In a recent post, we noted that 60% occupancy is the new 80%. We imagine church leaders may have questions about what this means, so here’s more to explain the concept, and the reality of what the COVID-19 pandemic has done to worship center seating layouts across the nation.

The Pandemic Impact on Church Building Seating Norms

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the common wisdom was that a church building is at capacity when the worship space routinely reached 80% capacity. You see, churches max out when people feel there aren’t enough seats left for them to feel comfortable. Unless it’s Christmas or Easter, when both attendees and visitors expect churches to be crowded, people feel uneasy when your worship space gets too crowded.

After the pandemic hit and churches began to allow in-person worship again, many devised seating charts like this one. In this schematic, each square represents a chair, and the intersecting dotted circles are six feet across (in diameter). While this might look effective, it’s actually only half the distance that you need. In order for each person in each chair to be six feet apart from the others around them, the circles would need to be twelve feet in diameter so that the radius (half the circle) between each chair would be six feet.

The New Normal Standard for Max Capacity in a Church Design

As you can imagine, this amount of distance is difficult to achieve in many sanctuaries today—especially those with pews instead of chairs. You can fill up your worship center very quickly when you’re trying to keep a safe amount of social distancing between unrelated individuals and family groups. That’s why the “new normal” percentage for maximum capacity in a church design is now 60–65% instead of 80%.

Creative Solutions for Church Leaders

So, what are church leaders to do? Depending on the flexibility in your church design, you might need to remove many of the chairs in your worship space to keep each chair or family grouping six feet apart. If your sanctuary has pews, you might decide to rope off every other pew. You can designate certain areas for families that don’t need to socially distance. Some church leaders are choosing not to care about social distancing as the majority of their congregation is not as concerned with it. It’s hard to predict what the future will hold, and what decisions will be best to keep both guests and attendees feeling safe enough to return to your church building each Sunday.

Of course, it’s not just your worship center that’s affected. Any gathering space in your church design will need to be reexamined in light of social distancing and reevaluated periodically in light of future pandemic trends. Consider the comfort level of the people who will use each room. For example, elders or parents with young children might have a different fear factor level than young adults and teens.

Without a doubt, the pandemic has caused church leaders to reexamine the church design standards in many areas of a church building. To keep up with the latest church building information for church leaders, sign up for our next free i3 webinar today.