The History of the Church Pew

March 14, 2006 by

Vintage Faith Church in Santa Cruz, Calif. just moved to a new building and they have a peculiar problem: Pews. Vintage Faith is an emergent church where pews and a central focus on a pulpit are not the norm.

Church leader Dan Kimball (I’d call him pastor, but their web site doesn’t list job titles) has an interesting post exploring the history of the church pew. For him it’s not strictly about comfort, but being able to have a communal worship experience.

It’s kind of odd how ingrained pews are as part of the church experience, especially since pews as we know them weren’t introduced until the 1500s. For more on church seating, check out our recent poll where the majority said seating only matters in that it shouldn’t be a distraction.

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
Read more posts by | Want to write for us?

11 Responses to “The History of the Church Pew”

  • RC
    March 14, 2006

    I hate Church Pews…they can be really uncomfortable…and if they’re green or mauve they make me sick to my stomach to.
    –RC of

     | Permalink
  • matt
    March 14, 2006

    I once saw a church sign that read, “Does your life stink? Try our pews.”
    My favorite thing about pews is ability to lie down & sleep. Although the aforementioned green/mauve fabric leaves quite an imprint on your face.
    I hated the pews at the church where my father was pastor when I was in middle school. The wood slats that made up the contoured seat of several commonly used (read “not front”) pews came unglued. A quick rock from back to front would pinch one’s posterior quite severely! Think long skinny blood-blister.
    Now that I’m a pastor, I get to decide: padded chairs are the new pew. Don’t worry; they leave the same fabric pattern on the sleepers’ faces.

     | Permalink
  • Rick
    March 14, 2006

    I’d like to be able to do something with our old, worn-out pews. Something comfortable but portable, so that we can slide them away and put up a couple of hoops on either end of the sanctuary.

     | Permalink
  • Roger
    March 15, 2006

    At one church I’ve been to they have quite comfortable chairs that all hook together. They’re light and easily moved, stackable, and you can even sit comfortably in the middle of two of them if you want.

     | Permalink
  • Sr. Mary Hasta
    March 16, 2006

    I like pews. There. I said it. I have rarely met a pew that I didn’t like, but then again, I don’t go much for services that last 3+ hours, and there’s a lot of Church Aerobics involved in my worship (sit down, stand up, cross self, bow, kneel, repeat as needed). I like liturgy and in my mind, you just can’t get a good liturg in without some kneeling.
    However, at the very first liturgical church I was a member of, we had some nice padded chairs that came complete with individual kneelers stuck to the back of them. They were easily moveable and quite comfortable.
    It’s kind of funny, though, over at the Ship of Fools Mystery Worshipper project, one of the more interesting questions (IMO) is always about the pews. Take a peek here:

     | Permalink
  • Steve Mock
    March 16, 2006

    Not sure if those kneelers are technically part of a pew, but they seem to come attached most times.
    And I agree with the nun… a good kneel is essential for a good worship.

     | Permalink
  • The Q
    March 16, 2006

    We are in the process of building at our church. Pews were recommended for the new auditorium until I stepped up and said “hell no!” It is not necessarily an issue of comfort or even traditional vs. contemporary. To me it is all about usuability and values. We can’t afford to build a fellowship area, so the auditorium MUST be used for more than 2 hours a week and for something more than a speaker or concert! And oh yeah, pews suck!

     | Permalink
  • Paul Nielsen
    May 10, 2006

    Hmmm. Your right about how engrained they are, but as I think about it I haven’t regularly sat in a pew since the early 90’s, with the exception of what we called “big church” when I was in the college group.
    They’ve all been those wonderful interlocking chairs.

     | Permalink
  • Michelle
    November 19, 2006

    I was laughing at your wonder that we have this “opinion” about pews when we have only begun using them in the 1500’s. Do you know anyone alive from the 1500’s?!
    We recently purchased an inner city church, complete with pews that seat 750! We prefer them because it’s pretty hard to steal a pew! Think about it!!

     | Permalink
  • Jane
    April 13, 2007

    I’ve been recently thinking about the fellowship/worship experience that involves a sermon . . .
    I love the way Jesus started teaching his disciples in Matthew chapter 5. Simply sitting on a mountain side.
    I strive to radically follow the Lord. If there are preachers out there striving to be a light in a public place and draw others to Christ, I pray that their flocks will have increased faith and a ‘blanket’ to sit on.
    We don’t need more church buildings, we need more faith so as not to shrink back.

     | Permalink
  • Jeremiah Ball
    May 3, 2007

    Before you buy new pews, look at restoring your old ones. This can save the church a huge amount of money while at the same time keeping the churches historically relevant. If restoration of the old pews is out of the question, there are a variety of places that will sell your existing pews for a small fee. When buying new pews there are a variety of manufactures to choose from. One thing I recommend is having the Pew Manufactures sales representatives come to your church and leave a sample or samples with you so that you can poll your congregation to see which ones they like the most. There is a Church Furniture company out of Virginia that sells a pew with triple lumbar support. It doesn’t cost much more than your average pew so the only problem is keeping people from snoring during the service, but that’s not the manufacturers department. Chairs are also a great alternative if you have need for a multipurpose space. They make awesome chairs now that are very cost effective and can be quite beautiful. The great thing about the chair is its versatility. You can lock them together during worship, and then stack them up and move them out of the way and have a basketball game or spaghetti dinner in the same space. Some churches use them as their permanent seating in their sanctuary, for this they make chairs that look very similar to pews. When all lined up and in place, looking at them for the first time, they make you do a double take to make sure they are indeed chairs. For any questions about pews I would be more than happy to answer them and point you in the right direction, just email me.

     | Permalink

Building Design