or dampening mechanisms to wear out over time, lower maintenance than traditional spring-lift seats.
Another design element in Sauder auditorium seating addresses the issue of making seating comfortable but not so comfortable that parishioners stop paying attention to the sermon, and maybe even worse, zone out or doze off.
Some theater seats are really cushy and basically, the theaters want you to sit down, sink in, and just let your mind roll with the movie," Opdycke explains.
Alternatively, Sauder seeks to incorporate features that provide what it calls "attentive comfort," according to Opdycke, "with a seat that is not so hard that it is unforgiving from an ergonomic standpoint, but at the same time facilitates attentiveness."
Elements of the seat intended to accomplish this include the use of molded foam over contoured seat and back supports, designed to provide optimal lumbar support, along with more than four inches of foam at critical pressure points.
Innovative products in the theater-seat sector of the church seating market include a stackable theater seat recently introduced by SERIES Seating.
The company's Model K chair is an industry first, according to Series co-founder and vice president Ron Ogden, because of its performance in increasing seat capacity by 20 percent;, doubling the standing room and traffic flow between rows; achieving three times as many chairs to a single stack; and storing in one-third the space of conventional chairs.
While the use of auditorium seating in sanctuaries is on the rise, there are still many congregations that remain partial to pews.
"For a lot of groups, pews are more desirable," notes Opdycke. Generationally, while younger people tend to like the contemporary features of the auditorium seat, "A lot of members of the baby-boom generation still want the traditional look and feel of pews," she says.
In response to these preferences, churches whose congregations are a mixture of millennials and boomers often utilize a mixture of seating that incorporates pews with auditorium and flexible seating, according to Opdycke.
Sauder's Definity pew seating line is one option for those wanting mix of auditorium and pew seating, Opdycke notes.
The Definity line incorporates a solid pew back (upholstered or solid wood) with an individual seat, Opdycke explains.
In addition to providing the user with a comfortable feel, the individual seats also help maximize seating capacity by offsetting the natural tendency of people to put distance between themselves when filling in a standard pew. And, with individual removable cushions, they also make cleanup and re-upholstering easy, as well as allowing for more fabric options, she notes.
Flexing Your Options
Meanwhile, flexible seating, i.e., individual chairs that can be arranged in a variety of ways and then stacked in a storage space when not in use, are a popular alternative, particularly for churches with sanctuaries that are also used for events other than worship services. And in many instances, according to Opdycke, they are used in combination with other types of seating.
Not-So-Common Area Seating
While a major focus remains on sanctuaries, churches are increasingly paying attention to how to best furnish non-worship spaces, such as lobbies and other gathering/commons spaces, for congregation members to enjoy fellowship with each other outside the worship space and experience.
Churches often look for soft seating in these spaces, according to Dona Schnelle-Loftus, interior designer with Aspen Group, an integrated design-build firm focused on serving churches.
"Sofas, lounge chairs, end tables, and coffee tables all lend a sense of home,' as well as encourage conversation and connection," says Schnelle-Loftus. "Depending upon what a church identifies as its style or DNA, tells Schnelle-Loftus, "styles can range from the understated and traditional to the bold and contemporary."
Café or coffee spaces often include a mix of standard-height tables and café/bar-height seating, and sometimes even stand up tables in order to create quick connection points for interaction, according to Schnelle-Loftus.
High-back sofas and chairs can be helpful in defining more conversational spaces in large open areas and bring a sense of perceived privacy, she says. Meanwhile, "Incorporating power for charging laptops and other devices at the tables is becoming very popular as well," she notes, "which encourages use of the space throughout the week for meetings or gatherings, and not just on Sunday morning."
Already popular in student union, dormitory, and lounge applications within the higher-education sector of the market, and increasingly so in the worship facilities sector, Sauder's Rally product line is comprised of modular chairs, tables and ottomans that can be equipped with 120V or USB outlets, notes Opdycke.
Utilizing these furnishings in a church setting, "You can have youth groups gather together around a table or an ottoman working on a community project while using their laptops, tablets and smartphones, and at the same time remain plugged so that these devices can remain charged," she explains.
Youth-oriented spaces often contain the same types of seating you'd expect in other common or lobby areas, "but with a youthful flair," adds Schnelle-Loftus.
Materials-wise, "Modular, colorful, and uniquely shaped and coated foam and hard plastic products can bring a distinctively youthful, modern vibe to a space, while not compromising on durability or breaking the bank," she notes, adding that these products "are often light and easy to move around, allowing for the creation of fresh and new seating arrangements quickly and often."
Among churches these days, "There is a focus on durability and ease of maintenance of all the finishes selected, to ensure many years of use and appearance retention," she notes, adding "Fabrics with liquid barriers, inherent stain resistance, and bleach cleanability are a consideration in both youth areas and cafes, where spills are more likely to occur."