When you take your first peek at youth areas in a church building, depending upon the wow-factor of the wall design, you may or may not notice the seating. There probably will not be seating in the traditional, row-upon-row of pews sense of the word. But because social interaction ranks high in importance to a vibrant youth program, attractive, versatile seating is essential.
And possible, says Paulla Shetterly, associate principal for the interiors department of CDH Partners, Marietta, Georgia. Attractive seating adds a contemporary, “with it” ambience to youth spaces. And boring seating detracts from it.
Says Shetterly: “Students welcome the chance to have a space that is ‘their place to hang out’ and [is] easily identifiable as their own. Styles and colors (and seating) can be much more edgy and themed to the space than you might find in other areas of the church campus.”
Just as Jesus sat the 5,000 on the green grass (Mark 6:39) for an al fresco miracle, youth seating does not have to necessarily be gray metal folding chairs or wooden pews. Or,apparently, anything that is sold as a chair.
There are several considerations and options available for youth seating that are both attractive and functional.
Shetterly observes: “Sometimes worship spaces for teens and younger children do not even require chairs. More churches are electing stadium-style seating or carpeted steps. The important thing is that they understand what kinds of activities will be offered within the areas they are furnishing.”
It is usually a consideration that the seating be movable and can be used in the multipurpose spaces in a variety of arrangements, Shetterly explains. In a single space you may have seating set up in rows for worship, around tables for small groups, or even some sofas and chairs to accommodate the program.
“In larger churches, a student ministry space can often include a number of spacessuch as break out rooms, game rooms, a café or lounge, and other informal places that allow the students to connect with othersin addition to a large worship space,” Shetterly says. “Because of the varied use of these spaces there are some places that use cozy lounge furniture like you might find in a coffee shop. It may be that bar stools are needed for the space, or small tables with stackable chairs.”
And Shetterly adds, “We find that some of the more sophisticated youth ministry spaces get secondary use by other groups, such as men’s groups or ladies meetings.”
The dependable stackable chair is also a possibility. They come either with backs and seats separated by framing or with the seats and backs connected. The difference is more aesthetic than it is functional, says Alice Messner of School Outfitters in Cincinnati, Ohio.
“Polyethylene chairs may not be the prettiest but they are the cheapest to stack and store and the easiest and lightest to move around,” Messner reports.
Whether upholstered or molded, seats come in a wide variety of colors, but consumers are reportedly fairly consistent and predictable in their choices.
Messner says that sales figures over the past 50 years show that color preferences for polyethylene seats depend on the age group using them and, of course, the room’s color scheme.
“Up until 2nd grade, the most popular choices are primary colorsred, blue, and yellow. With the older children and youth, 85% chose the jewel tones, burgundy, or navy blue with hunter green running a distant third. Other colors are available, though,” says Messner.
She also reports that chair frames have added color to their act. Why settle for chrome when powder-coat paint is available in several different colors to match classroom décor?
You can get funky with chairs, but in the end, the most comfortable seating is a chair that is ergonomically designed.
Chair manufacturers are introducing new ergonomic designs and shapes that Messner says are quite a bit different from the old school stacking chair. Different legs and seats with finger-holds for stacking ease are examples.
Depending on the make and model, standard polyethylene chairs are lightweight, less expensive than hard plastic and wood chairs, but typically not as durable, Messner notes. Yet polyethylene chairs still last and last. They can come with a warranty of between 10 to 25 years. And resin chairs usually last longer.
The classic wooden chair is both strong and attractiveand usually considerably more expensive than polyethylene or resin. Still, some prefer the look and durability of wood chairs.
Innovative seating may have a shorter but more interesting life, Shetterly contends. “As with any public spaces, the durability of the fabrics and construction is a concern, but in the youth spaces this can be even more important. We have used ottomans in a grouping for some gathering spaces and breakout spaces at churches. But energetic students are much more willing to use this kind of seating for their informal gatherings than adults,” she adds.
Rebekah Montgomery is an Illinois-based freelance writer, speaker, and editor. She can be reached at .
CDH Partners Inc.
Architecture and interior design
(770) 423-0016 www.cdhpartners.com
(866) 619-1776 www.schooloutfitters.com