It’s early Sunday morning, and you are set to drive to church, with your double shot of espresso, aiming to be the first in. As you get in your car, you hear that satisfying thud of the car door. After you pull into your parking space, you open the door to the church, where the misalignment of the door causes that scraping aluminum sound. The door clanks shut, and you hear the beeping of the alarm system, as you disarm it, then head into the sanctuary.
The sanctuary is stuffy from being vacant with no AC running over the last few days, so you click open the thermostat cover to kick on the rooftop unit, and you can tell it came to life as the belt squeals upon startup, paired with the loud hum of the compressor.
A once silent room has a humming roar of cooling air.
As you head to the tech booth and power up the systems, you realize the caffeine is just starting to kick in and it’s time to get things lit up.
…pause that story for just a moment, because chances are at least one or two of the things mentioned are true for you. It’s the reality of being First In, Last Out...
Now what does this mean for the rest of the congregation? Do those noises you’ve been surrounded by even mean anything? What about a first-time visitor? Will they notice the aluminum scraping sound of the front door? Or the roar of the AC?
In my world, all those things matter.
If you were blindfolded and someone held your hand, as we took you somewhere that you didn’t know, these sounds would tell you where you were.
Daily life for us is a massive sum of experiences made up of sight, sound, smells, and many other senses. In the church, you and I are responsible for making this experience as distraction free as possible, because the importance of the message.
If the word can’t be heard and understood, then what is the reason for us to gather?
For many of you, thinking back to the start of your day, you probably don’t drive a Lexus or BMW, so that satisfying thud of the door is probably more like a tinny rattle. I know that all too well, having driven a rusty, old car to church week after week for years. The door bottom of that car rattled a lot, as the lower seam had completely rusted away.
So what do “acoustics” have to do with all of this? Just like a car manufacturer needs to make many choices when building a car, and ultimately how quiet or noisy it is, churches have many decisions to make in the overall look and feel of its worship space, which includes the acoustics, across entire building envelope, not just some panels that you can buy and slap up on the walls.
First off, you have many potential noise sources that exist in your worship space, much like the aforementioned HVAC system. This has the potential for various types of noise, one being the vibration that is transmitted to the roof structure. The roof can act like a large drum in such a scenario, making a lot of low frequency noise, while shaking the ceiling mounted projectors.
Secondly, there is the noise from the air traveling through the ductwork. If the ducts are undersized, that will lead to high air velocity, and more of a white noise.
Next, the building shape and materials greatly affect the noise transmission from room to room or from outside to the inside. The thickness of a door and what kind of gaskets it has, can make for a leaky door or a quiet door., just like for your car…
The shape of a building makes a lot of difference, in the acoustical signature across the entire frequency range. A cube shape that has equal distances from wall to wall and from floor to ceiling, will have a large buildup of frequencies, which is generally less pleasing than if the length/width/height are not all direct multiples of each other, as this way the different distances mean different frequency bands have augmentation, from the room reflections.
When doing acoustic design, I regularly discuss with churches that we should really start by looking at all the building materials that they already plan to use, from concrete, steel, wood, Sheetrock and soft materials. By arranging these in an order that make sense, acoustic improvements can be implemented in a space for its intended use, while at the end of the design, specialty acoustic materials can be added to reach the final goal.
For example, any new building needs a roof. If you plan to use a steel deck, that can be changed to an “acoustical deck” roof that comes in at a slightly higher cost, but not as costly per square foot as acoustic panels. This is not a general statement that works for every building, but it is one that should be considered.
Another thing is drop tile ceiling, where many churches have ceiling clouds in the sanctuary, and this could be using the 2x2 or 2x4 tiles ... but did you know there are multiple types of tile, and they all have differing acoustical properties? In one case, a design I completed included three different types of ceiling tiles in the sanctuary, to achieve the intended goals.
There are so many churches out there that I have been to, that have the loudspeaker system and the acoustic treatments wrongly deployed. By rearranging the same stuff, one can often achieve far better results.
By sharing these small snippets, it is to help open the possibilities of how to look at a building project or acoustic renovation, with the help of research and understand how changes to it will impact your congregation’s overall experience.
If you have more questions about this, please feel free to find me on social media to ask away. Oh, and have a super blessed day!