Whether you’re moving to a new space, building a new church, or launching a church plant, you’ll need comfortable seating for your congregation. Before you can begin to compare styles, designs, and pricing, you need to determine one important factor: the seating capacity of your worship space.
Here is a guide to calculating seating capacity for a church. We hope this information makes the whole process a little easier!
Calculate Maximum Occupancy
If you are just looking to get a quick estimate, and your church has unfixed seating (i.e., not attached to the floor, and able to be rearranged), then there is a helpful formula you can use. The International Building Code recommends allowing for 7 square feet per person in spaces with unfixed chairs.
How to calculate seating capacity for a church:
- Calculate the area of your church, excluding the stage, closets, or any other spaces where people will not be sitting.
- Divide the area by 7.
- Round the answer down to be safe.
If your church has fixed seating, like pews or theatre seats, then this method will not work for you.
Remember, this is just one of several methods you can use to calculate maximum occupancy of your sanctuary. For those building a new church, your builder is a great resource, so be sure to consult with the architects involved. Ultimately, however, the local fire marshal is the most authoritative voice on this matter. Contact your local fire department to learn about the codes that are enforced in your area.
Maximum Occupancy vs. Comfortable Occupancy
While calculating maximum occupancy can give you a rough estimate of how many compact church chairs can fit within the dimensions of your space, it’s important to understand the difference between this and comfortable occupancy. Maximum occupancy refers to how many people are safely permitted by the fire code to be in your space at one time. Comfortable occupancy refers to the amount of people who can sit in your space without feeling too crowded.
Although the IBC’s recommended 7 square feet per person is a good estimate, this is not going to be the most comfortable option for your congregation. It is ultimately up to you to decide exactly how many square feet you want to leave per person, but here are some guidelines from church builders:
- LifeWay Builders recommend 15-17 square feet per person for a church with a capacity up to 300, and 12-24 square feet per person for over 300.
- PraiseBuildings.com gives similar measurements, with a recommendation of 20+ square feet per person for a building that holds 500 or more people.
Once you’ve decided how many square feet to leave per person, you can use the occupancy formula to calculate the comfortable seating capacity:
Church area / square feet per person = seating capacity
Take into Account Your Church Seating Layout
You also need to consider how the seats will be arranged in your church. The number of chairs you can fit will differ in a church with traditional straight rows versus one that has a circular or angled layout. Straight row seating is an efficient, simple church floor plan that requires less space than any other shape. But don’t let this stop you from using the church layout that works best for your congregation.
When you’re planning your church design, don’t forget to account for the spacing you’ll need for aisles, allowing people to walk through safely and comfortably. Ensure your seating capacity includes provisions for individuals with special needs. Allocate space for wheelchair users and consider providing removable lightweight stackable chairs for flexibility.
Church Chairs Vs. Pews
If you’re getting church chairs, you’ll know exactly how many to buy, since each chair holds one person. Pew seating can be trickier. Oftentimes, the manufacturer will claim a higher capacity than is realistic. Each member of your church will take up varying amounts of space in a pew depending on their height and weight.
In fact, research has shown that realistically, pews will never be used beyond 80 percent of the manufacturer’s claims because of Americans’ sense of personal space. This reduces the capacity of pews and their effective costs by 20 percent. With church chairs, on the other hand, you know exactly what you are getting.
Once you know how many chairs you need, it’s time to think about what type of chairs you want. ChurchPlaza has a wide selection of church chairs for sale. Quality, value, and trust are what you can expect from ChurchPlaza!
Updated June 19, 2023.