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Multi-Purpose Seating Considerations
By: Spencer Posey

While pastoral administrators, managers, and suppliers alike go to great lengths to provide comfortable sanctuary seating, it is important to also keep prayer top of mind throughout the entire facility: in the social or fellowship hall, cafeteria, Sunday school room, and, in some cases, even in the parking lot.

Multi-purpose seating provides a worship facility several chair types to consider, including stackable and folding options. Over the past few years, new designs and approaches have been introduced to address a range of seating issues and to better satisfy facility-wide seating requirements. 

Foremost among church furnishing decisions are two parameters and they are not necessarily compatible.

According to Rick Emmelhainz from Church Partner, "The first is durability, which typically involves weight, materials, and design. A standard expectation is for church furniture to last at least a decade or more without issue. The second parameter is price, since most often the revenue source is contributed funds."

Despite the importance of a dealer or vendor relationship, reputation for durability, or availability of desired product, if the chair is unaffordable, the other criteria become less important, oftentimes at the expense of a congregation's comfort. 

In this age of Googling, it is important to understand the various multi-purpose seating options available that provide some level of comfort so that price alone doesn't dictate the purchasing decision, and one that's regretted for years to come.

Stacking Chair Options
Teaching spaces are used by a broad spectrum of a congregation's membership, and, as such, there are chair attributes such as finger pinch points and ease of cleaning to consider.

Among the stacking chairs available for these spaces are those that feature contoured polypropylene seats for comfort and durable steel framing. With no folding or moving parts, this stackable design provides the safest option for the classroom. These chairs generally weigh less than 15 pounds, making them ideal for handling, even by seniors or small children.

Storage is also a key feature, with many styles designed for dense, upright stacking, from 25 to 32 chairs high. Prices range from $30 to $85.

Adding to his earlier comments pertaining to the importance of price, Emmelhainz said churches may be able to overcome some budget constraints, if a chair is novel in design and approaches a need in the market.

Just such an innovative approach to the issue of comfort was recently addressed by the introduction of mesh fabric on stacking and folding chairs. Using revolutionary technology to weave structural polyester and elastomeric fibers together, these chairs offers a high level of comfort and breathability at reasonable price.

The technical benefit of a mesh seat and back is the ability of the chair to contour to an individual's body, creating comfort and support while minimizing pressure points. This type of chair is also incredibly light, typically weighing 20 percent less than upholstered chairs of the same style and can be very durable. Look for chairs with RipStop mesh fabric and chair frames engineered to support over 500 pounds. Mesh stackers retail between $65 and $100 a chair.

Banquet chairs also remain the stackable chair of choice for many churches. With its padded seat and seat back and durable structure, this chair often provides sufficient comfort and flexibility to many areas of the church, such as the overflow chapel, banquet or fellowship halls. Typically around 18 inches wide, banquet chairs accommodate larger congregations in the same amount of space versus sanctuary stacking chairs and are easier to handle and store.

When evaluating banquet chair alternatives, be sure to evaluate actual cushion thickness, not just overall seat height. Most manufacturers utilize a 0.5-inch thick plywood seat base mounted over a steel frame. This is somewhat deceptive as the seat's total thickness may seem sufficient at around 2 inches, but this only amounts to a 1.5-inch thick cushion.

Look for chairs with a durable molded plastic seat base having a thinner profile to provide more cushion and less seat base.

Also with stackable banquet chairs, not all seat foam is created equal. Look for chairs that use high resiliency polyurethane foam without fillers (i.e., ground-up fabric, clay, talc, etc.). Fillers often are a cost-cutting measure that may result in lumpy or permanent irregularities over time.

Less commonly used, but offering superior resiliency characteristics, MDI polyurethane foam provides longer-term quality and pressure redistribution.

Folding Chair Options
The ultimate in multi-purpose chair versatility and the most economical, folding chairs are the choice for thousands of churches across the country.

There is a wide range of quality and comfort aspects between the folding chair alternatives in the market, but recent innovations in this category of chair should bring a couple new styles to the top of most purchasing lists.

Blow-molded plastic folding chairs are exactly what they sound like: plastic blown into molds that form contoured backs and seats on a steel or aluminum frame. Limited in their color availability, these chairs are ideal for indoor or outdoor use and are typically lightweight. While less supportive and durable, these chairs are among the most inexpensive and priced from about $20 to $30.

Offering more durability yet still an inexpensive option is a new folding chair design that features toughened polypropylene plastic molded on an 18-gauge oval steel frame. This chair offers a ventilated ergonomic design that allows the seat and backrest to flex to the contours of each individual, providing comfort and breathability. Ideal for the cafeteria, social hall, or outdoor event, this chair weighs only 12 pounds, is durable and easy to store.

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

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