Efficient or effective? Rows vs circles in church

This page last updated February 7th, 2021

Most college courses and introductory books on business will address the difference between being “efficient” and being “effective“. Efficiency is about controlling tasks so they are done quickly, with a minimum of resources and waste. Effectiveness is about achieving your goals. The two don’t always go together.

Doing church in rows allows for an efficient use of space. When you seat people in rows, you can cram cram the maximum number of people into the room. People are conditioned to sit still and silently in rows, so it is an easy strategy to control their behaviour. Rows also allow for an efficient teaching method. When people sit in rows and listen passively, you can present a large volume of information in a short space of time. Using a didactic teaching approach allows for full control of the material presented, which is less possible in the fluid interplay of more natural communication settings. Every detail can be planned and prepared in advance. Every minute is accounted for.

It’s easy to understand why church in rows is the norm across the world and across most denominations. However, what are the goals of church? Most pastors and leaders would identify discipleship and spiritual maturity as the ultimate aim of our church gatherings. But how effective are rows in achieving these goals?

Doing church in a circle is one way we could more effectively help God’s people to connect, learn and grow together. When people are participating and using their voice, they become engaged. They take ownership of their learning. They find their gifts and use them. They minister to one another. Relationships become stronger, understanding goes deeper, and the theoretical becomes reality.

Circles are not as efficient as rows. They take up more space, they can’t accommodate as many people, they cover less material in the same time, and there is more risk of interruptions, tangents and conflict. However, when you take a risk and hand some control of the environment and the material to the people, they will become engaged, active and invested, and they will surprise you with how innovative and creative they are, and how capable they are of effectively learning and teaching each other. You will empower them rather than controlling them. All around the world, organisations are taking their people out of rows and seating them in circles, with exciting results.

This page, originally posted on February 2, 2013, is recovered from the now defunct Church in a Circle blog, and re-published by permission, because I think the material is valuable.

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