Flex Space, Sacred Space

Chairs or pews? Ah, the age-old question that has turned many a pastor’s hair gray before his/her time, and split many a faithful congregation down its carpeted center-aisle. That is, if they hadn’t already split over the carpet color…

The first time i walked into a sanctuary that had chairs, i thought it felt weird and wrong and unchurch-like. I was walking in as the new student minister, and luckily, nobody asked me what i thought about the seating arrangement. Since then, I’ve served serveral other churches, and visited even more. I now know that my initial, aesthetic reaction to that space was rooted in my limited experience of worship. Older and wiser (and yes, totally gray–thanks, kids and church) I realize that chairs are not just ok–they are pretty much the only way forward.

I’m not saying walk into a 100-year-old sanctuary and yank out the foundations. But if you think of chairs in a more philosophical sense, they are the flexible option, and therefore, always the right answer.

I now serve another church that has chairs. That decision was made long before my time (thanks be to God), and i understand it did not come easily. But now, the arrangement has such clear advantages that I can’t imagine the challenges we’d be facing (in addition to the ones we’ve already got) had it gone the other way.

With chairs, we are able to change our worship space from season to season, and even from Saturday to Sunday, when the crowds vary. We can add seating for high holy days–like Christmas, Easter, and Super Bowl–and take some out in the dregs of summer. We can be creative with prayer stations and musical ensembles. We can have a center aisle for a wedding, or two for a Palm Sunday parade. Communion is served more gracefully. People can get in and out (though i wish they wouldn’t do so much of it) without having to climb over a whole row of strangers. Guests with small children can slip out to the nursery. Heck, if we wanted to, we could roll a daggone elephant clown in on a unicycle, though i’m not sure what liturgical season that would be… Maybe i’ll ask the big Bible church over in Scottsdale, they’ve probably tried it.

If you think of every decision in the life of the church as a fundamental question of chairs or pews–the difference in rooting in for the long haul, or building something that can evolve over time–the chairs always have it. It’s a rock-paper-scissor equation of liturgical proportion.

Do we plan the worship time around our schedules, or the needs of our neighbors? Chairs.

Build something safe and comfortable, or something that will make room for strangers? Chairs.

What will free up more of our resources to serve those in need? Chairs.

Again, no need to go yank up the pews that are already there…We are in a metaphor. But if you’re building a new space, or remodeling the old one, there isn’t much need for debate when it comes to the seating arrangements. Leave room to grow.  Leave room for the Spirit to move. And don’t nail anything to the ground that can’t be moved.

Believe me, there will be other stuff to discuss, other stuff to turn the pastor’s hair gray and send a faction of your people to the megachurch down the road. For instance–you heard it here first people–the church website is the new carpet color. Future generations will tell harrowing tales of how so-and-so left the church in the great server debate of ought-12.

But as long as there is room to grow, willingness to change, and enough creative vision to see what the place could be like with chairs full of people, life will go on. And we will see miraculous things happen in the midst of our flexible, Spirit-filled, welcoming spaces.

Chairs, folks. The chairs have it, every time.




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  • LOVE the metaphor, Erin. Nailed it. Again. 🙂

  • Amen!

  • Beth Worsnup

    I was the one who wanted pews on the committee so I got outvoted. However I did helping the new chairs in when they arrived (how nice of me) and have come to accept them (sort of).

    • for the record, i’d have been a pew person back then, too. we live and learn…