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Seven Chair Considerations
By: George Kreger

As I have assisted hundreds of churches over recent years with their church furnishings needs, I believe there are seven primary considerations that a church needs to weigh during their chair search. Too often, only a couple of these seven points are taken into account, and the result is a purchase that is often regretted over the years following.

1. Cost
When you appoint a committee for any sort of church furnishings purchase, you can be sure that among the group members will be those whose primary concern is going to be cost. This is certainly true when it comes to church worship seating. Without an intentional effort to do so, the issue of cost will be raised early and often at the expense of the other criteria. Make sure that each of the criteria is discussed individually and that the committee together determines which criteria are most important to the church. Over and over, I’ve heard churches lament that price and price alone was allowed to determine their seating choice, and it was not long before that became obvious to the church constituency. Remember, “The pain of poor quality lasts long after the joy of saving money.”

2. Comfort
Although cost is the most heavily weighed church seating criterion, a close second is “comfort.” We like to be comfortable when we’re seated for extended periods of time, and nothing affects that level of comfort more than the chairs you’re sitting on. Here are some “comfort” factors.

More padding does not mean more comfort. One of the most common assumptions I see well-meaning people make is that a chair with three inches of padding will be more comfortable than a chair with one inch. This is simply not the case. Thickness is not as important as quality and contour.

All foam is not the same. There are many options manufacturers can choose from when selecting the foam quality levels they utilize in their products.

The width of chairs is an important consideration. Never purchase less than a 19-inch-wide chair for worship (20 inches is the standard).

It’s a fact that foam will never become firmer after you purchase chairs, only softer. Don’t be overly concerned if the sample chair you have seems a bit stiff. This likely is am indicator that a higher-quality foam is being employed that will serve you better over the long run.

Don’t overlook the effects of contour. Many chairs are simply a flat piece of plywood with foam on top of plywood and fabric or vinyl holding the foam to the wood. But, the human body is not flat, so discomfort tends to develop very quickly. Contour molded chairs with less padding and upholstery will often provide greater comfort. Testing this principle out before purchase is very important.

3. Storage
Most churches need to maximize every bit of storage they possess. The reality is that chairs that provide both excellent comfort and efficient storage will cost more than chairs that provide excellent comfort and a low price point.

Here’s a key point to remember. When you’re involved in a church construction project, there’s a square foot price for the project. If a church is able to construct less square footage through the purchase of chairs that store efficiently, the savings can be significant. My counsel in new construction settings is always the “win-win” of saving dollars and obtaining chairs that maximize storage.

What about settings where new construction is not taking place? I’m still very partial to chairs that store well. In the long run, the extra dollars paid for the storage attribute will not be missed.  But, over the long run, chairs that store well will be appreciated often.

4. Durability
All church furnishings need to have a high degree of durability, and this is especially true for seating.  Here are the main factors that determine the durability of church seating.

Far and away, the primary factor that determines chair durability is the strength of the frame.  How do you determine if the frame is strong? Specifications to consider include the gauge of metal used to construct the frame. Also look for how many lateral cross members the chair has, both connecting legs to each other and those under and behind the seat. Lateral stability is accomplished through these cross members. Is the frame a wire rod frame or of tubular construction? Tubular almost always provides more stiffness and longer life for the chair.

Fabric is rated in “double rubs,” which refers to how fabrics are tested before they are released for the church furniture market. Essentially, a machine rubs the fabric twice, imitating a person sitting down and getting up. That equals one “double rub.” Look for fabrics that have a minimum of 150,000 double rubs for their rating. 

Chair foam quality can have a huge range. Some foam will be very soft at first, and this may lead to a church chair purchase based on the appearance of comfort. Choose a chair that is more on the firm side when purchasing. Also, it’s wise to only purchase chairs that have the foam compressed before applying the fabric. This way, as the foam softens over the time, the fabric will stay taut and not wrinkle.

5. Aesthetics
What kind of environment will your church chairs be located in? A more formal traditional one?  Or an edgy casual one? Your environment will be the No. 1 determiner of the level of aesthetics you will want as you purchase seating.  

I believe the most attractive chair frames are still those made out of wood. The problem, of course, is that wood frame church chairs are much more expensive than steel frame church chairs. There are now a dozen or more metal frame finishes available for churches. The ability to match chair frame to chair fabric has never been more available for churches.

Every manufacturer now has standard lines of fabrics, as well as upgrade lines. The reality is that there are also thousands of additional choices from mills around the world. Choosing from these mills may cost a bit more and take longer to access, but almost all are available. Some premium fabrics, though, can double the price of a chair.

The back of a chair is seen more than the seat. When you’re sitting in a seat, you’ll be looking at back of the chair in front of you. Do you want to see all fabric as you look forward?  This is called a “covered back.” However, covered backs cost more, and, if your chairs are going to be moved a lot, covered backs tend to provide less handholds and the fabric may wear more as a result.

6. Handling
Handling seating normally only gets attention when the chairs need to be moved regularly, and even then only by those individuals who have to actually move them. Here are some factors to consider to help appreciate the efforts of the chair movers in your church.

The most common style of worship chair weighs around 20 pounds. If you have to reset a 500-seat auditorium, that means more than 10,000 pounds have to be moved. In addition, standard worship chairs stack six or seven high, and the higher you have to lift a chair, the more that weight affects your handling. There are lighter-weight alternatives of chair styles for worship of course, but the trade-off is always higher costs. However, take a serious look at these options, as the benefits over time for handling can be tremendous.

Handling chairs becomes far easier when the chairs have convenient gripping points for lifting and moving. If your application calls for chairs to be moved regularly, making sure such gripping points are available is important. Look for a bar running laterally across the top back of the chair. These provide a great grip point and, with a wise choice of frame finishes, look great as well.  

When moving a large number of chairs, not having enough chair trucks can greatly impede the process. I recommend one chair truck for every 100 chairs that need to be moved. This provides a good balance between those stacking the chairs and those moving them. Make sure your chair trucks have good quality tires and side rails to help prevent chairs from slipping off the side of the bottom plate.  

7. Functionality
I’ve found that while there are no two church settings that are identical, church seating needs tend to fit into one of three primary categories of seating.  

Permanent seating continues to dominate most church environments. My use of the descriptive “permanent” does not denote that the seats are affixed to the facility, though that can certainly be the case. Rather, the implication is that in this type of application, the chairs rarely need to be moved. The use of the room is quite static throughout the various programs of the church, so the “function” of the seating for the room is static as well.  

With the growing need for church environments to lend themselves to various applications and uses, the use of flexible seating has increased significantly over the past couple decades. By “flexible,” I mean that the seating can be used in different configurations, such as in rowed auditorium style seating as well as more informal arrangements such as around tables. These chairs tend to be less bulky and a bit lighter than permanent seating. They also tend to cost a bit less.

However, the assumption is that they’re consistently being used in the room they’re located in and not stored. If the chairs need to be stored, rather than flexible seating, the description that applies best is transitional seating. With many church environments today, rooms will need to be reconfigured many times during a week. When this is the reality, seating that’s simple to handle and simple to store is important.  

Some transitional seating options of today can be stored in 25 percent of the space it takes to hold a comparable level of permanent seating. Transitional seating tends to be very strong and will weigh less than what permanent and flexible seating will. While these types of chairs will be more expensive, they can be a wise investment over the years of use they’ll provide.

George Kreger is the lead pastor of New Hope Community Church in Bryan, Ohio. Visit him on the Web at ChurchFurnitureGuy.com.

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