Defining Your Worship Style

Defining your WORSHIP Style………
How understanding your worship style can help you make the right
seating choice for your church?
1) Introduction
Deciding on sanctuary seating that balances form and function can be a task that at
first glance seems like it would be the easiest part of a building project. But anyone
who has ever sat on a church chair selection committee knows there’s a lot more to
seating than meets the eye and that the process can at times be extremely stressful
and trying. Most people, who have never even thought about chairs, now find
themselves involved in making a significant financial investment that will affect
their congregation Sunday after Sunday for years to come. The job can be
Where do you begin? How can you be assured your choice will meet the needs of
your church? How do you navigate the seemingly endless decisions ranging from
permanently installed theatre-style seating to plastic chairs that stack in seconds?
Underlying the difficult selection of seating is the engrained (but erroneous) belief
that a “chair is a chair is a chair.” How can something so commonplace be that
difficult to pick? After all, everyone sits in chairs every day from LAZY BOY recliners
to formal dining room seats to the stiff chairs inevitably found in doctors’ offices. So
surely, it’s not that hard – you simply know a good chair when you sit in one.
However, when it comes to making a seating selection for a congregation, many
committees spend the vast majority of their time focusing on technical issues such
as strength and weight or aesthetic matters such as finish and fabric. While these do
play a role in the choice, the very first question a church really needs to ask is “what
is our worship style?”
In the past, seating in churches was, more often than not, a basic pew that
accommodated lots of people; it was something that, like SCRIPTURE, was sturdy,
unmovable and dare it be said, slightly uncomfortable. This is simply no longer the
case. As churches have evolved, the forms in which congregations worship have also
Today, churches are far more inclusive and reflective of personal styles and
individual preferences. How a congregation gathers can look considerably different
in another church only a few blocks away.
As you begin your search for seating options, you need to consider what your church
is really trying to accomplish? Who are you? Understanding your worship style – (a)
permanent, (b) flexible or (c) transitional – will in turn help you easily identify
exactly what type of seating is needed to enhance the effectiveness of your church’s
A: Permanent | pew-like • seamless seating • versatile • sanctuary
In a permanent worship style, congregations gather on a weekly basis for services in
a sanctuary that is considered to some degree to be sacred and set apart. Often high
ceilings, spacious walls and lots of sight lines often characterize the church building.
These features in turn enhance the personal space felt by each guest. There is little
movement from week-to-week in seating configurations that form pew-like or
seamless rows.
Recognizing a permanent worship style, a selection committee will consider seating
that helps build a strong sense of community while contributing to a reverent
Desired features of seating for churches with a permanent worship style:
Ideally chairs should have a frame width of 20-22 inches, seamless plush foam
cushioning and oversized backs that give a pew-like or continuous seating
The function of portability is appreciated in chairs, but is not the determining
B: Flexible | multi-purpose • with tables • individual seating •
In a flexible worship style, congregations typically gather in multi-purpose
auditoriums. Sometimes these converted buildings – places like large warehouses or
commercial spaces – do not resemble anything like what has traditionally been
considered a “church.” While chairs are placed in rows for either part of a worship
service or for its entirety, they will just as frequently be used in conjunction with
tables. Fellowship is a very important aspect of church-life for this style, rather than
one single person preaching / teaching from the front. There is strong emphasis on
small group discussions and dialogue. These conversations around tables provide
more intimate settings, helping guests form relationships through socialization,
more often than not in combination with food and coffee. In this style, churches are
less concerned about tradition and formality and rather aim to create spaces that
are inviting and friendly.
Identifying a worship-style as flexible encourages a selection committee to consider
seating that gives a sense of personal space, while still being able to change things
up quickly and with ease.
Desired features of seating for churches with a flexible worship style:
Ideally chairs would include a frame width of 18-19 inches, rolled seat cushions,
a more upright back angle and weigh 15-17 pounds.
The weight of each chair is a factor, as the volunteers who move the chairs are
typically youth or seniors.
Storage is normally not a large issue, but chairs must be able to stack and move
easily. Pews would not be an option.
While comfort remains a factor, chairs are narrower than those in a permanent
worship style as they are often used around tables.
C: Transitional | ease of handling • minimal storage • stacking •
In a transitional worship style, churches might gather in a shared multi-purpose
facility like a school gym or community center (sometimes referred to as a
gymatorium). These spaces will be used for one function, only to be transformed
into something else very quickly. A typical Sunday could include a morning worship
service finishing at noon, with a basketball game scheduled to begin at 12:30 p.m.
Later that evening, a seniors group could meet for a potluck and singing of hymns in
the same room. In efforts to utilize space and stretch budgets, a church’s main
meeting area is re-configured frequently on a weekly basis, sometimes even daily.
Identifying a worship-style as transitional encourages a selection committee to
consider seating that is extremely functional, light weight, portable and stackable,
while still providing comfort for those coming to worship services and other church
Desired features of seating for churches with a transitional worship style:
Ideally chairs should be lightweight (less than 15 pounds) and feature an
ergonomic design for comfort.
Because these chairs are stored frequently, it is important that they can be set
up and stacked quickly and with ease, taking up minimal storage space.
It’s crucial to remember that as you discuss and define your church’s worship style,
the conversation should not be limited to a few boards or committees. Rather, it
should include a broad range of ideas and insights from staff to members to church
Recently a church asked if I could assist the church in selling chairs they had only
recently purchased (permanent). At the same time, they requested information on
another style of chair (transitional). Somehow during their initial decision process,
they opted for the look and feel that a larger chair provided, only to experience
frustration upon its arrival, as the purchased chair was too awkward to stack and
required more storage space then they had available. Did they purchase the wrong
chair? That is difficult to say! It is clear however, that the chair selected was not the
best selection for their “style of worship”.
2. The “bottom” line on COMFORT
Once you identify your church’s worship style – and as a result, begin to understand
exactly how seating can enhance your ministry – selection committees are ready to
move on to other issues.
In the forefront of almost everyone’s thoughts is the hot-button topic of comfort. But
what exactly is comfort? What makes one chair more comfy than another? It
appears that opinions on comfort varies as widely as body shapes and what is
comfortable for one person is certainly not comfortable for everyone. Would more
foam equate to more comfort? Or perhaps better foam? Would a contoured seat
make a significant improvement the level of comfort? While most people tend to
think of comfort in relation to what they feel with their “bottom,” it is actually more
accurately defined as a state of mind closely linked to the perception of one’s
“personal space.”
In previous decades, the consideration of “personal space” was a minor one, rarely
given thought to within the context of the church. Congregations were very close,
often forming because of shared ethnic backgrounds. Almost everyone was either a
friend or family member. Reflection as to what an outsider might feel like did not
However, this is no longer true of today’s churches. We live in a transient and
multicultural society, and many churches have strong mandates to reach out to their
surrounding communities. So how can you put those walking through your church’s
front doors at ease? Studies show that when a church’s seating is 80% occupied, a
newcomer will perceive it as full. They feel crowded and don’t want to be forced to
cozy up to someone they barely know. It is important for church chair selection
committees to consider the implications of personal space and seek solutions that
provide all guests with a comfortable experience.
Accommodating the need for personal space has its challenges, however. Without
question, North American’s are physically larger today than we were only a few
decades ago. In the past, a spacing of 18” was typically considered to be an adequate
width for a single adult seat. Today that measurement has increased upwards to 20”
or even 24”. Failing to acknowledge this new reality, and in turn selecting a
narrower chair, will discourage guests from worshiping with your church family,
3. Technical-Details-Matter
Aside from the function and comfort of seating, it’s important to recognize that
technical- details-matter. Probably the least understood and most overlooked
technical issue, is the requirement that all furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E)
placed into all public facilities needs to meet a minimum fire code rating, known as
CAL117E . CAL117E is an independent rating which establishes the rate at which a
material (fabric and foam) subjected to an open flame can ignite. Should the fire
marshal determine that the chairs do not meet CAL117E, the occupancy permit will
not be issued, or revoked. In such cases the organization will have to purchase new
chairs as there is no additive that can be added to the fabric or foam which will
enable the chairs to meet this code requirement.
Churches are encouraged to request a copy of the CAL117E Fire Rating certificate
from the manufacturer of the selected chairs.
4. In Conclusion……
Ironically, after all the work that comes with making a thoughtful decision, chairs
are something that should actually fade into the background. Well-designed and
purposely picked seating should simply support and augment the ministry of the
spoken word.
If lives are not changed because of what happens in your church, then the search for
seating has failed. But, if as a result, you are able to enhance your church’s worship,
connect with your community and ultimately change lives, then your investment in
seating is invaluable.
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