Sunday church services had become just another spectator event. Attendees came, sat, stared, spoke to no one, and went home. It wasn’t a community of believers. It was just another passive audience of disconnected strangers.

But then somebody rearranged the furniture. And things started to change.

It happened at Bethany Lutheran Church in Slidell, Louisiana. And also at Kauai Christian Fellowship in Hawaii. The church leaders decided to place round tables where pews or rows of chairs once stood. Overnight, the environment produced a new atmosphere. Now when people enter the worship space, it looks more people-friendly. It invites personal interaction.

At Kauai Christian Fellowship, pastor Rick Bundschuh said his folks also put food goodies on the tables to make the experience even more inviting.

Seeing the transformative impact of seating around small tables, we tried it at our Group Publishing headquarters building. We brought in 36-inch round tables for our staff meetings. We saw an immediate difference in our people’s engagement. The atmosphere changed from a lecture hall to a warm gathering of friends. We’ll never go back to chairs in rows.

This configuration of small tables helps remind us of the true meaning of “church”–a community of believers living out our faith together. Like the early church, people actually get acquainted, share joys and sorrows, and pray for one another. In Sunday morning settings, this happens at tables before and after the services, during prayer times, and during “table talk” times interspersed in the message time.

Through extensive experimentation, we’ve found that this interaction best happens around small, round tables. We’ve learned that 36 inches is the ideal diameter for conversation. Everyone can hear one another–even in a big room with hundreds of tables. And four people per table is ideal for sharing without anyone feeling intimidated by a larger group.

George Gallup, Jr., through his research on the spiritual lives of Americans, said, “Belonging comes before believing.” Faith grows in the context of relationships. Churches that value relationships would do well to create environments that promote relationships.