The talk of easing social distancing standards has begun, although the timing and specifics are still to be determined. As a church leader, you will probably find the guidelines on how to reopen your church building to be confusing. Some state standards might be specific, others’ vague. How do you figure out what is safe and practical for your church?

Potential Scenarios

Here are some possibilities you might be considering: having your greeters wear masks and greet with gloves on, having hand sanitizing stations set up around your building, placing people in seats and later dismissing them in an orderly fashion in order to keep safe distance. These are all worthwhile considerations.

When it comes to seating, you are probably going to remove rows of chairs or block off rows of pews or theater seats to create distance between attendees. The real question is how many people is it safe to let into your church building and worship space?

We know from the Federal guidelines issued during different stages of the COVID-19 crisis that gatherings will be limited to certain numbers of occupants. Many churches have already prepared for this by adding more worship times to limit crowds at each one. But just how much space is needed to properly socially distance members and guests during worship? We have looked at the math – here are a few church design scenarios to consider.

Let’s Do the Math

Picture a circle around each person in your church. We’ll use some grade school geometry and the formula for calculating the size (area) of that circle. Here’s a link to the formula to help refresh your math class memory from those days.

Assuming the current virus safety standard requiring a 6-foot separation between people remains, the radius of each circle (the distance from the circle’s center to its edge) would need to be 3 feet so that everyone would remain 6 feet apart without overlapping. Using the area formula for a circle, each person would require 28.27 square feet to remain physically distanced from others. Except, there would still be all kinds of wasted space between everyone’s circles, like the spaces between coins laid out on a table. It’s space you can’t really get back.

More realistically, and more simply, everybody would just be on a 6′ grid, which would be exactly 36 sf/person, plus 10-20% for aisle space, to maintain at least 6′ when entering/exiting. So, in the end, more like 40-45 sf/person. This church design diagram shows what that might look like.

Of course, this model uses center-to-center distancing, which really doesn’t provide 6’ of distance between individuals. If two people are seated 6′ apart, center-to-center, then their shoulders would only be about 4′ apart. So, to maintain 6′ CLEAR, an 8′ grid would be needed, amounting to 64 square feet per person plus aisle space, so approximately 70-75 sf/ person.

Finally, family units need to be taken into consideration, and this helps the space needed. People who live in the same home and drove to church together can sit together, and do not have to maintain distance from each other. So, you could have clusters of chairs together bringing the area requirements back closer to the 40 – 45 square feet per person. Here’s a church design layout of a worship center with both family and individual spaces.

Practical Examples

If your Worship Center/Sanctuary holds 500 people on a normal Sunday, then it could hold 120 – 125 people using the 40 – 45 sf/person metric. Using the 70 – 75 sf/person model you would only be able to seat 65 – 70. If guidelines for reopening after the virus peaks allow for assemblies of 100, which seems likely, you could make either scenario work.

Another option: Nothing is preventing you from having different types of sections in your church building. For example, one section could be a family section where families sit together but distanced from other families, Another could be the 6’ social distance section and yet another, the “I’m not taking any chances” section using the 75 sf/person model.

One last thing to consider, what if your building has multiple venues? Can a separate crowd be put in each? Unfortunately, this is a question for government regulators to answer, but if it’s allowed, the same metrics above should work.

Let Us Help

For those churches we have worked with in the past, we most likely have your plans on file and can develop a layout and dimensions plan that would be the most efficient for you. These could be customized for every room. 

If we haven’t worked with your church, we have some floor taping diagrams that can help you plan for typical 400-450 seat worship centers. Contact us for details.