rendering showing chair seating arrangement at event

The Ultimate Guide to the Church Seating Layout

The church seating layout is used for houses of worship, but it’s also found in lecture halls, performing arts centers, and conference spaces. You may already recognize it from an event you’ve planned or attended at a university, seminar, or yes, church. But what is the church seating layout exactly, and why is it used for events outside of churches? Follow our guide to learn more about why the church seating layout may (or may not) be right for your next gathering. Then, stick around to get pointers on best practices and some real-world examples you won’t want to miss. 

What is the church seating layout?

While there are different variations, the traditional church seating layout refers to an arrangement of straight rows facing a pulpit or focus area similar to theater style seating.

There is typically at least one aiselway down the middle, or two that divide the seating block into three sections. If the stage is round, designers can choose to arch their seating blocks in tandem with the curvature of it. Or, if the venue has room for it, you can place several sections around the circumference of the stage to create a theater-in-the-round effect. 

The church seating layout is really flexible, especially if you use individual chairs. To increase the number of available seats, add additional rows to the back or prop extra folding chairs along the aisleways for a quick fix. 

Pro tip: Keep an even number of seats in each row. Most event goers travel in groups of 2 or 4, so using this technique will minimize the chances of people getting split up from their companions. 

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Advantages and disadvantages of the church seating layout:

The church seating layout creates a united front and sense of community as a large group of people join together over a shared goal. Whether it’s for business, religion, or celebration, a church seating layout makes socializing easier because of its casual nature. Guests can easily turn to one another, make conversation with people in the rows in front of or behind them, and still keep their attention on the speaker or presentation when needed. 

If you use benches, you may run into spacing issues since people will want room to spread out without feeling too isolated. Plus, wood benches or traditional church pews tend to be unpadded, which isn’t ideal for gatherings longer than 60 minutes if participants plan to sit the entire time. 

If you use chairs, guests may be tempted to move them or disrupt the shape of the rows. And while you can assign seating, traditional methods such as using tape to create an “X” shape over the seat isn’t very attractive and can disrupt an otherwise Instagram-worthy event design

Discover 6 church seating layout best practices:

Measurements are important for church seating layouts, but there is still plenty of room to be creative with your seating plan and furniture. 

1. Accurately calculate capacity.

If you plan to use benches or pews, limit them to 15 people maximum. Leave at least 6 inches of space on either side of each attendees’ shoulders. A theater or auditorium space can comfortably fit one person for every 6 to 8 square feet of occupiable space. 

2. Draft a seating plan.

Use our event diagramming solutions to create a 3D diagram of your event venue and seating options. Drag and drop furniture, decorations, and staging areas around your map. Use the custom measurements feature to add precise dimensions. You can also assign seating to VIPs, guest speakers, and attendees. 

3. Mind your measurements.

Aisleways require at least 32 inches for wheelchair access and safety. Keep in mind that wheelchair rows require additional space. Follow this comprehensive guide from the ADA National Network on how to make temporary events accessible to people with disabilities.

Another thing to note: according to Church Plaza: “The International Building Code recommends allowing for 7 square feet per person in spaces with unfixed chairs.” You can factor this into your Social Tables layout design in a couple easy steps:

  • Simply create a rule in your diagram that each attendee has a dedicated amount of space. 
  • When you run a Diagram Check on your design, the rule will apply your preferences and give you a visual representation of how many people can fit comfortably while sticking to your guidelines. 
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4. Try creative seating.

The church seating layout works well for outdoor concerts, ceremonies, and weddings when you use creative seating that matches the theme of the event. For example, a farmhouse style event will look great with hay bales with flannel blankets placed across them. Or, if you’re in a traditional church with benches, add your own cushions for additional backrest and support. 

5. Check flip chairs.

If you’re working with a space that already has rows of flip chairs bolted to the ground, it’s important that you do your own walkthrough and test out every seat. 

Start by flipping the chair seats down. How easy or hard is it to swing? Next, sit on them. Is the chair lumpy, loose, or dipping? Make a note of all your findings in your layout app and share the information with your venue.  And keep an eye out for fabric stains and rips while you’re at it!

6. Use dollies.

If you choose to move some unbolted pews around to increase or decrease seating availability, have at least one dolly on hand. Pews often have a hidden anchor system, so you’ll need to carefully get inside to unfasten them and break sections apart. Use caution when you move them since they’re prone to tipping over. And never stack them — you may hurt the pew or a person in the process.  

Check out these 5 church seating layout examples:

Maximize visibility, add subtle decor, and use aesthetic lighting with tips from these creative events. 

  1. Combine straight and curved rows to maximize floor space like the event planners of AT&T’s Developer Summit did. 
  2. If you have the option to, use chairs with interesting backs like these carved wood ones from the Church Interiors brand to add interest to your event design. 
  3. If space is limited like it was at this lecture on The Value of Design, try placing your presentation screen above and behind your speakers on the stage to make it easy for everyone to see. 
  4. Get around awkward poles and structural visibility issues by adding television screens in strategic areas like they did in the sanctuary space of The Orchard in Arlington Heights, Illinois.
  5. Adding colored gels to existing lights is an inexpensive and temporary way to decorate a space. The Grace Community Church sometimes uses blue hues to evoke calm and add visual interest to their stage setup. 

You’re ready to perfect the church seating layout!

Next up, check out these event planning tips and trends for seating you can use in virtually any venue, and check out 8 types of seating arrangements you need to know.