Church Acoustics: Let Them Hear
LET THEM HEAR
THE IMPORTANCE OF CHURCH ACOUSTICS
Hearing The Message
Congregations and visitors alike come to church to hear a message, enjoy music, and share. But people tend to complain when they can't hear the service. Good church acoustics encourage membership and attendance, enhance fellowship, and show that leadership cares about the message. A church without good audio is kind of like a car without good tires. Your engine may be great, but the car really isn't gonna go many places. Or it might slip on the ice at the wrong time like your audio might cut out in a packed service.
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A Natural Sound Profile
One consideration for church acoustics is keeping a natural sound profile. Having to mic up every speaker or singer in the congregation is time consuming and can lead to a too-loud, overwhelming environment. AV equipment can be very helpful. But, especially in older or traditional churches, it is simply not built for the space without some other acoustic work. By simply amplifying everyone, the reverberation time extends, and it can be challenging to hear anything. A natural sound profile ensures congregational singing can be heard and allows for a more lively yet rich atmosphere. Sound systems have their places in churches of all types and sizes. It's important to find a system that amplifies speaking and singing while keeping that natural sound profile.
Many churches that have invested in better acoustics and sound quality see a rise in attendance. People want to attend a place of worship where they can hear what is being said and sung without having to fight over the noise. Sound quality goes a long way in creating a welcoming environment, especially for older visitors and members who may already have a hard time hearing.
BEST EXAMPLES OF ACOUSTICS IN:
Musical acoustics looks at how sound travels, from where it projects outward, following direct sound to a microphone and the rest reflected around the room. One of the great inventions in musical acoustics was the echo chamber machine. This allowed sound engineers to simulate reverb. Engineers can now use digital reverb to simulate any acoustic environment's sound, so long as the original reverb is removed. That is why recording studios have foam panels on the wall - they are there to absorb sound reflections, leaving mostly direct sound. Diffusers scatter any remaining reflected sound, creating the ideal musical acoustic environment.
Acoustical engineers deal with sound and vibration, designing, analyzing, and controlling it. You likely encounter acoustic engineering every day, in many places in your life. In a restaurant, for example, acoustic engineering ensures that you can hear what your dining partner is saying, even if there is background music.
Architectural acoustics or building acoustics influences your church acoustics more than anything. Like engineering, architectural acoustics looks at how to make a space better when it comes to sound. That could mean avoiding open-concept spaces, ensuring adjoining rooms are used based on sound profiles, or looking at where to place mechanical equipment.
An acoustic guitar is a great example of acoustics and sound engineering at work. The instrument's various components ensure sound is produced with strings, body, and the air inside the body playing a role. The vibration of the string resonates through the body and through the air in the body, producing sound from the hole.
CHURCHES WITH THE BEST ACOUSTICS
St. Peter's Basilica
St. Peter's Basilica is the largest Christian church in the world. It boasts excellent acoustics. According to the Acoustical Society of America, the acoustics are good because of the multiple, coupled air spaces into which the church is divided. Architectural detail and sculptural ornamentation also provide sound diffusion.
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart
The Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Notre Dame, Indiana, is well-known for its stained glass. Its acoustics are also an attraction. The stewards of the Basilica have invested in its acoustics, including replacing carpeting with 25,000 porcelain tiles in 2013. In 2020, the church brought in speakers and microphones so they could better broadcast mass, focusing on improving the articulation and consistency of sound.
Westminster Abbey's natural acoustics lend themselves well to choral music. The church is helped along with speech reinforcement technology, with 47 separate loudspeaker zones. In particular, a loudspeaker array improved the space between the Nave and the Quire, with an acoustic barrier in the form of a screen.
Church of Saint Anne
The Church of Saint Anne in Jerusalem is famous for how well suited its acoustics are for Gregorian chanting. Soloists and choirs travel to this church specifically for its sound quality. One review calls the church "a musical instrument to be played by human voice."
WAYS MY CHURCH CAN IMPROVE ACOUSTICS
Hiring a Contractor
If you are struggling with church acoustics and are not sure what would be the best use of an investment in sound quality, a contractor can help. Hiring a contractor experienced with acoustics will help you understand the challenges of your particular church space. They will explore everything from carpeting to sound systems to how rooms are used and offer suggestions and solutions to improve sound.
Carpeting can absorb a lot of reverberation, which can be helpful in some situations. However, if your church uses a dense, heavy carpet and you find that congregational singing is lacking, it may be time for new carpeting. A tight weave carpet like Berber provides the comfort of carpeting without the sound-absorbing qualities.
To muffle the noises of entries and exits, carpeting the walkways can help. Carpeting is also ideal in other church spaces like Sunday school classrooms or administrative offices. It helps dampen noise in these small, often busy rooms.
A Sound System
If your congregation relies on audio-visual equipment to be heard, it may be time to invest in a permanent sound system. As noted earlier, maintaining a natural sound profile is important. A good sound system ensures sound quality with fidelity, intelligibility, and loudness in balance. Inside of the church, well-placed microphones can improve sound. A lectern microphone for speaking or singing, an altar microphone for similar purposes, or even a handheld microphone go a long way. Choirs usually require a condenser type of microphone to capture the group, while musical instruments may benefit from boundary microphones. As evidenced by large and famous churches like Westminster Abbey, it's possible to marry modern technology with traditional architecture. If you want to disguise the look of a sound system, consider the speaker's colors and how wires can be hidden. An AV expert can help your church choose and install the best system for your needs.
An Audio Engineer
Hiring an audio engineer or finding a skilled volunteer puts a sound system to work. An audio engineer handles the sound during services and activities. They may be able to maintain equipment and set up any special audio needs for particular events. This approach ensures that someone is in charge of ensuring good sound, so speakers and singers can focus on sharing their message.
Acoustic Panels and Wall Upholstery
Bare painted walls are terrible for acoustics in any venue, let alone a church. With bare walls in large open spaces, sound reverberates and can amplify, making it difficult to hear properly. Fixing common acoustics issues can clarify speech, allowing your message to really be heard by your constituents. Acoustic panels and soundproofing systems can be added to most existing rooms and halls. It’s quick, easy and inexpensive and you’ll notice the difference immediately. Acoustic panels are extremely durable - they last for many years, and can virtually eliminate the costs and time associated with painting.
View our affordable and easy-to-install products for Worship applications, including Acoustical, Tackable and Magnetic products perfect for wall protection and upholstery.
THINGS TO AVOID WHEN TRYING TO IMPROVE ACOUSTICS
No Clear Goals
Saying that you want your church acoustics to be better is a good start, but it is not specific enough to solve your problems. When improving acoustics, it is important to set clear goals to determine if your solutions are having the desired effect. This is also helpful in controlling your budget and timeline. Notre Dame's investment in AV equipment is a good example of uncovering a goal and working to solve it. They knew there was a problem with broadcasting mass during the COVID-19 era, and invested in a solution to that challenge. Your church may have one goal or several, such as reducing echoes or ensuring sermons from the lectern are intelligible to everyone in the building. It starts with outlining the problems, then researching the ideal fix.
Overspending on Unnecessary Repairs
When you don't have a clear idea of your needs, it is all too easy to overspend on repairs that are unnecessary and will not improve sound quality. This is part of why it is so important to understand why your sound is subpar and what your goals are in fixing the problem. If, for example, your church is experiencing reverb problems, moving from wooden pews to padded chairs might help. If the audio issue has less to do with absorptive surfaces and more to do with a sound isolation problem, you have replaced the pews for no reason! A good sound engineer or experienced contractor will be able to do some basic tests in the space of concern and determine what the problem is. Then, you can focus your budget on the repairs and upgrades that are necessary, putting funds where they will have the most impact.
Trying to Change the Church Completely
Churches are important buildings, designed with care and attention. When you are struggling with audio issues, particularly in trying to introduce modern audio to traditional spaces, it's tempting to want to change everything. However, there is balance to be found between necessary changes and decisions that impact the overall feeling and atmosphere of the church. Odds are there will always be some part of the church that is not ideal for acoustics. Good research and planning, and careful implementation of acoustical improvements can go a long a way, but it may never be perfect. In many ways, it's just as important to accept the church's unique properties as it is to focus on audio quality. Ideally, the acoustics are such that everyone can hear and enjoy services and events without the cost or impact of changing too many key features.
CONCLUSION: WHEN ARE ACOUSTICS RIGHT FOR MY CHURCH?
Think back on your latest services, sermons, and events. What sticks out in your memory in terms of sound? Was it clear, understandable, and bright, or was it challenging to hear? Did the people around you seem invested in what was happening, or did they seem uninspired? Simple observation can help determine if the acoustics are a problem for your church. It can also be very helpful to hire a professional to do acoustic testing. If it all checks out, you will have peace of mind. If the pro determines your church acoustics need some help, you start from a place of knowledge. You can also consider surveying the congregation, so you can hear directly from them about any audio issues or wishes.
Figure Out What's Right for Your Budget
Upon determining your church needs some acoustic work, the next step is to develop your budget. Some fixes are less expensive than others, such as adding more microphones. Overall, acoustic projects and improvements for churches will typically cost at least $1,000 for a smaller project. For larger projects, churches can expect to spend upwards of $10,000 or more. These numbers should not dissuade churches from investing in high-quality acoustics, but rather provide a baseline for the expenses. Working with professionals, your church should determine a plan for the budget you have available. This is also a good time to find out if you need to be doing more fundraising.
Remember that church acoustics is a great investment, offering spiritual enrichment and, ultimately, a larger congregation. Whether it's a choir singing, church bells ringing, or someone spreading the good word, it must be heard to have an impact. To spread any message to the congregation and beyond, a consideration of acoustics is essential.
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