Defining Good Church Design: Measuring Your Facilities’ Form & Function

Both form and function need to be equal partners – often at great tension with each other- that need to be brought together harmoniously to create great design.

 

The American architect Louis Sullivan coined the phrase; Form follows function.

“It is the pervading law of all things organic and inorganic, of all things physical and metaphysical, of all things human, and all things super-human, of all true manifestations of the head, of the heart, of the soul, that the life is recognizable in its expression, that form ever follows function. This is the law.”
Louis Sullivan 1896

Sullivan is the creator of the modern skyscraper that started popping up in the growing large industrial cities in America in the late 19th century.  The great improvements in steel and also skeletal design at that time fueled the growth in popularity of the skyscraper.

A skyscraper is a good example where function (driven by the need to go vertical as cities grew) was a strong driving factor in the design of buildings in that era.

As we look at our church buildings, what is driving the design form or function?

A modern-day example of form winning out is the Crystal Cathedral (now owned by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange in Garden Grove, Orange County, California.

Completed in 1981 it was touted as the largest glass building in the world.  The Cathedral was known for its terrible acoustics.  The initial $1.2 million sound system installed at the construction of the building was completely unintelligible. The system was 2,800 pew back speakers each row on a digital delay.  Three crystal clusters (custom built speaker clusters) also provided coverage.  Altec horns were added in the ceiling grid to get better frequency response.

However time and phase was not addressed, thus the sound was unintelligible.  The nearly 3,000 speakers were eventually replaced by 11 speakers that created a system intelligible enough to last the next 18 years.  But, it was still not a great place to hear a sermon because of the acoustics of the building.

A modern day example of function leading the way is the trend over the last decade to build black box theater type of worship centers.

In general, they are designed to be acoustically very dead, the ceilings are painted black and as the antitheses of the Crystal Cathedral there are no windows. These spaces were designed specifically to do production style of worship.  The dead acoustics allows for a studio like sound from the worship band.  The controlled lighting and video presentation provides the feeling of a concert.

As inspiring as the Crystal Cathedral was to look at, the black box theater style of worship space screams forget about the building watch only what is happening on the stage.

The two extreme examples above show that when the scale is tipped to heavily to either form or function there are great tradeoffs that end up happening.

My goal is not to say that the Crystal Cathedral or the Black box style of worship center is bad.  Rather my goal is say that both form and function need to be equal partners, often at great tension with each other that need to be brought together harmoniously to create great design.

How can form and function translate to good design at your church?

Function

1. Traffic flow inside and outside

I have a friend who writes a blog and basically makes a living online.  He talks all the time about making interactions with his customers as frictionless as possible.  He posts multiple places, uses multiple social media channels and does direct email.

His reason is to make it as easy as possible for each person to receive and engage with his content.  Traffic flow should be looked at in the same way.

How are you providing the easiest way for your attendees to get in and around your building?  Have you ever just studied your traffic flow on a Sunday?  Often some minor changes to a building or some signage updates can greatly improve the traffic flow.

2. Climate, heating and air conditioning
If your attendees are not comfortable it is difficult for them to fully engage.

Do you have someone who is monitoring the climate control system?  They should be looking at objective data, temperature and humidity.  Everybody has their own comfort zone regarding temperature so the best thing to do is pick a standard and then stick to it.

If you determine temperature off how someone feels on a given service that person may have a cold and thus turn up the heat to try to create comfort for themselves. At the same time this puts many other into discomfort.  The key is consistency. With consistency people can choose what they wear knowing that they will be comfortable at a service.

A person that I know brings a sweater every Sunday (even in the summer) they know sometimes it’s a little too cold for them so they come prepared.

One other note you should check your system every 4-6 months.  I suggest doing it at the change of the seasons.  Check to make sure the system if performing optimally also check the temperature in multiple different spots in the room to make sure the temperature is uniform throughout the space.

3. Sound (lobby noise and sanctuary sound)
I argue that one of the most important parts (if not the most important) is sound.

This includes background noise in the sanctuary and lobby. If people cannot hold a conversation in the lobby because of all the noise created by other people having conversations, consider getting some acoustical treatment to help deaden the sound.

One of the main social functions of church is that people get the opportunity to talk to friends and meet new ones, so create a space that helps make those conversations comfortable.

I also argue that the spoken word is the most important element of a worship service. A poor performing sound system where people need to strain to hear, or like the original system at the crystal cathedral where you could not understand what was being said makes people uncomfortable and frustrated.

Form

1. Beauty
What are you doing to bring elements of beauty into your space, indoors and outdoors?  Take a fresh look and walk around in and around your building.  Would painting an accent wall or adding a piece of art bring beauty?  How about planting some flowers around the entrance and trimming the bushes well you are at it?

A question I ask myself as I visit and consult with churches is; does this space feel institutional or warm and inviting?

Then the important follow up question, Why?  Color, furniture placement, plants and many other things factor into the feeling a space gives.  What are the things of beauty in your space?  What could you change to make the space inviting?

2. Engaging
Along the same lines as making the space feel inviting, what causes engagement in your space?  I have seen artwork bring engagement as well as beauty.  People stopping to view a piece of art and reflecting on its meaning.

Architecture can also do this.  Is there anything on the exterior of your building that engages people?  A recent church I worked with was looking for a new home, the building that they chose to purchase was purchased impart because the industrial look of the building fit well with their brand.

3. Uplifting
We attend church to have an extraordinary experience.  I am not talking about the cool light show and production. The point is the overall experience should not be like our ordinary daily experience.

A building has a personality, it invokes emotion from those who come into contact with it.  Is the personality of your building uplifting?  Do people sense and see something out of everyday ordinary life that lifts their spirit?

Yes, Sullivan is correct when he says the form follows function.  The building needs to work well and suit the needs of the congregation.  It also should point us to our creator with beauty and form.

I contend that good design involves form and function working together to create an extraordinary experience.

Going With What You Know When The Pressure’s On

Several years ago, I was invited to be a presenter at an audio industry trade show, and while there, I greatly enjoyed meeting some fellow presenters.

In fact, after the convention center hall closed, eight of us audio “geeks” went to enjoy dinner together, and it turned out to be a fun—and instructive—evening on many levels.

At one point, as we were seated around the table, someone in the group posed this hypothetical question: “If you got a call to do an event, had to be there in an hour, and weren’t told much of anything about the performers or performance, which microphones would you bring?”

This was quickly followed up with: “And oh, by the way, you’re limited to three models. Any manufacturer, but only three different models.” Continue reading “Going With What You Know When The Pressure’s On”

Worship Leaders On Important Traits Of Sound Operators

Mix skills and system knowledge can be undermined…

 

According to worship leaders, what are the most important aspects of being a church sound operator?

I’ve been doing an informal survey on this topic, asking worship leaders for their views.

The answers have been surprising, at least to me. For example, to this point not one of them has mentioned that a sound operator should have musical talent. Nor have they brought up the value of having a critical ear when it comes to music.

Maybe it’s my own biases, but I thought these factors would at least rate a mention.

Here’s another one that hasn’t come up: knowing how to properly operate the equipment and system.

Perhaps the worship leaders I’ve surveyed are assuming that a sound person should already have these skills, and therefore haven’t mentioned them.

Further answers I’ve received in the survey—although they’re not at the top of the list—include the ability to mix well, keep volume under control, and function as “an extension of the worship team.”

Regardless, the number one answer I’ve received? Attentiveness. As in paying attention, or focus.

Number two? Attitude. As in always having a good one.

Now the shoe is on the other foot, so to speak, because it seems—to me—that both attentiveness and attitude should be givens.

If you’re helping with ministry (providing sound in this case), bringing a good attitude should be a no-brainer, and because in some ways the sound operator can “silence” the word of God being preached, you’d better be paying attention!

Yet consider these anecdotes…

One worship leader told me the story of a volunteer sound operator who’s been serving for 18 years, and is a great guy, easy to work with. However, this fellow has a consistent flaw: a soloist can walk out of the choir, go to center stage, stand behind the mic for several seconds, and still, the mic isn’t turned up until the third or fourth word of the solo. That’s definitely an attentiveness problem…

Another leader told me that one of his sound operators is so gruff that the worship team dare not ask him for anything. The result is that on any given Sunday, there might be no vocals in the monitors, or a mic is not provided for a performer, and so on—and yet no one speaks up because they’re afraid of getting their heads bitten off. Talk about an attitude problem…

These two stories reveal even further problems. In the first case, the sound operator should be asked—kindly—if he might not better serve by volunteering his time elsewhere, In the second case, someone with such a nasty disposition should be asked—kindly—to modify his behavior, and if that doesn’t work, he should be asked—kindly—to step down.

Let me sum it up this way. If you’re at a concert and the mix is pleasing, and there’s no feedback or missed cues, you’d likely think (and would be right) that it’s a successful event, at least from a sound reinforcement point of view. But if you’re at a concert and the mix is pleasing, but there are occasional squeals of feedback and some dropped cues, you’d likely be at least somewhat disappointed.

The moral of the story: sound operators should be able to mix musically and operate their equipment/systems competently, but these worship leaders make a very persuasive point: it all can be negated by lack of proper attention and bringing the right attitude to the gig.

5 Elements of An Engaging Church Facility

One of the activities that a church facility needs to facilitate is creating an active sense of community.

It is true that buildings are basically what we call brick and mortar, however we must also recognize that they have character and thus communicate a message about the inhabitants and often facilitate very specific activities.

Church attendance is often driven by our desire as humans to connect.

We primarily go to church to connect with God, but there is also a huge element of human/social connection that brings people thru the doors.

For a church one of the activities that a building should facilitate is creating a sense of community.

So how can brick and mortar help create a sense of community?

Church Seating Areas

When you show up early or stay later after a service you may want to have an extended conversation with someone you haven’t seen lately, or perhaps with someone who is personally struggling with a loss or tough situation in their life.

To connect on such a deep and personal level can be difficult if you are standing in a crowded lobby.  In that lobby setting there are fears of being overheard and also the constant distraction and interruptions as people walk by and wave or stop and say hi.

There is something about a seating area that is off to the side that communicates, do not interrupt.

It’s almost like you put up a do not disturb sign. In reality these areas often are where deep ministry takes place.  People are more open if they feel safe from being overheard or interrupted.

Community is about Gathering Space

There is something exciting about a crowd.

The noise, the closeness and sometimes what feels like chaos gives off a strong energy of “something is happening here”.  A lobby is great place to be seen and to see people and make a quick connection.

Church attendance is often driven by our desire as humans to connect.

We primarily go to church to connect with God, but there is also a huge element of human/social connection that brings people thru the doors.

For a church one of the activities that a building should facilitate is creating a sense of community.

So how can brick and mortar help create a sense of community?

Church Seating Areas

When you show up early or stay later after a service you may want to have an extended conversation with someone you haven’t seen lately, or perhaps with someone who is personally struggling with a loss or tough situation in their life.

To connect on such a deep and personal level can be difficult if you are standing in a crowded lobby.  In that lobby setting there are fears of being overheard and also the constant distraction and interruptions as people walk by and wave or stop and say hi.

There is something about a seating area that is off to the side that communicates, do not interrupt.

It’s almost like you put up a do not disturb sign. In reality these areas often are where deep ministry takes place.  People are more open if they feel safe from being overheard or interrupted.

Community is about Gathering Space

There is something exciting about a crowd.

The noise, the closeness and sometimes what feels like chaos gives off a strong energy of “something is happening here”.  A lobby is great place to be seen and to see people and make a quick connection.

This might be as simple as doing some of the above. Moving or creating new coffee stations, creating seating areas, adding tabletops can all give clues to where people should go and connect with each other.

Another way to help in traffic flow is to have key people that set an example or politely encourage people to move to s specific location.

If someone is lingering in front of the coffee station having an extend conversation blocking the area often someone simply coming up and saying excuse me as they walk towards the coffee station with give a social cue that the people in conversation need to move.

Your facility can most definitely facilitate community. 

Your challenge is to do the work and figure out what you can do to help make this happen.

Getting A Handle On Church System Maintenance, Upgrades & Lifecycles

Get people on board, start the discussion early and have a plan.

Do you replace production/system equipment based on it being worn out or for new features and functionality?

When we get a new system or new piece of gear, often the last thing on our minds is repairs or the life cycle of the system.

In my view, churches are getting better at understanding professional A/V systems. I find that in general the market is more aware of the cost versus the expectation of the system, along with the willingness to spend the dollars to get it right (or at least as right as they can afford). I’m grateful for the improvement.

However an area where I see little or no improvement is in operation, maintenance and lifecycle replacement expectations.

It’s not uncommon for a church to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a great sound system and then never think about who is going to operate it, and just as importantly, who is going to be responsible for maintaining it. In fact, too often I see churches balk when one of the sound techs asks for a few hundred dollars to attend a tech training conference.

Another factor is the short(er) lifecycle of today’s equipment I don’t mean that stuff fails sooner; it’s more that technology keeps surpassing itself.

The church that I serve has been in a new sanctuary for only seven years. When the technical systems were designed and installed, digital consoles were in the early (and generally pricey) stage. HD video was being discussed but not widely adopted. Line arrays for permanent installations had just recently come into fashion.

All that said, my church has a great-sounding left-center-right main loudspeaker system, a premium 56-channel analog console, and a 12 x 16 rear-projection system that works well. Even so, we’ve started discussions on replacing some of our equipment. (Well, actually “repurposing” is more accurate, because the current stuff will be utilized elsewhere in the church.)

Part of the push to replace is based on age. The console is starting to have some minor issues (although nothing yet that can’t easily be repaired). But in reality, the big push is based on changes in both technology and expectations. We’ve started hosting concerts in the space, and the main system has a hard time getting over 100 dBA.

So with technology moving so quickly, what should you expect when purchasing a new system?

One.) Don’t expect it to perform at its best without having qualified and trained personnel operating it.

Two.) Do expect it deteriorate without regular maintenance. I suggest having systems checked annually by a professional contractor, even if there are not any apparent problems.

Three.) Don’t expect it to last forever. Be realistic about the life expectancy of the equipment, and more importantly, recognize that the technology in most cases will become obsolete before it fails. I’ve read that the average life expectancy of an A/V system is as little as three to five years (especially when you’re talking about video projectors).

Four.)
Do expect to need to educate the leadership at your church as to how and why the technology needs to be updated. Actually, this is an activity that needs to happen on a consistent basis – no one likes to be surprised with a big ticket purchase that was not anticipated.

How can you go about it?

1) Upgrade as you go, a piece or two at a time. This can be a great way to keep a system current. As new, beneficial technology becomes available, cycle out the older stuff.

For example, the system is working fine and sounds good, but the mixing console is coming up on 10 years old. So it could be replaced with a newer model, and at the same time, you can be planning similar transitions for loudspeakers, amplifiers and so on.

The main problem I see with this approach is that if the leader of the technical area is not the same person for a number of years, the upgrade process can suffer from lack of consistency.

2) Take the “big leap” and do an overhaul every 7 to 10 years. I’m currently working with a large church on a significant upgrade that has taken almost five years to come to fruition. Over that time span, the design has changed and the cost estimate has increased, but what has stayed consistent is the accumulation of money to do the project.

The key thing in making a significant upgrade happen is to have a vision, backed by a concrete plan to have the money available to do it. By outlining the project at the outset and then accruing a bite-sized chunk of the cost, year after year, the church has been able to do steadily accomplish its vision without having to do the typical fund raising, committee meetings and deacon approval.

To me, both ways work – it’s just very important that the discussion gets started early and that people are onboard in their commitment to technical system excellence.

A 5 Step Framework To Building

 
Five key points are involved when a church is ready to embark on a building program.

Often I find myself consulting or giving advice as to what steps a church should take when they are ready to embark on a building program. In general, there are five key points involved in a building project.  Each of those points could be an article, or book unto themselves.

My goal is to introduce to the steps and give you a basic overview of what each step entails.

Each congregation is unique however by following these steps you can head down the road of building with confidence.

Vision

This obvious step is often over looked. As American’s we love to jump to the what.  What are we going to build?

We really need to spend much more time at the Why?  The why is not just because our ministry is growing and needs space. The why is, what is our DNA, what has God purposed us, this fellowship to do at this moment in time.

Additionally, what vision has God given us as it relates to what our future ministry will look like.

Brushing over this initial step has led many churches to build something they either didn’t need or ends up not meeting the true needs of their ministry.  I currently am working with a church that is building small.  They average around 800 and are building a 450 seat auditorium.  That means that immediately as they move into the new facility they will be doing multiple services and in essence be packed out with 2 or 3 services.

This church knows its DNA, they don’t feel called to be a mega church, they believe God has called them to impact they neighborhood he has placed them in.

So they are referring to this first building as an incubator.

They Plan to grow a vibrant congregation and in 18-24 months spin off 75% of that congregation to a new location just across town.  The 25% that remain at the incubator location will then start fresh, new staff and everything and seek to grow a vibrant church that can be spun off in 18-24 months again leaving 25% at the incubator to do it again and again.

This church gets who they are called to be, a local church that makes a difference in the neighborhood where they are planted. So their plan is to have multiple fully functioning, self-supporting locations that infiltrate the town in which God has place them. This determined the size and location of the facilities they are building.

Feasibility

At the firm I work for we do a significant amount of what we call Phase 1 work.  A phase one is really a feasibility and needs study that is done to provide budgeting for the project.  This process where we come in and sit down with your leadership and ministry teams gives direction to what is going to be built and how much it will cost.

This second step should be done only after they vision part is complete.  It is vital that you know who you are before you embark on what to build.

The Phase 1 process allows the vision of the building to take shape and form.  After sitting down will all the stake holders in the project a conceptual drawing is completed as well as a floor plan.

From this a budget for the project is determined.  What is great about this process is that the church now knows how much money they need to raise and they also have tools, the 3D renderings, to share with the congregation.

The nominal cost of a Phase 1 keeps churches from embarking and spending a lot of time and energy on something they can’t afford to build.  It also protects them for wasting a lot of money on design work as they go thru the process.

Financing/Fund raising

Now that budgets have been determined and hopefully also with the renderings, the congregation is ready to move forward.  Now the question becomes how.  Do you take on debt, do an extended fund raising campaign, break the project into phases and build as money is available?

Fundraising is also an area where you have to know your DNA and what direction your congregation would like to pursue in raising funds.  I suggest at this point that churches contract with a professional fund raising frim.  Yes, just like the Phase 1 study, it will cost money.  In this case it is really costing you money to in the end raise significantly more money.

A well run capital campaign can greatly shorten the building process by securing funds quicker.  A good professional fund raising firm will use the 3D renderings done in the feasibility study to help communicate, inspire and call to action your congregation.

Kick off/Full design

Somewhere during the capital campaign, it will be time to give the project the go ahead.

At this point, an architectural firm, or a design/build firm takes a really deep dive into programming. They will get into the nitty gritty of what is the precise square footage that each ministry needs, what the fit and finishes are going to look like (this is likely to be determined by how successful the capital campaign is).

Depending on the delivery method you choose, construction may also begin at the same time you are finalizing the design.

The key in this phase is to revisit the phase 1 process with all of the stakeholders to ensure everyone is still on the same page and has agreed on the same priorities.

Construction

This can be the most exciting time of the entire project. it can also be the most painful.  Likely it will be both.  There is nothing more exciting than to see your dream and vision literally come up from the ground. There is also nothing more painful that having to put a project on hold because the funds are not available.

One of the most important aspects of a construction project is cash flow.  I have seen churches that have had to put a hold on their project because they did not plan the important element of cash flow well.  Yes, they have the money committed but the bank may temporarily cap a construction loan until a certain percentage of that pledged amount is in the bank.

Construction overruns can also bring a project to a halt.  There are many infamous stories of projects that were delayed or never were completed because the change orders during the project emptied the bank account.  This can happen because the owner keeps changing his mind, or finding out as you are building that some major element has to change because the design was faulty. Rarely if ever does it happen because of extenuating circumstance, like material increases.

To ensure that your construction project is more exciting and painful it is important to be sure of your design before you break ground, or be sure that your design and construction team are in sync to bring your project in on time and budget.

Following the framework above, in particular understanding the why, and what your DNA as a church is will lead you to a successful building project.

 

Insuring Consistency From Service To Service

The benefit of keeping everything in its place and in working order

Talking with worship technicians and worship leaders, I often hear the complaint that from week to week, the quality of Sunday morning services varies.

Some of this stems from training, such as when there’s a problem and the tech doesn’t know how to fix it. Some of it is skill; for example, some sound engineers just have a better ear and command of the equipment than others.

The skill level of musicians may also vary, usually due to lack of experience and thus confidence. When they know a song, no problem, but when they’re unsure, they hold back and can become tentative.

But in my experience, there’s another primary contributor to the problem of inconsistency: equipment status and organization.

Example: It’s five minutes before the start of the service, and the sound engineer is sweating bullets, being told to set up for an additional four musicians that the worship leader hadn’t mentioned until just now. No time for sound check, no time for even a simple line check for these new players.

The mics and direct boxes are quickly located, plugged in, and positioned, and then the engineer high-tails it to the sound booth in time for the start of the service.

Rough estimates are made requiring the input gain and monitor levels, a quick prayer murmured, and the channels are unmuted for the opening song.

Then, and of course, “it” happens: that infamous bzzzzzzzz that makes everyone’s hair stand on end!

This particular time, the problem is the additional bass player’s direct box. Time for a split decision: mute the channel or quickly get to the stage to check find the cause, likely the line cord on the bass, or the direct box is faulty (or set wrong), or the direct box cable is bad, or…?!?

With so many potential trouble spots, and so much else going on during the service, the choice is likely going to be to mute the channel and be comforted by the fact that at least some of the sound coming from the bass rig is still being heard in the house, so the player’s efforts aren’t completely wasted.

Was this entire situation preventable? Of course! And, as usual, it’s the simple things that matter most.

There are at least five things that could and should have been done prior to this “sweat and bzzzzzz” fest:

1) Basic maintenance. All cables and cords need to be checked on a monthly basis. In addition, these should be treated properly (wrapped correctly) and organized (hung in a single, logical location). I recommend a peg board, where cables are sorted by type and length. This way, they can be easily found, even in pressure situation, and will work correctly.

There should be at least two spare cables for each variety of cables (and connectors) being used.

2) Organization. Staying with audio, it’s vital to know exactly how many inputs, and what type, will be required for each and every service. And all of these must be set up and tested ahead of time.

3) Communication. Techs should regularly interface with the worship leader and never be shy about asking if anything new or unusual is coming up. Do this early, and as often as necessary. It beats being surprised, and, it also beats having things go wrong on Sunday.

Still, last-minute stuff can and will happen. Working sound at my church recently, I noticed on the worship order that a missions report had been scheduled, and it would be delivered by someone we weren’t outfitted with a headset/lavalier mic. This was 10 minutes before the service.

So I walked up to the stage and quickly arranged for one of the vocalists, at the appropriate time, to hand off her vocal mic to the person delivering the report, and then to collect it when he was done. Nothing genius, but a last-minute solution that worked smoothly and well. When the time came, I was ready to quickly adjust that particular mic channel to adjust for the new person’s particular voice and mic handling.

4) Plan ahead, and always have a “plan B.” Normally the above scenario would not have been an issue because we always keep a spare “just in case” handheld mic on a stand on the stage (discretely out of the way). But at this particular point in the service, it was already going to be used by someone else on the worship team.

5) Have a party! (You didn’t see that one coming, did you?) Once every few months or so,  the entire tech team should get together to go through all of the equipment, making sure it’s all there, working properly, and organized. It really helps to make this a fun, festive event, with pizza and cold drinks and some time for everyone to “just hang.”

Keep these five things in mind, and you’ll see a dramatic improvement in consistency from service to service.

 

How Loud is Too Loud?

Your congregation’s perception of what is “too loud” during your services can be heavily influenced by quality of mix, sound system, acoustics and musical dynamics.

Sitting in the tech booth during a service on a recent Sunday, I had an “a-ha” moment. Not a big one, but still a good lesson.

We had traded worship bands for the day with our sister church. Our band was playing at their place, and vice versa.

One of our front of house people, Justin, traveled with the band to do the mixing. Just as our service began, I received a text from Justin that simply said, “Running a service at 85 dBA. A new record!” I glanced over at the Smaart app running on my iPad, and our levels were hovering around 88 dBA.

This was during a mellow song; moments later we were doing 90 to 95 dBA. Just then, Justin texted me again: “Update. I was able to get it to 80 dBA. It seems to have pleased the masses.”

This “conversation” (via text) got me thinking about the “how loud is too loud” conversation that’s a constant among church tech folks.

I realized this:

1) Since we’ve installed a new loudspeaker system and acoustical treatment, we’ve been running a bit louder yet haven’t received a single complaint (or for that matter, even a “suggestion” to turn it down).

2) Dynamics really do play into perceived level.

We all know that if the sound is pleasing, we tolerate more level. Think of your morning alarm clock at 90 dBA versus your favorite song on the car radio at 90 dBA—it’s a BIG difference in how you react to those sounds.

Watching as our meter hit 97 dBA, I thought “wow, it just doesn’t seem that loud.” Clearly, it was a combination of a good mix, excellent system, and the acoustical tightness of the room. (Lends credence to getting the the best system you can and mixing it loud!)

But the “a-ha” moment occurred when the band played a familiar song in a very different way. It usually starts out loud with a big guitar riff and big drums. However, this band began it with acoustic guitar only. I glanced at the meter and it read 72 dBA, and the sound was good and the level “felt” appropriate.

Then without warning came a huge downbeat, with everyone hitting it hard and then taking off. But the meter read just 86 dBA. What?! It had to be wrong, because it sure sounded like 92 to 95 dB.

The answer is obvious, however. The contrast was so great that the perceived change in volume was greater than the actual change. Kind of like when you walk out of a dark space directly into sunlight—once your eyes adjust, it’s not usually painfully bright.

The band used this type of dynamic very effectively throughout the service, bringing it way down for the quiet parts and then jumping on louder passages. They were quite skilled at it, and the new system was able to reproduce it very well.

When things got quiet, it still sounded full and rich, and when things got louder, the system responded accurately and without compressing or distorting. I watched the front of house mixer, Trevor, keep his right hand on the control group that we call program (basically everything but vocals). He wasn’t shy about riding the control group to also help accentuate the band’s change in dynamics.

So the lesson is clear: give dynamics more credence to add power and emotion to the mix.

I realize these observations aren’t earth shattering, but it’s a valuable reminder to mix to the appropriate level for the sound system. Don’t push it if the system can’t handle it. Also make sure that the system has enough headroom so that it can respond to these types of changes in level.

It’s also vital for us to bear in mind how we can best help accentuate the dynamics that a band is already producing on stage, to take advantage of that while resisting the temptation to overmix and overprocess.

Loud where it should be, soft where it should be—use the dynamics to make it all the more powerful.

 

Church DNA: Who are you? Who?

Along the way it has become an idea, that if the big, cool churches are doing something, then everybody feels like they need to copy them and do the same thing.

 

A good friend of mine Jeff Abbott, service programming director at Ada Bible Church in Ada, Michigan recently opined about the copycat syndrome in today’s churches.

He talked about how a couple of years ago everyone had to have pallets on their stage to look cool.

He also bemoaned the current use of LED tape.

Jeff has nothing against pallets or LED tape, however he is discouraged by what he refers to the cookie cutter look of today’s contemporary churches.

Jeff continued on talking about the idea that if the big, cool churches are doing something, then everybody feels like they need to copy them and do the same thing.

Jeff asked the question “Does God really want the church to be a bunch of clones, stamping a couple clones out in towns across the country?”

Both Jeff and I agree that we do not believe that is what God intended for the church.

It really comes down to a church understanding their own DNA and culture and living that out.

I was at a training session where the main topic was diversity.  Point blank I expected the typical talk on culture differences and the understanding that we need to develop between cultures.  The speaker asked the simple question of how many different cultures that we thought existed.

I began trying to estimate the number of countries and then thinking I could probably add a 5 to 10x factor to that number.

I figured each country had a main culture with a few additional sub cultures that permeated each country.  His answer rocked me on my heals and shocked me.  He proclaimed with authority that there are around 7 billion cultures in the world!

Wait 7 billion, how can that be?  That is about how many people are on earth.  Exactly!

So am I saying that we need to have 7 billion different churches?  I believe there should be 7 billion different temples as our bodies are the temple of the Lord, I do not believe each person is a church.
A church is a collection of cultures (people). I liken to America, there is the distinct American culture but in that culture there are a lot of subcultures.

On the lateral plane there are culture separations based on race, socioeconomic class and the like.  On the vertical plane there is the age difference, the Boomer, GenX and Millennials.  All of the different cultures make up the overall American culture.

The church is really the same way.

As people we bring our own diverse culture under the umbrella of the church to collectively create its own distinct culture.  This could be a culture based around evangelism, missions, doctrine etc.  Whatever that culture is, a wise church will base its ministry around the culture, thus creating the DNA of the church.

Once discovered, each church must do and create things that fit into its own unique DNA.

This does not mean that a church cannot learn and adapt ideas from another church or other institution.  It means that the church has to meld it into their unique DNA.

A great example that I experienced of this taking place was at the WFX conference.

Jeff and I were walking downtown Louisville, enjoying the downtown when Jeff suddenly stopped and pulled out his phone and snapped a picture of a window display.  The display was a cool wood design that filled the front window of an architectural firm.  It really resonated with Jeff (and myself), it also was a perfect window display for an architectural firm that showed off their design creativity.  Jeff turned to me and said, “I just got a great idea for a set design”.

Will the set look exactly like the window display?  I doubt it. When Jeff builds the set it will be inspired by the window display, in fact it will most likely bear a strong resemblance to it.  More importantly the DNA of Ada Bible Church will be woven into the set and it will become part of who Ada Bible is.

If you don’t know or understand the DNA at your church, discover it!

Also do things that fit your DNA.

This includes taking things that you see and weaving them into your DNA.

Does a Great Facility Equal Great Growth?

Having a well-kept, nice facility is just expected. Also having the proper technology to carry out your ministry is a total must…

 

Does a great facility = great growth?

Having a well-kept, nice facility is just expected.  Also having the proper technology to carry out your ministry is a total must.

Over the years that I’ve been involved in ministry, I have noticed that there can be what I call the “want to be” syndrome.

The statements – I am sure you have also heard – go something like this, “If only we had the technology that XYZ church has, we would grow as fast as they are”.  Or “If our building looked that nice we too could have rapid growth.”

Mentally most of know that the above statement is not true for the church, in business or in general.

I am currently listening to one of the many biographies on the life of Steve Jobs.  Many of you know that that when Steve left apple, only to come back a decade later, he started a company call NeXT.  Steve had it all: he recruited the best engineers and built the most advanced factory and well-equipped offices.

Steve himself was a visionary, a charismatic (if not sometimes frightening) leader.  NeXT however basically tanked being acquired by Apple (some say that NeXT was only purchased by Apple to get Steve back) for a fraction of the investment that went into the company.

How could a company that had the best of support and wind at its back fail?  I contend that it was Steve’s journey in the wilderness, he had lost direction and purpose.

Churches too can fall into this trap.  I have seen church plants that seem to have everything, a great place to meet, plenty of financing and yet not succeeded.  Success is not guaranteed by the amount of resources that we possess.

Another way to look at this is to realize that the reason your ministry may be stagnant or dying is not because you don’t have the cool technology, or a fancy facility.  Most likely the stagnation come from the fact that the church is not connecting with people or living out and fulfilling its calling and mission.

A change in venue or and upgrade often just moves the problem, it the proverbial lipstick on the pig.  Sure it looks a little nicer, but it’s still a pig.  In fact, I believe that new technology may only magnify your current irrelevance. It’s like putting new siding on a building with a bad foundation or a new paint on a car with a bad or blown engine.  It may look better but it’s still going to crumble or stop running.

The false hope and belief that something new can spark growth or change the current reality leads many churches to get out the lipstick, somehow hoping against hope that nobody will notice the stench that is still there.

Reality check.  Buildings and technology are a means to an end.  They can help facilitate growth but in no way are they the secret cause.

I think the biggest proof of this is the fact that you can have a growing church in a centuries old building and you can kill or have a dead or dying church in a brand new multi-million-dollar facility.

If you are counting on facilities or technology to somehow be the thing alone that brings growth to your ministry, you better get ready for a major disappointment.