A Biblical Perspective
Even as my pen touches the paper, I know that what I am about to write may offend. Truth often offends, and yet the Bible tells us that truth will set us free. So please continue to read, and allow me to express some truths about acoustics in churches that I pray the Holy Spirit will confirm with a resounding “Yes!” and “Amen” in your spirit and soul!
Now let me stop here to say that I have a degree in music, love music, and I am a worship leader in my own church. I love the sound of a beautiful pipe organ, and I love listening to a wonderful choir. But I am also a Christian who knows his Bible, understands ministry priorities, and I believe I know what all of this is supposed to be about!
The Bible says in Romans 10:13-14, “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” I would add, “And how can they hear about Jesus, when they can’t understand the preacher due to echoes and excessive reverberation.”
You see, we have churches all over the world with “cathedral acoustics” to enhance and reverberate organ and choral performances, and yet there is not a single acoustician in the world who would say these rooms allow speech to be understood clearly! May I ask a probing question? “What is our primary purpose?”
It is my understanding that we are to preach the gospel, win souls, teach the Word, and edify the Body. If the words to a song are edifying, uplifting, or helping the lost to find Christ, let them be not only heard but understood as well!
When the reverberation or echo of a building is too extensive, clear communication simply cannot occur. This is not a point of controversy among acousticians. The clearest “real life” example I have of this common phenomenon happened to me a few years ago in a health spa shower room. A room of solid glazed tile was the setting as an older gentleman entered and began to make friendly conversation. After grinning and nodding to be polite, as though we were actually conversing, I left the room not understanding a single word spoken.
Now, with years of acoustical experience under my belt, I understand what happened that day, and yet we not only allow this phenomenon to stop clear communication in our churches, we create it, as though it is something we should desire!
Before you reject what I am saying simply because it is coming from someone who manufactures acoustical absorbers for a living, let me say we also manufacture the most cost-effective diffusers on the market, which create the very type of room we’re talking about. However, I personally have always suggested their use sparingly or not at all.
Again I ask, “What are we here for?” Matthew 15:6 states, “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.” How many commandments of God have been made of none effect by traditional “cathedral” acoustics? The answer is: every one of them to a degreeto the degree that the room is allowed to reverberate from a small amount to my tile shower experience of 100%!
The fact is new churches can be built to allow clear communication acoustically for about the same money as they can be built to reverberate. It is simply a matter of choice. Facilities already in use can be changed without any alterations, other than acoustically and decoratively. A substantial change in room acoustics never requires structural remodeling of existing space. Again, it is simply a choice we make.
I pray that this article will fall into the hands of those with the capacity of influencing acoustical choices in their churches, and who will act on it. The results will be remarkable: Clear communication of the Word in song, in preaching, and in teaching, which the Bible says, “will not return void!”
I can sum up what happens to the sound in churches with just two statements. Well, okay, a statement and a quote from a title of a book. My statement is this, and I can back it up with a mountain of facts, figures, and quantum physics; “you can take the best sound system in the world, put it in an echo chamber, and not understand a word. You can get a bargain basement sound system, put it in a room with good acoustics, and understand every word.”
My book title may be backwards, but it goes something like this: “Acousticians Are Blind, Architects Are Deaf.” Okay, stop and laugh for a minute, but to thousands of churches, it is just not funny anymore. You see, acoustics should work with the sound system and with the aesthetics of the room, and it is essential; not a luxury! Acoustics is a science, and if you follow certain formulas and put in the right ingredients Voila! It works every time. I am amazed at how people guess at what they are doing, or give no thought to it at all, and expect it to come out right. It usually doesn’t.
The good news is this. After years of research and development, products exist that will bring a room back to good acoustic function, and it really costs no more than if we had been there from the beginning. After years of “absorption here, here, and here” and “diffusion here, here, and here,” we have come up with units that absorb and diffuse at the same time like nothing else on the planet, and they can turn an echo box into a really nice acoustical space. My soon-to-be four patents in the field of acoustics in the past three years prove “times are a-changin,” and for the better! So, if you’re building, the good news is good acoustics are getting better and cheaper all the time. If you have already built and hate the sound, the good news is it can be fixed now, probably better and less expensively than when you built.
The downside? Expect the look of the room to change most would say for the better. Your large flat walls echo and echoes are bad. Expect a little shape here and there. Eventually both your ears and your eyes will love you for it!