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The Search for Quality Seating
By: Kevin Smith

The growth and expansion of a church is an exciting time for a church body, but it also presents decisions and challenges that most church members have not encountered in their lifetime. One of the final, and most visible, decisions that a church must make is the type of seating they want to use.

The most common types of church seating are church pews, theater style seating, flexible seating (stack chairs), or some combination of these three. Several factors need to be considered to determine the type of seating to best suit the needs of the church, both immediate and future needs.

 First, the function of the church building must be examined. If the new church has a sanctuary dedicated for worship, fixed seating either pews or theater style seats is the best selection. If, however, the new church has one multi-purpose building that serves as the worship hall, fellowship hall, and dining hall, then flexible seating is the best investment.

While the use of flexible seating requires time and energy to move and re-arrange the seating weekly, depending upon the activities held in the church building, flexible seating also allows a new church to get more use out of one physical building.

A second factor to consider is maintenance. Church pews have far fewer points of contact with the floor as compared to either flexible seating or theater style seating, making cleaning in and around the pews must quicker and easier. Pews have no moving parts, while theater seating has moving parts that may wear out or require maintenance after many years. Overall, pews are the lowest-maintenance option.

Third, the interior elevation of the new building can dictate what style of seating will comply with local code regulations. Pews, chairs, and theater seats can all be used on a level floor. If the building has an inclined floor for improved sight-lines, pews or theater seats must be used. If the building has a balcony or gallery seating on risers, pews or theater seats must be used, again for code compliance. Commonly, a congregation will opt to use stackable chairs on level areas where flexible seating is needed, and fixed seating in the areas where it is required, such as a balcony or inclined floor.

A fourth and final factor, which is often the driving factor, is price. Typically, flexible seating offers the lowest total cost, especially when metal frame stack chairs are considered. Next, church pews and wood frame chairs are nearly equal as far as purchase cost is concerned, while theater style seating is normally the most expensive option of these three types of seating. The actual cost for any type of seating can vary greatly depending upon the options desired and the manufacturer selected.

Expanding upon the earlier point regarding advantages of church pews and theater style seating, both have proven to serve well in congregations throughout the United States. If a church building is intended to be used for additional activities, such as conventions, concerts, etc., where individual, numbered seats are required, then theater style seating fits the bill. Church pews provide a more traditional feel, while theater style seating creates a more contemporary, less "churchy" atmosphere.

With the average adult today in the United States getting continually larger, pews are the more accommodating option to suit a large variety of body types, shapes, and sizes, while theater style seating by nature can discriminate because it provides a defined seating area. Church pews also allow families to sit together without barriers or divisions between them which creates a warmer, more personal worship experience. With certain manufacturers, church pews can even provide the same features that have traditionally been exclusive to theater style seating, such as defined seats, circular seating arrangement, armrests between seats, or even flip-up seats.

Many other elements exist that help determine the best furniture decision for a church, but the above-mentioned items apply to nearly all projects. In addition to deciding upon the type of seating to be used, a church then must evaluate the available options to select the manufacturer from whom they will purchase the final product.

Church furniture and church seating should be manufactured to last for generations. In the selection of the manufacturer of new furniture, there are some questions a church should ask as a guide to finding a company with which they are comfortable.

Some key questions would be:

 How long has the company been in business, and how long has present management been in place?

 Is the product you intend to purchase made domestically or overseas?

 Can the company provide a local manufacturer's representative, provide product samples to sit in and test, provide layout assistance, and can they include delivery and installation?

 Are references available for both recent customers and customers that have had the product at least five years?

 What is the lead time for the preferred product?

 What are the payment terms for the purchase?

The search for quality seating at a great value is one that takes time, patience, and diligence of numerous individuals working together with a common goal. With proper guidance, the purchase will be a source of pride for the church and the surrounding community for years to come. 

Kevin Smith is vice president of Imperial Woodworks, Inc., www.pews.com.

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Religious Product News