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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Pews or Chairs: That is the Question...

PewschairsThere's a really good article posted over at ChurchCentral.com about how to make the right decision between pews or chairs in your next building project...

Pastors and church leaders everywhere spend long hours and sleepless nights dreaming, debating and agonizing over one of the most difficult questions ever to face those called to serve a church. After analyzing costs, pros and cons, and potential obstacles, the question must be decided: Pews or chairs?

Okay, so the issue isn’t that weighty. But choosing proper church seating is tough. There is no universal right answer. However, pastors who have moved from pews to chairs generally have good things to say about the transition—and have some advice for those considering it.

The primary issues include:

Issue #1: Space.

The main reason pastors think of switching to chairs is simple physics: More people can fit in the same amount of space. That was the case for David Wilson, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Valparaiso, Fla.

"About a year ago, our growth put us in a bind in terms of how many people our sanctuary could hold," he said.

Like Wilson, at such a point the pastor of a growing church has a decision to make. He could add another service, but if the congregation already offers multiple services that may not be an option. A building program may be expensive and time consuming.

"Lacking any ability to expand, I looked for other alternatives," Wilson said. "The chairs would allow us to get 30 more people into our facility."

Joe Gnatek, senior pastor of Stafford Community Worship Center in Stafford Springs, Conn., has a similar story. Chairs enabled his church to hold about 25 percent more people.


#2: Tradition.

Every congregation contains people who will want to hold onto pews for dear life, if for no other reason than they’ve been there so long. How does a pastor handle those who are emotionally (and otherwise) attached to pews while making the case that chairs are a positive step?

Soon after Deyssler Padilla became pastor of Church with a Purpose in Pueblo, Colo., he emphasized the necessity of turning the sanctuary into a multi-purpose room with chairs to accommodate growth. It took about a year to prepare older members; some people departed after refusing to listen to his overtures.

Gnatek advises pastors to accept the fact "there will always be those who are attached to the pews." Because of this, he suggests enlisting members in the process.

"I got free samples from three different chair companies and set them in the back of the sanctuary," Gnatek said. "I put them there for three months and told everyone, ‘When you get a chance sit in those chairs, tell me which one you like the best.’ And that is what they did. We chose a (style) and ordered them."

Issue #3: Cost.

Even in a small worship center, replacing the seating is not cheap. Most churches’ operating budgets don’t have huge reserves. So how does a pastor organize members to pay for it?

For Wilson, expense has proven the biggest obstacle.

"After Katrina last year, the suppliers raised their prices astronomically due to the ‘increase in costs of foam,’" Wilson said. "We are on hold because of that, until we can finish raising more money."

Aberdeen Wesleyan Church in Aberdeen, S.D., recently replaced the chairs they had been using for more than a decade. Pastor Brian La Croix suggests fund-raising events, such as the ice cream social his church sponsored...


Reaching non-believers

In addition, newcomers -- particularly those with no church background -- are usually more comfortable with chairs than pews. The latter are sometimes seen as "too churchy."

However, chairs alone don’t attract the lost.

"Some people – even pastors – don’t understand that the benches or the chairs won’t bring people in," Padilla said. "People attract people. People bring people. If the congregation isn’t ready for newcomers, then they aren’t ready for new chairs."

Gnatek mentions one less-obvious benefit of the move from pews to chairs. The latter prove more comfortable, particularly if your worship services last longer than an hour.

"The mind can only take what the seat can handle," Gnatek said.

Any thoughts?  Have you made the switch from one to another?  Are you happy with your decision?

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June 7, 2006 in Church Construction | Permalink

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I oversaw the replacement of our seating a few months ago. It actually went fairly smoothly. We anticipated a lot more grimacing than we got. Once the new chairs were installed, everyone was very pleased.

Some things that helped us in the transition.

-The cost of the chairs was roughly the cost of 2 maintenance cycles. (recovering and repair)
- We got a great deal on a high end chair via www.saveyourchurchmoney.com
- We were able to actually sell all of our pews to other churches via www.usedpews.org
- If/when we expand our sanctuary, they liked that the chairs could come to the new building.
- People like the flexibility chairs provide. We can now hold banquets in our sanctuary.

About 3 months later, it's hard for our people to imagine what life was like in the pews. The new chairs are so comfortable and have enhanced our church's atmosphere greatly. I noticed this the first week... the sound in the building while the congregation is singing is "fuller" with our people in chairs.

Not sure why, but it's true. Overall, it was a project that didn't cost us very much but we got a great return on.

Posted by: adam | Jun 7, 2006 9:30:42 AM

That article (originally from PurposeDriven.com) is at least a couple years old - I don't even remember the interview!


Posted by: Brian La Croix | Jun 7, 2006 10:29:39 AM

As long as there are cup holders, I can live with either chairs or pews ... and I don't mean those little communion cup things ...

Posted by: Rick | Jun 8, 2006 1:14:41 AM

Chairs are great, but then that old classic joke if no more...."He who farts in Church must sit in own Pew"

Posted by: luke camara | Jun 8, 2006 8:57:56 AM

Sunday the church I attended was in a movie theatre - stadium seating to be exact. It was rather dark as well. Most definitely was cold. People were falling asleep even though the music was really loud!

The fellowship we came from a year ago had pews. Tuesday we were there for a funeral. The sanctuary was packed. (She was a contagious Christian to say the least) Sitting in the pew so closely by provided a sense of togetherness. What would it have provided to others (specifically non-believers) though should it have been more empty? Interestingly enough, we sat in the same section of pews we did for years. Although, it was clear that "our previous pew" had been taken over since our departure. :)

The fellowship we a part of now uses chairs. They are still close together to maximize space. They are easy to move as need be. They allow for real flexibility. The chairs do. The people sitting in the chairs, well..... Just try telling them you're going to rearrange them! We sit in the same section of chairs each Sunday - usually the same row. One thing I have noticed though, when our family is truly worshipping - sometimes we're not exactly inside the lines our own chair provides.

Posted by: Camey | Jun 8, 2006 10:10:27 AM

Good article. I imagine that those who are in love with their pews might be more willing to part with them if the alternative is to raise a bunch of money for a larger sanctuary.

My only compaint with chairs is that the rows are often placed too close together to allow easy entrance/exit from one's seat.

Posted by: Billy Cox | Jun 8, 2006 11:30:39 AM

I wonder if suffering saints in other countries, who follow Christ with all of their hearts, would even consider this question as serious? Really...to me, it's a disgusting question to even have to consider... unless of course the church is all about our comfort....and sadly, in America it is.

I live for the day when American Christians debate whether or not to pray or fast for a few days versus stupid seating arrangements.

Posted by: Stacy L. Harp | Jun 8, 2006 9:30:05 PM

This article actually came out a couple of months ago but we were interviewed last year for it. For our church the decision to switch from pews to chairs had more to do with space than comfort. We could actually fit more people into our sanctuary with chairs than with pews. We added about 25% more seating because of it. It came down to a vision decision; our goal is to become a church for the unchurched. Let's face it, the unchurched probably don't care as much as we do, but they will when their rears start hurting from hard pews. Last thing we want is for something to distract them from hearing the Gospel message.

Posted by: Joe Gnatek | Jun 8, 2006 10:07:10 PM

I've attended churches with theater-style seating, and with pews. My vote - pews (with ample cushioning, of course). There's just something that feels "right" with pews (perhaps from my youth in a small NC Methodist church), but I'm also able to sit much closer to my wife! An added benefit! ;)

Doctrine Matters

Posted by: Tom | Jun 8, 2006 11:09:26 PM

First, I'd like to say this... Don't bring this to the floor of a Baptist Church business meeting. Because if you did it would split the church into and then they'd have to start all over.... Just kidding..

If it was me I'd have Cracker Barrel Rocking Chairs and spittoons... Just kidding guys..

To me I don't think God really cares what a church uses in they're buildings... A place to set is a place to set...

Posted by: Jeff Ruble | Jun 9, 2006 5:59:03 PM

I'm thinking of installing rock benches like they used in the first century church for seating. What ya think? too cold? BYOC

Posted by: Jay Gainer | Jun 10, 2006 3:09:02 PM

I was considering a call to a church. I visited the facilities. It had pews that could seat 96 people in the sanctuary. I knew that if the church grew it would need an interim strategy - chairs and a second service - until a new facility was built. I casually said to the deacon, as the church grows we might want to consider chairs. The shock on his face was followed by, "We just got these pews two weeks ago." I found out that church had used folding chairs for 25 years...they were not about to give up their pews! Five years later we did purchase chairs to provide additional seating without giving up the pews.

Posted by: Dan Moore | Jun 11, 2006 8:01:27 AM

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