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Church Sound Files: Is Bad Sound A Sin?

If bad sound is a sin then there are a large number of churches which are sinning every Sunday.

By Gary Zandstra March 29, 2011

Photo: Bill McChesney

A while back I had a conversation with my good friend Doug Gould.

I was introduced to Doug way back when he was working for Tascam and then followed his career as he served many years as the How of Worship specialist for Shure. 

He now works as an independent consultant to numerous manufacturers helping them to enter into and understand the House of Worship Market.

What I love about him the most is his passion for equipping and training the local church.

Doug and I were discussing a potential worship conference that we would work together on to make it happen. 

It was a fun, engaging conversation on what a conference should consist of, how it could be put together to best empower the local church, and how it could reach beyond just the technicians and worship band members to all worshippers. 

The following day I had lunch with a new friend of mine, Jeremy. 

Jeremy is an accomplished musician and well known local worship leader.

As we talked at lunch I realized that he was also working on a worship conference, and most of his vision lined up with the vision that Doug and I had talked about the day before! It’s a small world, right?

Moving on, and what I really what to hit on goes back to part of the conversation that Doug and I had.

As Doug and I talked about the struggles of the local church, we ventured off into how the local church (almost always because of ignorance) breaks God’s Laws of Physics at every Sunday service.

Many times it is so obvious (at least to someone with a little bit on knowledge about sound) that the sound system in a church is going against God’s laws of physics.

Just looking at how the system is installed and where the speakers are located you can tell it is not going to sound good. 

An experience I had a few years ago, illustrates this quite well.  The well-intentioned “soundman/janitor” for the church learned at a sound seminar that it was better to place the speakers as close to the listener as possible.  In theory that may be true. 

However this good intentioned gentleman took that advice and decided to place 6 speakers to cover the seating area in the church. 

He placed three on each side wall, the front one near the stage was pointed towards the opposite side back corner, the middle one was pointed straight across at the other side wall and the rear on was pointed toward the opposite front corner of the seating area.

If the sanctuary was a Dolby 7.1 listening space for movies, with the proper processor it might have worked for the people sitting in the center pews. 

In this case it really did not sound good anywhere as the quality of the equipment was poor and the design and implementation was even worse.

Bringing this back to the conversation with Doug, Doug playfully asked the question “is bad sound a sin?”  I took his bait and replied “not necessarily” Doug then asked “is breaking one of God’s Laws a sin?”

He added that “If breaking God’s law is a sin then there are a large number of churches that are sinning every Sunday as their sound systems are breaking God’s laws of physics…”

The consequences: bad sound (obviously), frustrated people, strife, division, poor communication.

So is bad sound a sin? Be sure to let me know what you think in the comments below!

 
Gary Zandstra is a professional AV systems integrator with Parkway Electric and has been involved with sound at his church for more than 25 years.


About Gary

Gary Zandstra
Gary Zandstra

Consultant, Dan Vos Construction, Writer for Worship Facilities and ProSoundWeb
   
Gary Zandstra has worked in church production and as an AV systems integrator for more than 35 years. He’s also contributed numerous articles to ProSoundWeb over the past decade.
http://garyzandstra.com

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Trevor Flynn says

Ummmm…...no.  Bad sound is not a sin.  Bad sound is bad.  Sometimes awful.  But Exodus 20 doesn’t cover the cultural relevance of audio mixes.  He didn’t have much need for amplification when He called down commandments to Moses.

Levi Breederland says

I agree with Trevor on that!

The only time I can think of a mention of sound engineering in the Bible is when Jesus goes out on a boat so the water can carry his voice to more people.

Sithembiso buthelezi says

With respect,i would say it is a sin. If we understand that god demands the best of us and understand that 9out of 10times,sound is bad of our own making then it is a sin.

jeddy says

for that little discusion about a bad sound is sin? for my thought its sin coz it break one of the law of ssound,but also i need your help even me i think i commit that sin,am using 8 loudspeaker in my church four each side but a thing is i dont get a sound i needed please can you help me how to position them.

Trevor Flynn says

Pride is a sin for the man (or woman) who will not listen to advice and has been stuck in their stubborn ways regarding mixing.  But it comes down to the heart.  If my wife mixes a service to the best of her ability, and to the Glory of the Lord; no it probably won’t sound amazing according to our standards.  But she has absolutely not sinned.  She has brought an offering to the Lord in worship, and God looks at her heart and is pleased.  If we say “bad mixing is a sin”, then who defines “bad mixing?”  Who determines a “good mix”?  Mixing is way to subjective to go down the road of labeling it generically as “bad” and calling it a sin.  Lets look at the heart instead.  Psalm 139.

Marc Sprague says

If the FOH mix causes a man,woman or child to stumble in their worship to our Lord,or the delivery of Gods word then yes it is a sin. We are placed in a position of responsibility that should not be taken lightly. When we step into the A/V booth we accept the responsiblity of helping each individual person worship and have a closer understanding and relationship with God and not to be a stumbling block.We have been given this knowledge of audio to help further His kingdom. Remember,each person has a calling in life. If you are walking in your calling and audio comes natually,you strive for perfection,you give it your all and you are rarely satisfied with the mix then you are where your supposed to be. If not ..then ask God He’ll let you know where you should be serving.
  You can’t please everybody all the time, although you can always strive to please God.
Audio engineer may not be in the Bible, but their responsibilities are and should not be taken lightly.

Dan Bamber says

I agree with Trevor, in that the bible calls us to do whatever we are doing to the best we can.
Colossians 3:23 - “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.”

If you aren’t ‘God’s gift’ to mixing, but the only person willing/able to do it then that is brilliant… So long as you work at it with all your heart.

I think that if you say that people are put off by bad mixing, then their focus is in the wrong place, and there are much larger issues that need to be sorted out, before changing the engineer, etc..

To say that bad sound is a sin is just pathetic. The heart is what God is looking at, not how muddy the vocals are. And in that respect, so should we, as the congregation.. not worshipping God (who is worthy of our praise) because we could mix it better, or because the guitar is slightly out of tune/drums out of time..

Yes we are placed in a position of responsibility, but this regularly get mistreated, by people who don’t understand what they are doing(or don’t care), or have no sound experience,then these people need to be taught, trained, and made to realise that they are essentially making the word of God audible for the congregation.

I agree that when installing a system, it needs to be well designed, built to last (10+ years) and so on.. but generally you do the best on what is currently available.

Just remember that God’s the one your serving, NOT man.
And he cares about the heart above everything else.

Bill says

I think that not paying attention to the sound in God’s house is most defiantely a sin. I speak more from the issue of design than the actual mix. If you design a great sound system in a great facility that has got acoustics that are nearly perfect, then have to rely on someone who is not experienced to do the mix, then the person doing the mix is not at fault, nor is the designer/architect/installation engineer. The church leaders that did not see to it that there were trained people available are definately at sin. On the other hand, if the local church allows God’s house to be built with poor accoustics, and a junky sound system, all to save a few buck, and it is so bad Jesus couldn’t get a decent mix out of it, then they will all burn in hell. Or maybe they will just have to suffer through bad sound for many years, which is pretty close to the same thing.

stephen Hogan says

Excerpts: he that hath an ear let him hear, Faith come by hearing and hearing by the word of God. He who is of God hears God’s word. If you will listen diligently to the voice of the Lord your….. saying that to say the most important tool inside a Church, other than the bible, is the sound. When your church reaches the point were you absolutely need a sound system to relay the word of God & his praise then it would be wise to invest. If the church is in the POSITION to purchase quality & chooses to be unwise then not only is it wasting the Churches money but also as the comment by Marc, is a stumbling block for the listeners.. Its hard to get into a services and the choir is singing the words (Stir Up The Gift) BUT the audience hears (Ruur Rup duh Riff) OR (Great and Mighty Are You Lord) The audeince hears (Grape wan whitey are you Wurd)..
By me being a beliver/engineer & having been blessed to go to a Church were everyone including musicians has been on multiple tours singing backup for some of the top Gospel artist out there, i definatley find it with proof in the Word that its a sin, given the circumstance above..

mike hedden says

The Word says whatever is not of faith is of sin. Romans 14:23
I’ve been in the industry for close to thirty years and have worked on thousands of projects many of which are churches.  Yes there are the ridiculous installations to point out but I can also show you more than a few commercial installs that violated God’s laws of physics as well. 
A bigger problem that i see currently in the church is one of idolatry.  We now have a Jesus + mindset in too many fellowships.  Its Jesus + technology = God touching lives.  Let’s build a Sam’s warehouse building, delete any reference to church from the name of the church and if you are really hip use a reference to point, cross, or north in the new nebulous name.  Black out the ceiling fiberglass clad the walls so that it is so dry you can barely breath in the room and assemble singers that can’t sing without a video monitor to show them the words, in ear monitors, an Aviom system per person, and a wireless microphone because everyone knows wireless mics sound better. 
The pastor while only fifty feet away has to be image magnified along with “Who wants to be a millionaire"moving lights and “concert quality”(whatever that means) line arrays in a room where the furthest listener is only 60’ away and the room is 2-3x’s wider than it is deep and there is no statistical reverberation.
Do all this and God is guaranteed to show up and show off because he doesn’t want to miss the event!
Least you think i’m Amish, I don’t have a problem with technology, i use it all the time and have seen its benefits properly applied.  My bigger point is, if you think God needs anything that man brings to the table for him to work you are wrong.  God won’t share his glory with anyone.  He’s God and the heavens declare his glory.  Have you stopped to see his light shows?  You want to hear some low end?  Check out that thunder as it rolls on for miles.  You want to meet him?  He’s only a prayer away and you don’t have to power up anything. The message of the Gospel is Immanuel, God with us, coming to not dwell in temples made by man but men’s hearts made by God.
Years ago a wonderful singer Cynthia Clawson said to me, “When you go to a show, the world has to make the artist appear bigger than life, super natural as it were.  We as Christian artists have an opportunity, a responsibility, and a privilege to point our listeners to someone greater than ourselves.”  As long as your technology enhances that cool, if not I’d turn it off.

Mike Hedden
Danley Sound Labs

Jonathan Johnson says

You can’t violate God’s laws of physics. It’s just impossible. God set certain rules in place that simply cannot be broken. When we do something that is not in concert with those physical laws, our folly is made apparent.

No inanimate object can be construed as sinful. Neither can the manner it is used be sinful; it is the intent of the heart of the user that determines righteousness or sinfulness, in the light of God’s word. In some cases, it may be the church leadership that places money before clarity, choosing inadequate equipment or training and impacting the ability to deliver God’s word. In other cases, it may be the mix engineer that does not aspire to learn proper technique.

I Corinthians 13:1 reads, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” In other words, if you take a lackadaisical attitude toward your work, expect it to be dismissed as noisy blather.

Dr, Dann Stouten says

It’s true, “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” but as the guy who’s voice Gary amplifies each week, I’d say he’s a Saint!

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Brad Herring says

Mike - Well said.  I couldn’t agree with you more.  When we do training we always ask - is all this stuff necessary?  If they say yes, we have a LOT more training to do.  God’s Word promises it will not return void.  Even if it’s a single man on a street corner.

The technology can surely help emphasize a point, connect to the viewer and remove barriers that people bring into the service.  But if it becomes “the main thing”, then I’m afraid we’ve all missed the point.

Great post.  And nice article - fun thought.

Brad Herring

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