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Table Considerations for Churches
By: Spencer Posey

Today's church provides many areas of interaction desired by their growing communities. Whether preparing for a reception in the social hall, a raffle in the gathering area, or adding to existing worship space, folding tables are a necessity.

Here are the more popular questions asked by church leaders when evaluating and purchasing folding tables for their multi-purpose or communal space.

What types of folding tables are available today?
Many advances in materials and manufacturing processes have increased your folding table purchasing options, which now include plywood, laminate, plastic, and aluminum.

Particle Board
Available since the mid-1900s, thick particleboard melamine tables continue to be the lowest cost folding table option, but the 1-year limited warranty they typically carry speaks for itself. These tables are heavy, very susceptible to breakage, and don't support much weight.

A long-standing staple in the hotel banquet world, plywood tables are rigid and fairly strong, but are typically on the heavier end of the table spectrum. And, because they're wood, many plywood tables are susceptible to cracking, warping, and splintering. Recently, some manufacturers have addressed these durability and handling issues through design improvements such as high-end acrylic finishes (to the top and bottom of the table surface) and through the use of aluminum runners.

High Pressure Laminate
These folding tables use a laminate sheet similar to those found on kitchen countertops for the tabletop surface, which is adhered to a plywood sub-surface. This style of table has the rigidity and strength of plywood, while providing additional durability and customization options. Laminate folding table surfaces are stain-resistant, won't crack or splinter, resist heat and water damage, and are easy to clean. Depending on the style and quality of the laminate, they can also be used without linens.
There are generally two types of plastic folding tables: "blow-molded" polyethylene and "thermoformed" ABS.  There are vast differences in performance and durability between these two types of plastic tables. Originally developed for the residential market, blow-molded tables gained increased use in limited commercial markets due to their cost and availability. Blow-molded plastic tables have a slightly textured surface, are typically easy to clean, and lightweight. However, due to the manufacturing process, blow-molded tables do not have an internal frame structure and are thus weaker, less durable, and more susceptible to having an uneven table surface.

A thermoformed ABS plastic table typically has an internal wooden frame with ABS plastic sheets vacuum-formed around it. This construction method adds strength, durability, and higher load bearing characteristics to the table without significantly adding weight. The ABS plastic surface is also considered superior for its hardness, gloss, and toughness. The best ABS plastic tables can support over 2,000 pounds, have a thin wood laminate sub-surface (that provides moderate heat shielding and keeps the table surface smooth and flat), and can be used for indoor and outdoor functions.

Newer to the market, these folding tables are among the lightest and strongest (some able to support over 3,000 pounds), but carry a higher cost. Aluminum table surfaces are maintenance-free and the seamless versions provide a more sanitary option, such as for kitchens or banquet areas. Despite the cost, aluminum tables can last a lifetime, be used without linens, and are ideal for outdoor use, as well.

What should I budget and expect to pay for folding tables?
When purchasing folding tables, it's important to consider your overall investment as opposed to the least expensive option. While a table that costs less might seem the most prudent option at first, they will likely need to be replaced sooner or require more maintenance. While aluminum tables are among the priciest tables today, food and fellowship going hand-in-hand, these tables can provide the most sanitary option for your social functions involving meals. 

When budgeting for this capital expense, pricing varies dramatically depending on table type, construction, finishes, leg styles, etc.  Expect to spend anywhere from $65 to $400 for a 30" x 72" rectangular table and $80 to $475 for a 60" round table (not including shipping). Multiple table purchases of 10 or more are typically where volume discounts start. Finally, it's also a good idea to keep a comprehensive inventory of all your furniture and to document any losses that might occur for future capital reserve budgeting.

What features work best for my environment?
Your overall experience and cost of ownership have much to do with the type of folding table you select. The expected useful life of a particle board folding table may be as little as one year. By comparison, an ABS table may cost four times as much but can likely last 10 to 15 times longer and delivers a better return on investment. Hence, durability should be among your greatest considerations.

In addition to the type of table, some factors that also contribute to a table's longevity include: reliability testing; edge design; maintenance needs such as refinishing or sanding; and corner construction, such as impact-resistant corners to prevent damage from accidental dropping.

The weight of a folding table is also among your most important considerations. Be sure to take into account all of your volunteers—not just the largest and strongest—who will carry and fold them. You will want to ensure table weight and handling doesn't cause back strain and injury.

The table surface's ease of cleaning is also a priority, since many arts and crafts and food service events occur in worship facilities. The type and color of the table surface also affect the need for linens or the color of linens you use. 

How do I choose between rectangular and round folding tables?
You should determine the table sizes and shapes that best meet the needs of your congregation. Rectangular tables are available in lengths ranging from 2 ½' to 8'; widths range from 1 ½' to 3'.  A typical round table ranges anywhere from 24" to 72" in diameter; 60" is the most common and can seat from six to eight comfortably depending on the type of chair. Although used less often by church communities, unique shapes such as half-rounds are also available and allow for multiple setup configurations.

The rectangular shaped table is a good choice for multi-purpose needs, while round is often preferred for social events. Many church communities find that a mix of rectangular and round tables best suit their varied fellowship needs.

Spencer Posey is director of marketing with Mity-Lite Inc., www.mitylite.com.

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