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What’s Seating Got to Do with Church Engagement?

Seating selections can have a tremendous impact on how we learn, engage and share our knowledge with others.

Surprisingly, seating can have a tremendous impact on how we learn, engage and share our knowledge with others. From the worship message in the sanctuary to youth groups working on a project, the seating and environment is influential in the outcome.

Space for Gathering  

Common areas are subject to a heavy amount of traffic due to the transformation of traditional church foyers to an integrated hub for the rest of the church. We meet in the common area to chat before Sunday service, share a cup of coffee in fellowship, or work on small group projects together. How can an engaging space be achieved with the use of seating?

Modern and Modular

One solution is modular seating. This style of seating lends itself fluidly to common areas outside the sanctuary. Modular furniture is completely configurable for a variety of spaces and can be used individually, or can create sectional groupings. The more seat¬ing options within the family of products, the more inventive the interior team can be as they create an environment that encourages regular church attenders and those new to the church to fellowship with each other. As interior teams begin to explore their seating options, considering modular seating, including individual chairs, love¬seats, sofas, integrated tables and ottomans, which can be joined together to create any design imaginable.

Additional features such as power and data sources, fabric options, interchangeable arms, foot, leg and bases, as well as mid and high back styles will enhance the common area's ability to function in a positive way for church members, youth groups and children.  Because modular furniture is usually found in the high traffic common areas of the church, it is paramount the furniture is very durable and exceed industry construction standards. This does not mean plush, comfortable seating is not possible. Manufacturers who specialize in a variety of seating models have the ability to provide high quality, durable, well designed furniture while achieving optimum comfort. 

While the cost of high quality modular seating may be more than expected, the result is worth the investment because of the additional benefits it offers. Well manufactured modular seating includes additional protection such as moisture barrier, which will help eliminate the risk of stains from soda or coffee drinks. High quality modular seating should also be renewable.

Renewability enables the interior team to make updates and changes to the décor of the common areas without purchasing brand new furniture.  Simply change the upholstery, arms or feet, and voila, you have a refurbished common area. It allows the interior team the flexibility to keep the furnishings fresh.  Once the interior team has identified the right type of modular seating for the common areas, the arrangement of the seating is just as important. Integrating ottomans, innovative tablet arm styles and tables can assist with increasing the functionality of the seating.

This also enables common areas to be used in a variety of capacities. The right modular seating directly impacts the feeling of engagement, while simultaneously benefiting church-attenders who are working collaboratively to propel church activities and outreach programs. 

Vibrant Children's Space

Children's areas capture the wonder and vibrancy of youth. When it comes to chil¬dren's seating, the interior team can really let their creativity shine while maintaining a high level of safety for children.

Experience will tell us, if any item within the reach of children is not secured to the floor, it is high¬ly probable that the item will get knocked over, quickly becoming a safety hazard.  One way to eliminate this hazard altogether is to remove hard seating from children's areas and replace hard seating with soft, fluffy pillows or cushions. If several children's classes are gathering together for a specific event, the larger room could include colored carpet tape on the floor to provide guidance to the children on where they should sit and in somewhat orderly rows. 

Another alternative to hard seating is inflatable seating. We have all seen the bouncy houses and how much fun children having literally bouncing off the walls. One of the best moments of being a parent occurs when we feel confident our children are safe. The use of inflatable seating may provide some safety assurances to parents. While there are plenty of options for inflatable seating, it is still critical to opt for seating that has been well designed and tested, ensuring that the inflated chair will not deflate as soon as a child jumps on it. Reputable inflatable seating often comes in a variety of sizes, styles and colors. This seating option equips the interior team with the ability to use their imagination as they create a children's space that is safe, fun and vibrant. 

If more traditional seating is needed in children's areas, chairs and tables that are height adjustable will allow each class room to be adapted to fit the needs to the children present. Many manufacturers of children's classroom furniture provide a variety of colorful options. 

Teen Trends

Transitioning from children's areas to youth areas is not for the faint of heart. Youth groups themselves are transitioning from children into young adults. Youth areas often must reflect the changing needs of teens presenting clearly defined differences in the décor, structure and seating. What works in the children's area will not work for the youth groups, the changing needs of teens presenting clearly defined differences in the décor, structure and seating.

What works in the children's area will not work for the youth groups.  Seating that can convert from larger group settings into smaller break out groups will provide the flexibility and adaptability youth areas hunger for. Along with adaptable seating, another important consideration is device connectivity. The ability to integrate mobile devices into church life provides a sense of continuity as youth may bring out¬side activities with them to church. Find seating that includes power and USB outlets to ensure their minds, hearts and phones are fully charged. Youth ministers also want to provide resources for their youth groups to encourage and motivate them. When a youth area is designed and furnished with their needs in mind, they will have a sense of belonging and are better able to have an impactful, meaningful voice as they mission to others in their communities. 

Café & Dining Areas

Café and dining areas are a perfect space to be the literal welcoming mat for the church. Whether it's before or after services, during the week, special events, or other community events conducted within the church, the café and dining area is frequently where people come to meet, greet and chat. This space offers the chance for us to connect and get to know each other in profound, meaningful ways. The seating and tables in the café and dining areas should reflect the direction of the interior team while accommodating large numbers of people.  Long, narrow spaces may be well suited by the use of café stools instead of the standard height chairs. Café stools can accommodate gathering together easily, and can also be arranged around the perimeter, with standard height dining chairs and tables in the center area of the café. As one can expect, the café and dining area is sure to have plenty of spills, so considering the construction and materials of the chairs and tables is essential. Hard surface café and dining seating and tables is the recommended option. Re¬member to check with the manufacturer to ensure repeated wiping and cleaning solutions will not harm or deteriorate the paint or finish applied to the chairs and tables.

Sanctuary Seating

Sanctuary seating has the ability to echo the primary tenants the church is trying to achieve. What is most important to the church should be reflected in the seating. If the church has a dedicated sanctuary with ongoing special activities or community events throughout the year, then auditorium or defined pew seating may be the best option. If the church has limited space and wants to have ultimate flexibility from week to week or even day to day, flexible chairs may perform best in limited space.

The modern church must be cognizant of each person walking through the door, and how best to serve the needs of an individual as well as the congregation. Sanctuary seating can cause emotions to flare when representatives from different generations don't always see eye to eye on the design of the seating. Some congregations prefer to select traditional pews for their sanctuary seating. Pews give parishioners the opportunity to respect and maintain traditional sanctuary standards. Traditional pews can take on a modern flare with the customized pew end by adding a symbol or designing a completely new pew end. Many pew manufacturers have the ability to design to each church's unique specifications. This is a perfect opportunity to add a special touch to an otherwise traditional pew.

Another opportunity for a contemporary take on traditional style is a combination of an auditorium flip-up seat with the back of a pew. The pew/auditorium seat combination allows the church to have defined seats yet create a sense of community, and a traditional look is maintained when one is walking down the church aisle. A third state-of-the-art pew option incorporates a defined, individual seat cushion with traditional pew back. In this model, the pew seat remains the same but maintenance and facility management teams can change out seat cushions without replacing an entire pew.

New churches or those choosing to adapt to contemporary trends are aided by defining who they are or want to be. This may be easier for new churches to accomplish, as established churches can have potential limitations which make style and trends changes harder to accommodate.
Many new churches are experiencing tremendous growth resulting in the need to provide new, comfortable seating easily and quickly. Flexible wood chairs equip the sanctuary with the ability to adjust easily to the ever-changing spatial needs while accommodating a high level of comfort and durability. In addition to providing the flexibility a congregation may want in the sanctuary area, wood chairs also have the ability to be joined or inter-locked together.

The interlocking options range from straight to radius rows. The interior design of the sanctuary will dictate which feature will benefit the congregation the most as it is imperative that clear sight lines be maintained in order to preserve the congregation's focus on the message. While there are hundreds of chairs available, providing each visitor with a chair that helps maintain attentive comfort throughout the service is not something that is inherent in every chair on the market. Ergonomic attention to detail in the design of the chair ensures a comfortable sit during the message and guarantees those leaving the sanctuary at the end of the service won't have any physical discomfort that results later.

Auditorium seating is a contemporary seating trend that has been increasing over the years in church sanctuaries. Auditorium seating manufacturers have uncovered a variety of ways to add comfort and durabil¬ity with traditional elements of pews. One concern with auditorium seating is the po¬tential for failure with mechanical parts that are utilized to raise the seat in the upward direction. The use of a quiet, gravity lift seat can alleviate any concerns about continu¬ous wear on mechanical parts and springs. With that in mind, it is recommended inte-rior teams research the best manufacturing methods for auditorium seating. Many man¬ufacturers have developed a wide range of options with levels of comfort to accommo-date the changing needs to congregations.

So, as interior teams across the US gather information and research the latest trends to understand how best to create engaging spaces throughout the church, it's import¬ant to ask, what's seating got to do with it? You will find, seating has a lot to do with the sense of engagement and community the church aspires to communicate in its' mission to glorify the word.

AMANDA OPDYCKE has served as the Market Manager for Sauder Worship Seating for over three years. She has published articles in various religious publications with content ranging from seating construction to ergonomics. She can be reached at aopdycke@ sauderworship.com.




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