Should we follow the 80% = Full rule for our church meetings?

Dave Jensen started this massive thread in a Facebook Group, by asking:

Is it better to have a room 3/4 full - or actually does it create a better atmosphere, and thus encourage more people to invite their contacts - when the chairs are all being used?

With permission of all participants, I have reposted on sub-thread that I was involved in. Keen to hear your thoughts!

Mike Doyle: that book by that dude that that other dude (Raj) got to come come here from that country (USA I think) suggested that you can think about room capacity in various quarters (as a rule of thumb):

0-25% = uncomfortably empty. Doesn't have critical mass. Feels bad. Won't grow.
25-50% = comfortably empty. Has critical mass. Lots of seats available. But also feels full enough to be energised and a going concern (i.e. - not dead)
50-75% = comfortably full. Feels full, but still room for newcomers. Feels good.
75-100% = uncomfortably full. Too full. Newcomers may come, but won't stay.

The general rule being that - because of capacity issues, a church will stop growing when they reach 50-80% capacity. At some point the regulars feel like it's full, and stop inviting people. And when newcomers come - they feel uncomfortable, too close to other people, and so won't return.

It's all (obviously) fairly rough rule of thumb.

In my own experience - we've stopped growing over the last 3 months. Not quite sure why. Exploring all sorts of issues including capacity, and also basic stuff (like doing better follow up etc)

Dave Jensen:  Yes...the 75%/85% stage has always been what i've been taught. But i'm wondering if anyone has actually seen this in action? I just listened to an interview of Brian Houston where he said they always, always put out less chairs - as a full room feels right - and it looks good to put out more chairs, like a hustle and bustle of growth.

Mike Doyle: I think there's something in that. Certainly in market economies, restricting the availability of a product (seats in church) increases its perceived value. 

Think iPhone releases and other such stuff where supply is limited.

I remember a guy telling us at CBS that the way to increase people coming to our Mid Year Conference was to limit the spaces each year to about 50 below what we think we will get. This will increase demand, and the perception that it's a limited supply item with a huge value.

So I wouldn't write Brian off - I mean - he's done a better job that most of us in filling his auditoriums.

Mick Bullen: Just clarifying: Is Brian's suggestion that we put out 'less' than expected chairs to start... but have good systems in place to put out more as needed in order to create a 'hustle and bustle' kind of effect?

Got a link to that interview - I'd be curious to listen to it.

Dave Jensen: hi Mick - I don't think he specified putting less out - but that he'd rather have less than have more, that putting out extras was a good positive feeling for everyone. I'll find the link...
CNLP 089: Brian Houston On Hillsong 

Mick Bullen: thanks brother!

Craig Hamilton: Yep, they put out less. Hillsong's event planning team take how many people attended this week last year (if you get me) then minus 10%. That's the number of seats they have out for this week to begin. Fill from the front and put out more/ open aisles/ sections as needed. 

I think it's a good plan.

Dave Jensen: I agree. Needs a fairly intensive ushering plan mind you - not a small cultural change to people used to sitting where they want.

Craig Hamilton: Yeah totally. We're about to launch a culture change strategy to do just that. But you're right, you can't just change it and expect people to come with, because in this they definitely won't  :D

Dave Jensen: Craig Hamilton how are you launching the strategy? Platform, or through other means?

Michael Jensen: How does it work with pews?

Dave Jensen: Michael Jensen curtains/ black sheets.

Craig Hamilton: Other means. 

Michael in their chapel, with fixed pews, they just have one piece of electrical tape at waist height down the aisles with the most friendly ushers and as they need more rows they just pull the tape off, rip it shorter, then stick it back on the next pew back.

Craig Hamilton: PS. part of our issue is the only group dynamics we're familiar with is one-to-one and small group dynamics and so we often apply them to medium and large groups with limited success.

There's been a bit of work done in social psychology on propinquity in recent years that has provided some insights on this stuff too.

Mikey Lynch: You can merge Brian Houston and Gary McIntosh's advice this way:
— have less chairs out at the beginning and keep putting out chairs as people arrive
— once the meeting begins, put out more chairs than needed so late arrivals don't feel it's 'Too full' and during/after the meeting people notice 'there's room to grow'

Mikey Lynch: To rely on 'packed to the rafters' market dynamic assumes a massive momentum that Hillsong had/has. WIthout that gravitational pull, the 'put out less chairs' will just lead to the sociological ceiling that McIntosh describes.

I've definitely seen it in practice. I see it in my own mind when I arrive at a church meeting that 'feels' too full.

Mikey Lynch: Michael Jensen — another thing with pews is that they feel 'full' quicker: I'm more comfortable to be closer to someone when a physical chair is distinct between us. Once we're on a single bench that feels weirder.

Also manspreading and handbagspreading is more common in pews.

Mikey Lynch: Final observation: those from highly compressed living circumstance/reserved social interaction cultures (like East Asian cities) are often happier with a 'fuller' church building than your average Anglo.

Craig Hamilton: Mikey one of the interesting things about this practice at hillsong is they do the same thing at their services of thousands as they do at their services of 50. Now obviously the smaller services still get the halo effect of the mothership's momentum, but can that be the deciding factor? They're adamant that it's not.

Dave Jensen: Putting out chairs as people arrive would be a pretty untidy look. Although potential in the second suggestion - depending on the average arrival time of your congregation. If they all rock up 10 min late then you're in trouble either way.

I'm not sure whether the putting less chairs out is the solution - however I'd be interested in the result of an effective usher/ bollard/ black sheet system - effectively cutting off the back of the church and only allowing seating as each row is full.
Mikey Lynch I'm going to go with church growth experts and personal experience over Hillsong being adamant they are not exceptional.

Mikey Lynch: Dave Jensen one can put out chairs with steez

Dave Jensen: Steez?

Dave Jensen: It's interesting: I was discussing the church growth 85% opinion today with a colleague - and we both agreed that the whole idea "the congregation see no need for church to grow" is actually counter-intuitive. In every other respect you are inspired to invite people to things that are well attended, for atmosphere reasons. If I go to a half full footy match or 3/4 full it's never as much fun as a sell out. Why do we think this is different in church?

Craig Hamilton: Yeah I think that's the thought. 

You know Mikey there would have been a time when I agreed with the expert/ personal experience over hillsong exceptional-ness. But I've changed my mind about that.

Dave Jensen: In fact, from a personal perspective: there is no difference. When I was a parishioner I felt more comfortable Inviting people when it was chockas. Better vibe.

Dave Jensen: Yep. "Church with lots of people" vs "church experts + individual preferences".

Dave Jensen: Craig Hamilton +1

Craig Hamilton: Yeah like obviously there's places where we'll diverge from hillsong, we can only go with them so far. But when it comes to managing people in medium and large groups they pretty much are the experts. From spending time with them my conclusion isn't that they are exceptional, it's that they are intentional. Fanatically so. And it's their fanatic intentionality that makes them exceptional, not the other way around.

Mikey Lynch: I look forward to hearing all about the outcome guys! May God bless it!

Dave Jensen: Craig Hamilton that's v good. In this nieuwolf interview with hhouston he speaks of his hatred of mediocrity. It's a great point.

Mikey Lynch: "And it's their fanatic intentionality that makes them exceptional, not the other way around."

False dichotomy. Andy Murray is fanatically intentional AND exceptional. So also Hillsong.

Craig Hamilton: Haha It is a false dichotomy: it was your dichotomy. You said instead of being intentional like them and doing the intentional practices like them we should ignore those practices because they're exceptional and that's the deciding factor.

My point was that it was both/and. They are exceptional and intentional and one feeds the other. Their exceptionalness isn't a reason to not follow their practices, it's the reason why we actually might.

So you're right! Haha you did set up a false dichotomy  :D

Mikey Lynch: Not quite. What I'm saying is that at this point it's their exceptional qualities at work.

Craig Hamilton: haha not convinced

Robbie Hayes: This is a fantastic thread to read along - some great young guys interacting with all sorts of different traditions and backgrounds, all in a positive but challenging way. Love it!!

 We're trying to set out comfier chairs towards the front as a way of bringing some people forward... seems to be working. We also deliberately put out the back rows later - and at bigger events, cover sections with black fabric. 

Oh and we've made some wall to ceiling curtains that can shrink the size of our church hall by about a quarter on each side, to help with smaller services.

Dave Jensen: Robbie Hayes where those black curtains $$$?

Robbie Hayes: Not really, at least not in pure $. We were blessed in that a member of our congregation volunteered to sew and hem and do all the other sewing related things (that I clearly have no idea about) - that saved us heaps! So we just paid for material (not the greatest quality, but more than does the job), wire and the rings that they run on.

Our next plan is to create another moveable curtain to cover the ugly back storage area of the church, which can be dragged away on the few big occasions when we clear the place for max seating capacity.

Mikey Lynch: I was wondering if I could have the permission of everyone in this sub-thread to repost it on my If I only get permission from some, I will remove the not-authorised comments  :-)

(Robbie Hayes? Dave Jensen? Craig Hamilton? Mike Doyle? Michael Jensen?)

Michael Jensen: Yep

Robbie Hayes: Sure!

Dave Jensen: 

Craig Hamilton: Yep

Mikey Lynch: Thanks! One catch: in my retelling, Im 6'3", dashing, twice as smart and have lots of Sorkinesque comebacks. And the rest of you are kind of Crabbe and Goyle.

And there are zombies.

Craig Hamilton: That's how I remember it.

Mike Doyle: For whatever I offered - feel free to repost. Remove the swear words first  ;-)

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