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Church Building 101 RULES OF THUMB

When building your house of worship here are the basics rules of thumb.

When purchasing land plan on 1 usable acre of paved, stripped parking for every 300 people.  A paved, stripped parking area should be able to accommodate between 100-115 cars per usable acre and most building codes allocate 1 car per 3 people.  Many local building codes may require islands of planted vegetation within the parking lot which reduces the number of cars per acre 

A usable acre is one that does not contain non-buildable ground, such as wetlands, steep slopes, irregularly shaped property, ungradable hills, property that is not accessible, and or property which high tension power lines cross over and where cars are not allowed to drive under these power lines . 

Parking Space Dimensions:

Standard:  9 feet by 18 feet
Handicapped:  8 feet by 18 feet with 5 foot access aisle
Van accessible: 8 feet by 18 feet with 8 foot access aisle

According to the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) these are the guidelines for required handicapped parking spaces within a parking lot.

Total Parking  Required Minimum # of Accessible Spaces
1 to 25 1
26 to 50  2
51 to 75 3
76 to 100 4
101 to 150 5
151 to 200 6
201 to 300 7
301 to 400 8
401 to 500 9
501 to 1000 2 percent of the total
1000 + 20 plus 1 for each 100 over 1000

The Church Building

The most efficient plan for your church will be in the shape of a rectangle – other shapes will require more square footage per person as well as be more expensive to construct.

Seating Capacity per square foot per person

Number of People Square Feet Per Person
Up to 300  15 -17
300-500  17-20
500 up 20+

Chancel Platform
Depending on your worship style the dimensions used in this guide could change drastically.      
Minimum Depth from rear wall to the front edge of the platform 7’0”
Recommend Depth 8’0” to 12’0”
Height - This varies greatly but on average 24” to 36”

Praise Band / Orchestra Area
Allow 20 – 25 square feet per instrument

Video Projection Screen(s)
Allow 12 times the distance to the farthest seat in the congregation

Choir
10 - 12% percent of congregation seating

Choir Platforms are generally constructed so that each platform is 3’ 4” which gives the choir member room to stand in front of their seat.  The height of each choir riser should be a minimum of 6” and a maximum of 8”

The choir area should have an acoustically reflective floor – not carpeting –use hardwood, stone, vinyl or other material.

Congregational Seating

Pews – Fire Code allocates 18” per person in a pew, however reality dictates a more conservative 21” to 24” per person. Spacing between rows of pews is 36” from the cap rail of one pew to the cap rail of the next pew.

Pew length – 14 or 15 people maximum per pew.  This rule is based on how quickly a pew can be evacuated in an emergency. Based on life safety codes, no more than 8 people from the middle of a pew or 15 people total.

The most expensive component of a pew is the end panel, thus the greater the distance between pew ends, the cheaper the pew is per person seated.  It is a good idea to try to maximize pew length.

Minimum    6’0”
Maximum   22’6” 

Center aisle – 4’ minimum, however if you plan on holding weddings, funerals and other processions down the center aisle a minimum of 6’ to 8’ is more realistic.

Side Aisle - 2’6’ – 3’8’ check local code

Theater Seats – Theater seats are a very good option for thus  congregations who need to maximize their seating area. Typically, installing theater seats over pews will Increase the seating capacity by 20%.  Theater seats are able to be a more efficient user of space by reducing the amount of space allocated per person to 18” or 20”  as well as by allowing the theater seats to be spaced closer together than pews are by code. 

Theater seats are able to use space more efficiently by lessening the “envelope” or the distance from the back of the theater seat to the front of the theater seat once bucket or seat is raised.  In many concert halls, the envelope is 18 inches or less, while movie theaters tend to have envelope spacing of a generous 20 to 23 inches.  

With all of the theater seats in the raised position the  “egress” or distance between one seat and the seat in front can be tighten to allow more rows of theater seats in the same foot print as a lesser amount of pews would fit.       

Church Chairs - Fully upholstered chairs with either metal or wooden   frames have been a popular option for churches that   require flexibility with their seating.  Unlike pews and   theater seats, these chairs are not fixed to the ground   which allow for flexibility in the chair layout whenever   needed. These chairs tend to be about half the cost of a   theater seats and an even better value when compared   to pews on a per seat basis. When planning a floor   layout using church chairs figure 24 inches width per   person.                           

Seating Cost
When purchasing sanctuary seating, cost should not be the most important consideration.  Since your seating decision will be something you’ll be living with for at least a generation, purchase the best seats available.  

Choose the type of seating that works best for your worship style – whether traditional pews, flexible church chairs or theater seats, it is a very wise investment to purchase the best.         

Pews - depending on pew end, body style and length - $85 per seat.

Theater seats $100 to $125 per seat on average

Metal frame church chairs - $25 to over $100 per chair

Wooden frame church chairs - $85 to over $100 per chair  

Handicapped seating:
Requirements will vary by local code.  The following requirements from the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may be used as guidelines for worship centers with fixed seating.

Capacity of Seating In Assembly Area Number of Required
Wheelchair Locations
4 to 25 1
26 to 50 2
51 to 300 4
301 to 500  6
Over 500 6, plus 1 additional space for each total seating capacity increase of 100

Balcony
Capacity: Less than 50 percent of main floor seating
Rise depth: 3 feet 6 inches for first row, 3 feet 4 inches for the back row, 3 feet 2 inches for other rows
Cross aisles: 4 feet minimum
Other aisles: Same as aisle width on main floor                     

Education Building
When designing a Sunday school classroom – calculate 25 square feet per child.  If classroom is also to be used for a day school increase to 35 square feet per child or as required by local building code.

Most classrooms are designed to accommodate no more than 30 children seated at desks will require 40 square feet per person.  Larger churches requiring greater flexibility in their classroom design should program 45’ to 55’ square feet per person.

Administrative Offices & Other Rooms
Pastor’s study – 250 – 325 square feet

Administrative offices – 150 to 225 square feet

Meeting rooms – 15- 25 square feet per person

Music Library – 1 to 2 square feet per person

Choir rehearsal room -15 to 20 square feet per person

Orchestral rehearsal room - 25 square feet per person

Handbell rehearsal room – 20 feet by 30 feet desirable

Robing Rooms – 4 to 6 square feet per person

Kitchen and Fellowship Hall
Kitchen should be sized to accommodate use when in full service.  Needs to be designed according to local codes.

Fellowship Hall should be sized to accommodate ½ of the sanctuary seating capacity. 

Recreation Fields
Playground – 75 square feet per child

Volleyball – requires approximately .7 acre -30’ x 60’ plus 6 feet around  perimeter 

Baseball  - 

Softball – requires approximately 1 acre – 60’ x 60’ home plat to outfield fence 200’

Football – requires approximately 1.5 acres – field – 160’ x 300’

Soccer – requires approximately 1.8 to 2.0 acres. Field 225’ by 360’