Modern Sanctuaries Require Modern Solutions


It’s no secret that churches all over the country are having problems – congregations are dwindling almost everywhere. The fact is, Millennials and Zoomers are the most secular generations we’ve seen so far. They’re not attracted to traditional, heavily ritualized services, and they’re not attracted to the extremely typical layout of traditional sanctuaries. It’s stiff, and 0/10 people are comfortable on straight-backed wooden pews. We’re seeing mega churches and new, regular-sized churches choose sanctuary layouts that look way more like indoor arenas – like what you’d see at a concert venue. Rows and rows of stadium theater seating, usually curved for maximum view of the stage, is the new look. Comfortable, non-leather theater seating in a sanctuary makes for an entirely different experience than hard wooden pews. And so does that state-of-the-art sound system, and those huge digital projection screens at the front of the sanctuary. If you want to attract the smartphone generations, churches need updated gathering spaces with updated, comfortable media seating.

Theater Seating Solutions for Older Churches

So, how do older churches keep up? What if you have a 200-year-old building with beautiful, coffered domes and centuries-old stained glass? The good news is, DIY theater seating is a real thing. Typically, older sanctuaries have lofty ceilings and at least one level of balconies behind the main level. It’s pretty typical to see a stage-like platform at the front of the sanctuary as well. Traditional sanctuary layouts actually lend themselves pretty well to modern retrofits. Church seating has always been theater seating, because church is essentially a performance theater: people singing and speaking on a stage to an audience. 

That’s why your church probably already has stadium style theater seating in your balconies, for instance. Or elevated back rows on the main level that slope down as you get closer to the altar area. You might think converting to church theater seating is just way out there – how do you marry modern and traditional? Let’s say the elders gave you the budget to revamp your sanctuary with a new audiovisual system and theater-style sanctuary seating, because every church wants to attract new members. But what type of church theater seating is going to give your sanctuary the modern, approachable vibe Millennials and Zoomers are more likely to be attracted to?

Two-Tone Leather Seats Lend an Air of Movement to Sanctuaries

Every church has similar goals, but they also have different church cultures and different goals in the visual message they want to portray. What’s the image your church wants to project to the public? Two-tone leather seats are a great idea for a church who wants to seem like they’re active and they’ve got motivation. Two tone leather theater seats, or even leather seats with contrasting piping, are bold, unique and modern, but also sports-car-retro. Your sanctuary just became cool to a whole new demographic. This style of theater seating in your sanctuary also sends a message your church is 0% stuffy and doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Brown Theater Seating Melds with Older Interior Church Design

Not every church is going to want to go super modern and gamey with two tone leather seats, and that’s totally okay. If you need to please the elders and the older members of the congregation while still bringing your sanctuary into the 21st century, brown theater seating is an interesting way to mimic the aesthetic of wooden pews but provide the comfort and updated look that church theater seating provides. Not to mention that the warm colors brown leather theater seating provides is inviting to people of all ages. At the end of the day, sitting through sermon in church theater seating with lumbar support will change the minds of any of the older members who might not like the way they look. Nobody hates being comfortable. Or having built-in cup holders. Maybe skip the reclining part on your theater chairs, though – we’re in a church.


White Theater Seating can let the Light Shine Through

We all know that the color white has significant symbolism in The Church. It represents light, cleanliness, hope and the colors of the afterlife. White theater seating is a unique solution that makes a lot of sense. It brings a brightness to the sanctuary that makes it seem more alive, and it will take on slivers of colors from those beautiful stained glass windows when the suns hits them right. Theater seating for churches doesn’t have to be all utility; visual impacts and coordination between things like the stained-glass windows and the sanctuary seating makes the experience of service more immersive. White church theater seating will seem calming and relaxing, which is something people who walk into a church for the first time are looking for.

Converting the Balconies to DIY Stadium Seating

Sanctuaries in Protestant churches tend to be a bit different than those of Catholic churches. You can apply stadium theater seating in both, but the solutions will probably be a little different.

Take a basilica-style Catholic sanctuary, with its large, open, high-ceilinged space and raised altar platform. This layout provides a perfect opportunity to install home theater risers for DIY stadium seating. Think about it; the front rows will be a bit below the altar platform and any viewing screens, pulpit or musical instruments, but with each elevated back row of theater seating behind those couple of front rows, you ensure the people at the back of the sanctuary have just as great of a view as those in front. Same with the balcony. The balcony probably already has stadium style seating, so ripping those old, stuffy pews out and replacing them with modern church theater seating is super simple. 

Looking at a typical Protestant sanctuary, they tend to be a little warmer, with pews arranged in rows that curve towards the altar space. They’re often slowly sloped down towards the front; a very subtle take on stadium-style seating. A sanctuary like this would be even simpler to retrofit into stadium style theater seating; you may not even have to install risers for DIY stadium seating; if the slope is high enough of a grade, you might just be able to replace the pews with church theater seating and call it a day. Not to mention, most Protestant sanctuaries are carpeted, so installing sound-dampening carpet isn’t even an issue. The elders are going to love when this project comes in under budget.

One thing to always consider when installing stadium-style theater seating in your church’s sanctuary is the matter of getting to and from different rows. What is the ability level of your congregation? How much space do you need for people who are wheelchair-bound? You can use shallower, deeper theater risers with ramps, and specialized theater seating for churches like XL models that are wider for easier wheelchair access, or theater loveseats for congregants who might need a companion or service animal next to them during service. Think of everyone before settling on a design for your church’s theater-style seating so you make sure everyone feels welcome. You can go modern without leaving anyone behind; you just have to be thoughtful.

Topping it all off with the Perfect Sound System

Updating your sanctuary doesn’t stop with great church theater seating. Even older churches tend to have a sound system of some kind. But those are typically based more off wireless mics than anything else; for sermons and so hymn leaders can be heard well. So you need to really complete the vibe of this sanctuary update with projectors, screens and a sound system that really completes this renovation. It’s also going to allow you to update how you perform, and how the congregation participates, in singing hymns. Many older churches have started doing two services in order to make both the old and the young feel comfortable in their style of worship. There’s an earlier service with a traditional program and traditional hymns, and then later there’s a modern service with a more casual flow and updated, pop-rock versions of hymns. 

Updating your sanctuary’s sound system can benefit both these groups. It’ll make the church choir in the early service sound more powerful, and it’ll allow the band in the later service to perform more like bands you’d see at any secular concert. And this more modern take on hymn-leading will be more attractive to the younger generations, because it all feels more like going to an interactive performance than the traditional feeling of being in a lecture hall and waiting for the lengthy sermon to end. You want people to enjoy the service, not count the minutes until it’s over. You want congregations that are growing because they’re excited to come to service, not because they feel obligated by religious values. There’s a lot to be said for updating your church’s space, as well as its worship style and general vibe. You don’t have to compromise values to attract the younger generation; you just need to make them feel welcome in a space they can identify with.