The mind can absorb only as much as the seat can endure, so you should be using the “butt test.”
By Karen Kelly
What does a hospitable person say to a guest just arriving at their home or office? “Welcome, have a seat.” Without realizing it, offering someone a place to sit is a natural gesture of hospitality. Ask yourself what kind of hospitality your church is offering your guests?
Is it comfortable, inviting places to sit, fellowship, and listen, or uncomfortable and purely utilitarian seating? The seating you offer to your guests says a lot about how much you value a person’s presence in your church, as well as how important their involvement is in fulfilling your ministry.
We all know that first impressions are extremely valuable in helping a first time guest become a regular church attender.
While first impressions come from a variety of sources, your furniture plays a significant part in forming opinions in the minds of your guests. While not realizing it, guests make assessments from the furniture and décor of the church about several factors, including: Stress – is this a relaxing, stress-free environment where I can feel free to be myself and share my life; time – am I comfortable staying and lingering here with friends, or do I feel like leaving as soon as my time here is done; relatability – do I feel comfortable with people who I feel are like me and who understand what I am about?
It may not seem that a simple thing like a chair can affect a person’s attitude about whether they are going to connect with your church, but it really does. Consequently, the decision as to what seating to choose for a particular space has important ministry significance.
The types of seating and the spaces you will use them in include: flexible seating for multipurpose situations, fixed seating, which includes theater-type seating and pews for chapels and worship centers, and soft seating for conversation and fellowship areas.
The choice you make depends a lot on the intended function of the room you are purchasing the seating for. If you are choosing seating for a multipurpose room where chairs are moved around frequently and a variety of meetings take place, you will definitely need to get chairs that can be moved around easily and stored away when not needed.
If your space is a theater or worship center, you can go with fixed seating — either theater style or pews for a more traditional church atmosphere. This kind of seating will go a long way towards creating a more worshipful atmosphere and carry through the interior theme of the room. One of the newest and most ministry useful spaces that churches are now utilizing is space for people to just relax, linger and fellowship.
This is where soft seating comes into play. This category of seating offers a wide variety of options, colors, and styles. You can choose from leather chairs, sectionals, tables with chairs, sofas, loveseats and the accessories that go with them to create a space where people want to stay and enjoy.
What else to consider
In addition to the kind of seating you are purchasing, there are other considerations you need to evaluate before making your purchase. Make sure that each of these elements are balanced together and that one particular aspect does not rule the decision. These considerations are important no matter what type of seating you are considering.
Design: The design theme and “look” of the room are greatly affected by your seating choices. You will probably have a large number of chairs in the room so the color, fabric and the style of the seating are all major considerations. Make sure the seating compliments the color, style and overall “feel” of the room. Chairs should not stand out in the room, but blend in with other decorative elements. Where do you want people’s eyes to go in the room? The seating should not be the focal point.
Comfort: Uncomfortable or marginally comfortable seating can deter people from even coming to your church. Before purchasing a chair, do the “butt test” – just sit in it and get others to do the same and get their opinion. Consider the wide variety of people who will be sitting in these chairs. Many cheaper chairs are not wide enough for a lot of people to feel comfortable, so pay close attention to the width of the chairs you are considering.
Also, consider where the back of chair will hit a person’s back while sitting in the chair. Another question to be answered is how a person may feel in the chair after they have been sitting in it for a couple of hours. Getting recommendations from other churches that have used a particular chair can be very helpful.
Maintenance: In a multipurpose room, the chairs will be moved around quite a bit, so a major maintenance consideration should be the weight of the chairs. Your maintenance staff and volunteers need to be able to stack the chairs without injury. Also, be sure to purchase enough moveable dollies to store chairs when not in use. Consider too how easily the chairs will show dirt and how they should be cleaned. Do they have parts that could break or easily get banged up when moved around?
If you are using fabric parts in these chairs, consider purchasing extra pieces to replace those that may get ripped. Extra parts should be purchased at the time of the initial purchase to keep them on hand when needed as colors and fabrics can be discontinued after several years.
Cost: While not an insignificant consideration in your purchasing decision, make sure you explore many options before you purchase the least expensive seating available. While keeping to the budget is important, you are making a purchase that should last your church for many years to come. The cheapest chair may need replacement many years before the more substantial choice and thus cost you more in the long run.
Every space you design should enhance the purpose and ministry of your church. The seating for that space can be a costly investment and will contribute to a lasting impression on everyone who enjoys the space. The right seating for each situation and space can be found when you take the time to consider all factors — the result will be a lasting and “comfortable” place for people to enjoy for many years.
Karen Kelly is an interior design consultant with Pacific Coast Design, a church-focused interior design group, Dove Canyon, CA. Prior to that, she was director of facility development at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA.