I am not sure I like pews. Oh, I get why we have them. The service is long and not only the elderly need to have time to sit. But I am not sure that pews have helped what happens in the worship services of God's House. In many churches the seats are placed so close together that it is impossible to kneel and hard to stand and difficult to pass by someone already seated there. When seats are too comfortable we are moved to spectate more than participate and when seats restrain us we feel even more distant from what happens in the Divine Service.
Pews tend to be latecomers to the design of a church. Seating, when there was seating, was in the form of spare benches. Although some might suggest that seats evolved for comfort, I wonder if that is true. When we visited Colonial Williamsburg and the Bruton parish church, we were reminded that seats were for the wealthy, bought and paid for or rented out. Both the seat and the placement of the seat were as much about prominence as comfort. The Jews knew nothing of seats in the Tabernacle courts or in the Temple itself -- although every synagogue you see today is arranged just like every Protestant church. I read somewhere that pews did not start showing up in force until 1100 or thereafter. And, if I recall, these were choir stalls or seats where monks prayed the daily offices. Now we have largely given up pews for individual seats and for many, theater style seating, because worship has move from being a lecture hall to an entertainment venue, further reinforcing the idea that you are here to watch others do things for you. Sizes have grown possible as technology allows us to throw our voices and project our images so that everyone has a good view. As true as this is for non-liturgical churches, it has become the single most important architectural criterion for sacramental churches as well -- a good line of sight to the action up front and a clear path for the sound.
I am not suggesting that pews be abandoned. I am only observing that we need to take care with the seats so that they assist the Divine Service and do not impede it. We do not want to be too comfortable and we should not be too restricted to prevent the liturgical calisthenics of standing, kneeling, sitting, and proceeding to the rail for the communion. It should be less about how many folks we can pack into each square foot of space but how well the entire space works to fulfill its purpose. Perhaps COVID 19 has reminded us that a little distance can be a helpful thing although I would hate to design our churches to accommodate a pandemic.