The first rule of design is “form follows function.” If an object or building has a purpose, the design should first and foremost achieve that function, before considering aesthetics. On the front cover of Don Norman’s book, “The Design of Everyday Things”, is a picture of an unusable teapot. It’s a visual story of how we can get things wrong.
Like any designer, the question we need to ask ourselves is, “What is the function of church?” How do we design a space that meets that function? If you can answer that question, you can creatively rethink the layout of your meeting space. Do you believe that churches should be designed for performance? For entertainment? For an individual worship experience? Or do you believe the church is called to be a body, a people, a community, a fellowship? Is the purpose of our gatherings to encourage each other, teach one another, minister to one another? If so, there is a significant problem with the current layout.
Winston Churchill famously said; “first we shape our buildings, then they shape us”. He couldn’t have been more right about the designs of our churches. Walk into any church and I’ll guarantee you that more than 99% of the time, you’ll find rows of chairs, facing forward to draw all attention to the stage at the front. It doesn’t matter what denomination, size of church, age-group or cultural background – any deviation from this pattern is the exception, not the norm. Sure, the newer churches don’t have wooden pews anymore, but the people still sit in rows and focus on the front. The space we meet in is preventing God’s people from connecting, participating or contributing.
Just like the unusable teapot can never be used to pour tea, seating people in rows can never be used to build community, fellowship or interaction. We can never build a culture of connection unless we are willing to rethink the seating arrangements and allow God’s people to meet face-to-face.
Tomorrow’s church is going to allow far more interaction and participation than yesterday’s church. Many churches are already creatively rearranging the seating to better fulfil the function of fellowship. Some churches meet in a large circle, some sit around tables, some encourage people to converse in groups of 2-3.
Form follows function. Changing the seating WILL NOT change your church culture. However, if you change the church culture to encourage connection, interaction and participation, at some point you will have to redesign the seating.
This is the third post in a series of 12, titled “Tomorrow’s church: A new formula for a new era.” “Rethinking the seating” is one of 9 adaptable strategies churches can use to change church culture from within. The next post will be about sharing stories to connect people to each other and to God’s Story.
The following posts in the series are now up;