By Ray Wheeler, DMin
With the wide variety of approaches to ministry we see every day in our conversations with churches we realize that we just can’t sit around we have to innovate. The church chairs congregations choose correspond with their mission and the way they see that mission being fulfilled. From where we sit talking to hundreds of churches each week three dominate themes seem to emerge when it comes to facilities and how congregations select church seating; (1) experience, (2) engagement and (3) expression. These themes represent how churches seem to approach their ministry to their communities.
Those congregations that focus on experiencing the presence of God tend to create facilities that allow for focused events, their use of sound, lighting, seating (both fixed theater style and stackable) create an environment in which people experience the message and presence of God. In these congregations greater emphasis in facility is placed on sound, lighting and acoustics as well as people flow patterns. Common areas converge in large lobbies or outdoor courtyards where wall coverings, seating and flooring resemble coffee shops or cafes.
Congregations focusing on engagement with the gospel as a message/decision tend toward functional and simple facilities. In these congregations flooring, wall coverings and seating are selected for their durability and ease of maintenance in their sanctuary and classrooms. If there is a fellowship hall or atrium the same themes of functionality and simplicity are repeated.
Congregations who are what I call expressive attempt to create space in which ambiance of nature and facility are entwined to reflect God’s activity in creation. These congregations utilize floor coverings, wall coverings, art and seating fabrics that are selected to both reflect the beauty of creation and the warmth of relationship. Color schemes and materials are selected to encourage expressive reflection on the meaning of the gospel in human relationships and community. They tend to look like resorts.
Regardless of the approach a church takes to its facility the sustainability or durability of its equipment is always paramount from the perspective of stewardship. This is especially true for seating which is frequently the most visible and one of the first tangible experiences people have when they engage worship. The facility and its equipment is a tool. We know that church boards and administrators want to achieve the highest level of return on the cost represented in these. The greatest mistake we hear about results from poor product selection i.e., saving a little money on products that prove inferior over time and end up being distractions from the ministry of the congregation because of their rapidly degrading appearance and the increased cost to maintain or replace.
The diversity of approach is both fascinating and a challenge. It is fascinating to see the various ways congregations apply their theology of ministry. It is challenging to keep up with the right product innovations. But we love a challenge, as a leader in church seating we just can’t sit around and wait for change we have to help bring change into reality. We work to stay in conversation with our customers and to offer creative seating solutions to their ministry needs. We like to think we are doing this well. But really it’s our customers who ultimately let us know how well we actually do at providing great church chairs.
Dr. Ray Wheeler is the Director of Global sales for Bertolini Inc and an adjunct instructor in leadership, church growth and ethics at Bethesda University California in Anaheim, California and Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California.