This is part 6 of a 9-part series on attending church from a visitor’s perspective. You can read the original post to get a better understanding of David’s experience visiting churches for the first time.
Imagine, if you will, entering the doors to a new church. Your apprehension is not calmed after being greeted by someone with a nametag designating them as a “greeter” and being handed a bulletin. You hesitate as you walk through the door–and for a moment consider bolting. By the grace of God you enter the room where the service will be and look over a sea of chairs. Which one will you pick?
For those of us who regularly attend church, this is no dilemma. We know where people sit and where they don’t. For someone who rarely attends church, this can make an already intimidating event downright scary.
Naturally you will want to sit in the back. I don’t know if it’s because we are afraid of the pastor picking us out or scared that people will be talking about us behind our back but no one likes to sit up front. You can take one of the seats in back as long as you’ve shown up on time–otherwise everyone else might have taken the prime seats in the back, leaving only the front row open.
The 80% rule states that when a building has reached 80% of capacity it is full. This is because we all have a sense of personal space. Do an experiment: the next time you find yourself in a conversation, note how far away from the other person you are standing and then take a step toward them. When I once did this to a friend he started to stutter and turn red. In the post-experiment debriefing I found out that his first thought was to punch me. I am not suggesting that your visitors will become violent when your facilities are too full, but we all need a certain amount of space to make us feel comfortable. This is the phenomenon that dictates the 80% rule. The compliment of this rule is that the remaining 20% of seats will be in undesirable locations–such as the front row.
One way to overcome this problem is to constantly monitor your church attendance. When you realize you are averaging about 80% capacity, know that you’ve overgrown your current location. In fact I’ve heard some people aim for 75% capacity to give them enough time to plan options for accommodating more people. Solutions to this problem depend on the nature of your facility. If you own your own building, it’s time to start a new service. If you are renting, you need to find a larger location (or you could start another service as well). No matter how you make room be sure you do it before people start punching each other.