How do you worship? Does the seat you are sitting on really matter? I grew up in that traditional Baptist Church that had pews. In those days, churches that had theater seats instead of pews were looked down on. Does it really matter? My own answer to that is YES. As I grew up, under the rule of the Chairman of Deacons father, my likes and comforts were similar to those of my parents. I had no identity. I had no choice. Today, married 22 years, with three kids and post school loans, I do have a choice. My choice would be seats. As an architect, my choice would be seats.
At Powers Goolsby, we have found out that the business side of Church is where seats become a better choice for most churches we work with. The standard rule of all sanctuary and classroom seating is that once 80% full, the room is full. With pews as the main seating, congregational members tend to take up far more linear room down the pew. Purses, Bibles, and sleeping kids all will fight for the same real estate that your first time visitor would. During any full service such as Christmas, the familiar sound of the pastor asking the congregation to slide down the pew to get more room can be heard. A faithful guest services member politely asks each row to scoot in to make the much needed room for that valuable visitor. Individual seats on the other hand, do not share their pew cousins territorial seating views. Each seat is well defined and contained. Empty seats can easily be seen by a casual glance. That guest services member can count each empty seat to better seat groups knowing that they will fit. No worries about there being enough space or if the existing seated member will vacate taken space. With self-raising seats, the total space needed for the seating area for a particular venue can be less and still be fire code compliant. Pews have a fixed base and the walking aisle is an additional linear dimension added to the seat spacing. That’s the business side of seating, but what about the worship side?
I have never met two church congregations that are the same. For example, First Baptist Church of Universal City and True Vine Baptist Church, although both are Baptist Churches, the wants and needs of each of the congregations are different. The type and style of worship is different and thus, the decision of seating is different. This is the same thinking that goes into the development of the size of stage and A/V system. Some of you reading this may jump to the conclusion that the age of the congregation plays into the answer of pews vs chairs. And as that may have some sway within the argument, I have found that you cannot assume that one age group will lean a specific way. Actually, we have seen young congregations that want pews and older congregations that want seats.
So, this concept of deciding the type of seating to use is never a straight forward answer. Each church is specific and unique. No one model can be applied across the board. If it could, my life as a church architect would be much simpler. A design for a new sanctuary should not be fully developed until this simple question of seating type is answered. Seats do matter in the design of a worship facility and should be among the first questions answered rather than the last.