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Seating Configuration and the Worship Experience

Whether it's pews, theater seating, in-the-round, or removable, seating style sets the tone for your services.

Here is one article worth bringing back to the forefront of Worship Facilities’ editorial. Every church needs to find a seating style and match it with a quality product. While the options can be daunting, the outcome will give returns for years and contribute immensely to your overall church experience.

There are some seating arrangements which are well represented in houses of worship, but you may be surprised at both the possibilities of seating arrangements and how those arrangements can affect the experience of those attending your services.

Seating literally sets the stage for the effectiveness of your communication style.


The most traditional seating arrangement is, of course, the pew. Well established throughout history, the pew isn't employed in newer facilities like it once was. As churches seek to contemporize their services, few things scream "traditional" more than pew seating. However, for certain congregations or environments, the pew can enhance the experience of the event through precisely its traditional appearance. 
Sandy Creek Baptist Church in Liberty, North Carolina was founded in 1755, and is still thriving today. In fact, a new sanctuary is underway, designed and being built by JH Batten, Inc. in Walkertown, North Carolina. With their strong sense of tradition, Sandy Creek has chosen pews for their seating. "The [seating] conversation was not even worthy of taking the time to sit down," comments Sandy Creek's Pastor Travis Brock. "Certainly the fashioning of the sanctuary is critical in establishing a proper mindset for those who enter and the choice in seating is a major element in that process. Pews are by no means sacred and they certainly were not used in the early church; yet the seating choice for Sandy Creek will make a statement to those who enter the sanctuary for worshipa statement that says this is different, a place set aside to focus on God and not on self, a time of surrender and sacrifice, a place to serve and not to be served, and a statement that reminds God's people of their call to be different."
And for other churches, where a contemporary auditorium with theater seating might be preferred for their weekly service, what bride would rather walk down the aisle between rows of theater seating rather than the classic look of aisle banked by rows of pews in a more classic church setting? This is exactly why many larger churches often add a traditionally-themed chapel with pews to their campus for thoseevents and small services where a traditional feel is desired.

Fixed Seating

From the 70s through today, more contemporary auditoriums have chosen fixed theater seating over pews for the higher effective seating capacity and comfort. The fan-shaped room with rows of theater seating is now more the norm for larger rooms, and supports a presentational style of service well, where communication is almost strictly from the pulpit out to the congregation. However, as the economy of building new facilities has affected the size and scope of new building projects, a room dedicated purely to services and presentational-style events has also seen a decline in favor of removable seating.

When CrossWay Christian Church (CCC) of Nashua, New Hampshire built their auditorium, they considered several options. CCC's Lead Pastor, Ron Kastens explains, "Initially we were going to build half of a sloped-floor auditorium with fixed seating. Then we would come back later and build the other half. One concern was, what happens if we build the first half and then the city planning commission denies our request to build the other half? The building would never look/feel right and would always seem half done.  For that reason and for flexibility and versatility, we chose to go with a flat floor and movable seats. It allows us to move the chairs and do banquets and other meals in there. In addition, CrossWay was a district polling location in the elections year. We couldn’t open our facility up to serve our community like this if the seats were fixed. Additionally, our children’s ministry moves all the seats for Camp KidsWay in the summer.  Doing it the way we did just gives us a lot more options."

Engaging the Congregation

Beyond pew, theater or removable seating, there are other options to consider. A trend that's gaining momentum involves a change in preaching style. Where once communication was exclusively from the pulpit to the congregation, pastors are increasingly seeking to engage the congregation in the time of teachingfor communication to be both from the pulpit but also from the congregation. When seating is all arranged facing forward toward the pulpit, it's hard for the congregation to engage with each other. Because of this, many churches are creating a seating configuration where the seating is wrapped around a deep center thrust, with the platform not raised as high as in a more typical auditorium configuration. Those attending the service can then see each other across the thrust.

Idibri of Dallas, Texas along with Aspen Group of Frankfort, Illinois, designed College Park Church's Indianapolis, Indiana facility with this in mind. "We wanted to retain a close-knit feel to our new space," states Pastor Mark Vroegop. "The seating wraps 180 degrees around the center thrust and brings everyone closer in to the platform. People can see each other worshiping instead of merely looking at the back of people's heads. We set the platform height to a maximum of 24 inches to further connect the person preaching to the congregation, and enabled the person teaching to leave the pulpit and move around the space with the congregation."

College Park did another interesting thing with their seating. About half the seats are wrapped around the center thrust on a gently sloped floor; the other half is stadium seating at the back of the room. However, to make the room feel smaller when entering, the entrances to the auditorium come in from underneath the stadium seating, placing you at the back of the wrap-around seating instead of the back of the room. You don't initially notice the stadium seating until you turn around and look behind you.

Somewhat similarly but with its own unique twists, Grace Community Church in Noblesville, Indiana, has wrap-around seating that encompasses their entire platform. However, platform is a bit of a misnomer, as the platform is not raised up off the main floor.

On the Same Level

"Having the stage at the same level as the congregation as they enter definitely brings a sense of community, of being the same level as worshippers," states Joe Druckemiller, senior director of production arts for Grace Community Church. "Something I personally enjoy about our configuration is that our low, very open stage with a wrap-around seating plan eliminates the "us and them" atmosphere that I would experience in a typical fan seating configuration with a raised, proscenium-based stage. To me, such a stage communicates performance', or some form of hierarchy, or makes the congregation an audience of content consumers' versus co-worshippers joining together to bring their worship and praise to God as the audience. In a typical raised-stage and theater-style seating plan there is a bit of invisible barrier that we do not have in our auditorium."

As you can see, the choices in seating style, as well as how you configure the seating in your room, have a big impact on the impression your church makes to visitors, as well as the style of communication it facilitates. No butts about itseating matters!





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