How to Make A Church Sound Confusing 38 ((was 26)was 33) Different Ways.

Updated Tuesday, May 11, 1999

The following information is based on the end results of 2000 random churches built since 1945. With the abundance of information in new church construction, and almost every church has a local person who, indeed does know enough about sound and acoustics to be of help, but are told that Architects know better!!!!! Since so much faith has been place on these experts, what most churches generally get is a sanctuary built with the common design enhancement that guarantees poor results, low church attendance and a building that is not worth maintaining. Once again, this supports a statement I heard once - Churches are the largest owners of real-estate in which people can only stand going there once a week. (This does not apply to the spiritually inclined as these people will go no matter how much the dairy barn is in need of cleaning.)
Now, let the fun begin.
JdB Sound, Acoustic Lab. can not be held accountable for mistake you do or did on you own. Avoiding the suggestion below would be most beneficial.

  1. Always design a church that is square. It is the best shape any church can have to create standing waves which makes music sound very boomy in the bass range and the early reflections do a good job at confusing speech. Furthermore, using a sound system makes it worse!!!!! HA! HAAAAA! HA! HAAAAA!!

  2. Always design a church with parallel walls. It lowers intelligibility and degrades music which adds to the confusion. A sound system can't correct this problem either!!!!!! HA! HA! HA! But somewhere out there, someone is trying to prove me wrong.

  3. Always have the roof over the audience low, and high over the pulpit. It's the best way to kill music from the front of the church. This forces you to use only long throw narrow beam speaker horns, which sound terrible! All right!!!!!

  4. Always build a church with a roof under 18 feet. This is the best way to make all of your music programs sound louder - much louder!!! Oh, Did I also mention that a full congregation can sing louder than the sound system unless you are able to buy a sound system than can provide more than 8 watts per person in a church with a low ceiling!!! (This also applies to churches with roofs under 20 feet.)

  5. Always add to a church domes and concave walls. When a person is in a reflective/focused hot spot, they will tell you to how to adjust the sound system. Who cares if the rest of the people complain if the sound system is too low.

  6. Round churches work great. Don't you believe me? ????????!!!!!!?????????? - - I think I just found a swamp for sale!

  7. Always accept the RT60 measurement at 1K (1000 hertz) What happens with bass or treble sounds don't matter.

  8. Always make the back walls of a church as flat as possible. It will create a strong echo that supports speech and stroke a ministers ego because they will be able to hear the room talk back. It increases musically effects and musicians like to play to an echo to challenge their timing techniques.

  9. Always make sure that the ventilation system is within 25dB of the person speaking. Since clear speech occurs 25dB above background noise, a poorly installed or setup ventilation system will ensure difficulty in hearing. In fact, why not have the vent noise loud enough for people to hear it on the recorded service on the tape program. This will make a great argument for not using digital tape because of the vent noise being thought of as DAT Tape HISSSS. Also, It will give the listener the impression that they are at a church. (For those who really do want to hear, the Ushers will provide hearing assist system using rechargeable batteries. Rental charges do apply. (Destination of the profits are unknown. However, it was reported that a soundman was caught making bacon and eggs during a worship service which in turn, set off the fire alarm during worship. The fire marshal announced that the fire drill was a complete failure. Of which, it would be an intrusion for a minister or elder of the church to inform people what to do in case of a fire during worship.))

  10. For air systems, follow the commercial standards normally recommended. They don't account for congregational singing which create humidity problems inside of the Sanctuary. (Commercial standards suggest 1 ton per 1000 square feet. Church standards need 1 ton per 500 feet.) In fact the commercial standard is better as it cost three times as much to run, but costs 30% less to buy.

  11. Church lighting only requires 25 foot candles for seating and 60 foot candles for the front of the church. (Ushers will provide flashlights at the door. Batteries are available for a donation greater than $5.00 each. Each flashlight requires a minimum of 4 batteries.) Besides, do people really want to be able to read their Bibles? If that happens, the minister won't be able to mislead the members!!

  12. Churches will thin walls cost less to build. Outside road or aircraft noises can be reduced with a - yet to be invented - "Electronic Large Format Random Noise Canceling System". These systems should be ready for churches in the year 2097 - maybe. The cost of these systems are expected to be below 1 million dollars per 100 seats of a church.

  13. Rating intelligibility of a sound system has no bearing on whether a person can understand a sermon or not. Therefore, intelligibility scores below 88% will work just fine. (Then again, this only applies to churches for the DEAF. A system for measuring the intelligibility of sign language is in the works. )

  14. Wide fan shaped rooms that are more than 140 degrees are great. People at the side require a video wall to see the front of the minister mouth for lip reading, but hey! That's OK, churches have lots of money. Besides, isn't it fun to see if you can see your reflection in the bald spot of the ministers head?

  15. To increase a Ministers distraction, make the room real wide. When a room is really wide, people at the side always notice the late comers. It doesn't bother the minister when he is looking in you direction, when you are looking at the people on the other side of the room slipping out during the sermon. Then when you get up to go to the bathroom, the minister is going to think your not happy with the sermon too. This also aids in making a minister feel insecure and adds doubt to his preach abilities. Is this why churches that are wide or fan shaped have such a high turn over in ministers? Combine that with gossip and back biting and what do you get? A minister on the run. Horaaah!!!

  16. Always have the Organ and Piano as far apart as possible. This separation makes playing together harder but does give a neat stereo effect if you could hear the piano. After all, if the music was good, people might enjoy it and come to church more often.

  17. The best place for the choir is under the organ pipes or organ speakers. This ensure the choir of being drowned out. After all, must churches don't have good choirs anyway.

  18. Piano's should be in a pit or against a wall with carpet under it. (Since an Organ can play louder, why bother with a Piano.)

  19. Building a 6 or 8 sided church in which all walls are the same length and height have the same benefits of a round or square room.

  20. Always design a balcony so low and deep so that people under it cannot see the ceiling over the pulpit. What happens under a balcony has no bearing on the acoustics of a church.

  21. Bulkhead over the front of an altar or chancel area works great at cutting down the effectiveness of the choir, organ and piano. If designed right, you can reduce intelligibility, hamper a sound system's ability to do it's job and beside, bulk heads look great.

  22. A well designed, deep proscenium arch or an arch in front of the choir has the same benefits of a bulkhead.

  23. It's OK to paint over acoustical materials. Paint has no effect on room acoustics. Even if a wall material is soft or if you feel you need to paint the unpainted block, don't worry. You can't hurt the brick. Oh, and those stories about people sand blasting after they painted a wall by mistake are not true. It has never happened. Those pictures were just air brushed.

  24. Always make foyers as hard as possible. the echo's from this area help to challenge musicians and the minister and people near the open doors.

  25. If your church is using drywall, you only need ½ inch. Thicker drywall is just an added, meaningless expense.

  26. The Insulation of interior walls are not necessary. Noises from hallways and office areas are not have any intrusion in a church setting. After all, we are all brothers and sisters, aren't we??????

    Oh! Oh! Did I say 26? Well, here are some ideas from visitors to this web site.

  27. Inside walls can all be built with 2 x 4's. Privacy is just another expense churches can't afford as it is. There is no reason for 2 x 8 interior walls in a church Sanctuary.

  28. Never hire a guy who makes grammar and spelling errors. This is a sure sign of reckless enthusiasm.

  29. Always install wiring and amplifier in the Organ loft next to the relay switcher. The clicking sounds of the relays, amplified through the sound system adds color to the overall sound of the Organ.

  30. Go on the Internet, find all of the church builders and hire one that makes no mention of audio or acoustics in their statement of mission or anywhere on their site. Faith it brother!!!!!

  31. Hire the most expensive consultants. The glossier the brochure, the better the sound system will work.

  32. Don't check on past client references. After all, the audio contractor or acoustical supplier has to learn from other systems to make sure that your sound system works right.

  33. Follow local Commercial building codes. Since they are a minimum code for short term construction (20 years or less), building a church better than what the building code requires would be considered excessive. Besides, the money saved will allow you to rebuild the church before it wears out in 15 years, right!!! Oh, are you looking to do major renovations before your first mortgage is paid off. What were you thinking when you started to build that church? (After all, most churches built before 1930 were built with a lower or no building code standard and their current lower maintenance cost must be ignored.)

  34. The Sweetspot theory is a Myth. There is no spot in a church where an acoustical sound can be broadcast further than any other spot before reflections begin to interfere with the original sound.

  35. The location of a speaker system is total based on Random - Chaos Theory. It allows for a blown up picture of the church to be mounted on a dart board. Then, from 30 feet, the first dart that hits the picture will be the best place to position the new speaker system. The Sweetspot Calculation only applies to round and square rooms

  36. When building a new church, don't visit local churches built in the last 15 years to create your wish list. Your own church members know better. Besides, the Architect will not have a drawing of the church already made when they ask for the wish list. Today, CAD computer programs mean you can do a church drawing in 6 to 10 weeks. Don't asked department heads from other churches to learn from their mistakes. Don't interview the custodians - what would they know about a building. Afterall, they are not Architects. All they do is fix the new building all the time. Not a happy group of people to meet. Don't give the Architect to many demands of what you want. Architect have the experience. They build quality churches -right! Besides, it would be insulting to visit and interview former churches the Architect built 3 to 5 years ago. Afterall, those people are just going to complain.
  37. Don't ask your audio or acoustical consultant if they are getting commisions for the products they recommend. Especially if they always use the same products. Consultants get more than enough work to not depend on kick backs. If they do get kickbacks, hire them and don't treat them as salesmen.
  38. Don't buy my book. Everything written here is in my book too. So why waste your money when the answers are already on the internet? Right!!!

Comments for the "Know it all expert" (I know nothing except the facts! Just the fact!!!) Isn't it fascinating how every church that starts out on a new building project or renovation or addition, they always start out with the best of intentions. However, by the time the budget committee finishes with the budget, you get all of the above mistakes - in hope of saving money. (It's like building a highway without a bed of grave. Cut back what we can't see.

Sounds good to me!!) The churches that are truly unique are the ones that stick to their convictions, avoid the mistakes on this web page and take a leap of faith - only to discover that their faith is rewarded beyond their dreams. To do any of the items on this page is a sure fire way to create an over priced, confusing room to be avoided for speech, music and worship.

Another fact that is often over looked is this. A church, built for speech, is ideal for all music. A church built for music is usually very good for speech. Building a church with any other purpose is just another expensive shell. It doesn't matter if you are building a church for Classical music or Christian Rock and Roll. The differences between the two are about 10%. A church can have a very long RT60 if it well diffused, but many musicians are of the mistaken belief that it is the length of an RT60 that matters and nothing else. Likewise, a church can have a short RT60 and still sound great for classical and Christian Rock and Roll. This also includes concert halls too.

One of North Americaís best concert halls is the Boston Symphony hall. That same space is just as good for Rock Music as it is for Classical music. It is simple rectangle shoe box that has over a dozen acoustical features. Adding acoustical features to a church does not cost much and the rewards are huge. In fact, the added costs are often recovered in the first year.

Another way of putting it is this, a church can be a rectangle for multi purposes and used length wise for any style of worship. Or, fan shaped for concert or contemporary music. Sorry, fan shaped rooms donít work for classical music. It is the acoustical features that need to be added.

For instance, a rectangle room can have a shell that is rectangle, but by adding diffusers, bass traps and deflection surfaces in the right places, you can make and shoe box sound like a concert hall. New churches that are starting out in warehouses miss this opportunity every day.

Also, remember this, acoustics is never a DIY (Do it yourself) project. However, acoustics is not really that expensive either. A church sanctuary that costs a Million Dollars should be able to afford up to $50,000 for acoustics. That is - consulting, modeling, acoustical installation or construction and tuning of a room. Thatís right, tuning a room.

Historically, from 1350 to 1870ís, churches were purposely built to include acoustical features that could be tuned after the church was finished and occupied. There are only a few people in the world that know enough about this art to do it today. One common technique was the construction of pillars. Pillars were often hollow. After the church was finished, the pillars were cut near the top with either holes or slots and then filled with sand to "tune the room". In a modern church with plaster pillars, they too can be tunes, but you have to look for alternate materials as sand is too heavy. Not long ago, a church was successfully re-tuned as the worship switched from classical to contemporary.

Church acoustics is both an art and a science. The science part is that everything can be calculated. The art is knowing which combination of acoustical features work best in the shell of the room. This can only come from experience and it may never be fully written in a book because the combinations are as endless as a 7 number lottery.


Some statements have been left out because they are written down in my book..


(Note: To avoid arguments with the church board and or Architect, do not stop them for following these suggests. Save yourself and go to another church.)


Some statements and Specs have been blanked out under the understanding that it is part of the "intellectual Knowledge" guidelines and were not part of the original article. Such knowledge has value and can be purchased through investing in the book ""Why Are Church Sound Systems and Church Acoustics So Confusing?"Info on a book on Church Sound System & Church Acoustics

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Most recent revision July 12, 1996 - another revision - Tuesday, May 11, 1999