It isn’t usual for us to find discussions about the chairs particularly thrilling. In fact, most discussions about chairs in church I have ever had have been deeply depressing.
There are the familiar arguments over whether people can, or should, have set seats and – in the worst cases – what those who think they do might say to visitors who dare sit in my seat. There are the arguments about pews and moveable seating, with the undercurrent of immovable seating being preferred because it stops people – particularly children – doing things they oughtn’t in the “sacred space”. There are some weird and particularly tedious discussions in some circles about chair configuration and what our seat layout might say about something or other.
In my better moments, I remember these discussions are coming from a genuine desire to honour and please the Lord. At least, that’s what I think people are doing. It’s what I really hope lies behind it. In my less good moments, I find them painful. They are mainly predicated on what I perceive to be either bad theology or matters of preference, neither of which I have a great deal of time for in the grand scheme of “issues” the church ought to be dealing with. I can’t really get worked up about chair configuration, I don’t believe in scared spaces, I don’t think many people are gleaning much about our theology from our chair layout and I find the idea of anyone having a special seat objectionable, gospel problematic and distinctly visitor unfriendly. As far as I can see, decisions about chairs are entirely a matter of practicality and whatever works best.
But sometimes, there are times when discussions about chairs are a cause for rejoicing. Not often, I must admit, but sometimes. And we have had reason to rejoice about chairs. A chair problem, if you want. But a good problem to have.
According to the church growth gurus, or the wisdom that does the rounds, people will begin to think you look overly full when 80% of your seats are taken. The other rule of thumb shorthand is, if a family of four or five come in and can’t see anywhere to sit together, you look full. I can see the broad wisdom in either measure. If people find it hard to find a space to sit with their family, you may just find they walk out as quickly as they came in so they can find somewhere that can accommodate them. Whilst we probably could find the space for a family of 5 to sit together, we don’t obviously have that space. We need to defragment the people to free it up. And that means we’re getting a bit full. Which is a nice problem to have, isn’t it?
So, I have have been chatting with people about chairs the last couple of weeks. Mainly how can we reconfigure our layout and squeeze some more in. I think, in the immediate term, we will be able to do that. Should the problem arise again, we will have to think about other solutions. But it’s a nice problem to have, isn’t it! Nothing is as a tedious as a discussion about chairs in church, but sometimes it can be a cause for rejoicing.