17th May 2018
I am sure we can all think of occasions when we have walked into a venue we have never visited before. I had this experience on Monday when I hosted a dinner for six people. It was an important meeting, and we had arranged to meet in a restaurant that was new to me. I had already checked the place out online, but as soon as we arrived I had a look at the table we would be sitting at. I was greeted by someone as soon as I walked in (always a good start) and shown the table they had reserved for us. I wanted to be sure that it was the right size and located somewhere that would facilitate conversation. I quickly felt the restaurant was a good choice – busy but not overly so, tables spaced to give diners privacy, and with a relaxed atmosphere. We had a fantastic evening, and I am sure some of these things helped.
I am renowned at King’s for being passionate about chair layout in our auditoriums. In fact, I recently discovered that some of my staff have started calling this Steve’s ‘chairology’. I love this! In my mind, 'chairology' is all about helping new people feel comfortable and welcomed so they can experience God.
The experience of walking into a church for the first time is not dissimilar to my experience of walking into the restaurant. Research shows that new people decide if they will return to your church within the first ten minutes of arriving, such is the power of first impressions. How many times have you walked into a restaurant and quickly decided to try and find an alternative? It can be the same with churches – we are remarkably intuitive and can pick up the values and emphasis of a church very quickly. This is where a little bit of chairology comes in!
Here are three reasons why chairs are important:
1. New People
When a new person walks through the door of our church, one of their primary concerns is where they will sit. Will there be enough space for me? Will I feel uncomfortable walking in? Will I have to sit at the front or can I hide at the back? Will it be obvious where I should go? The way we lay out our chairs influences how a new person feels when they enter. You cannot underestimate the importance of having a great welcome team ready to show people to a chair – one which is easily accessible and where they feel at ease.
2. Aiding Corporate Worship
I am passionate about leading a worshipping church, and chairs can influence our experience of corporate worship. On our Catford site, we have three Sunday services, each a different size. At the start of our larger morning meetings, we section off the back chairs and encourage people to sit nearer the front and centre of the room, only using the chairs further back as the auditorium starts to fill up. Our evening meeting is smaller, and so we put some chairs away and rearrange the rest to bring people closer together. We want to avoid having one side full and the other empty, or having a hundred people randomly scattered across a room of 500 chairs. Sunday worship is a corporate experience, and the decisions we make about chairs can either help or hinder this.
3. Maximising our Resources
This is where the 50% to 80% rule comes in. If you have an auditorium that seats a maximum of 500 people, you should avoid having fewer than 250 people or more than 400 in that space – below 250, you will rattle, above 400, it can be difficult to move around. In an urban context such as King’s, acquiring additional space is so expensive that we must ensure we are getting the most out of what we already have. Chair layout has financial implications for a church. Recently, I spent a Friday afternoon with a couple of other team members rearranging the chairs on our Catford site. Not the most exciting plan for an afternoon, I agree, but with some careful thought, we managed to make space for an additional 60 chairs! That is a lot less expensive than hiring another building or launching an additional service. An afternoon well spent!
So it’s not that I’m just passionate about chairs. I’m passionate about making new people feel welcome, aiding the corporate worship experience and maximising our financial resources for kingdom extension.
And that’s why the Senior Pastor of King’s is an expert in chairology!
Posted by Steve Tibbert
Steve Tibbert leads King’s Church London, with sites in Catford, Downham and Lee. Over the past fifteen years the church has seen continued growth, both in size and diversity. Steve is also involved in Newfrontiers and regularly coaches other lead elders. His book, Good to Grow, was published in July 2011. He is married to Deb, and they have three sons.