Thinking about Chairs – Part 1

From Advent through until just after Epiphany this past year, we experimented by removing three pews on each side of the church and putting the chairs from the chapel in the space created.

We tried this because over the last five+ years, a number of people have expressed a desire for more comfortable seating. With the replacement of the old chairs in the chapel for the new ones, we had something we could try! We have never imagined replacing all the pews with chairs: we’re curious about replacing SOME pews with three or four rows of chairs on both sides of the church.

People were invited to try sitting in the chairs in the church for one or more services during the trial period. Afterwards, the pews were brought back in—and then asked folk to respond to the experience with some questions designed on the principles of appreciative inquiry. The idea is that we’re trying to identify and appreciate the best of what is, while beginning to imagine what might be.

After the anonymous survey responses were collated, each survey response page was scored to see how much the response liked the idea or didn’t like the idea of chairs. Here’s our overview of what we thought:

Strongly in Favour of Chairs 13%
Wants to Proceed with Chairs 28%
Sees Benefits of Chairs 21%
I dislike chairs, but I can be okay with some 5%
Serious concerns about Chairs 13%
Strongly Opposed to Chairs 20%

About 33% of the responses indicated a disapproval of chairs after the trial. About 41% or responses indicated wanting to proceed with chairs. The other 26% perceive some benefits or don’t love the chairs, but can live with having some.

Of the people who submitted survey responses, 80% had tried sitting in the new chairs, and 60% had tried sitting in them for a full service.

Asked what they appreciated about the chairs for themselves, we heard things like:

  • comfortable for sitting
  • back support
  • arm rests
  • greater ease of standing
  • “cush on the tush”

A third of respondents said the chairs made it easier for them to enjoy being in church; just over half noticed no difference, and 12% felt the chairs didn’t make it easier for them to enjoy being in church.

The next big question was about how we noticed other people appreciating the chairs. We wanted to ask this question because we knew a lot of people didn’t feel a particular desire for chairs themselves, but communities that thrive care about everyone in them being able to thrive, too! Some people commented that they hadn’t watched to see what others had appreciated. Those who had noticed pointed to the same kinds of things we experienced in the chairs ourselves–particularly noticing others’ comfort and increased ease of standing.

Asked where chairs should go if we do replace some pews with chairs, 61% of respondents thought they should be placed where they were for the trial. About 14% felt chairs would be best at the front, and 11% though best at the back. There were a couple of other thoughts about possibilities.

In our next post about chairs, we’ll share the comments and observations people gave in their survey responses about their experience of the trial. Check back next Friday—November 1st—to get a sense of what people had to say!