Grace, Middle Ground and EBC Sound
I must say, I love our diverse congregation. Between three services every weekend, we have a highly visible mixture of young families, singles, and those who’ve been around the block more than a time or two (that’s my slang for you older folks, who, despite your age, have so much life to live and give to those around you). On top of those demographics, any given weekend we’ve got a healthy dose of kiddos who have had too much sugar on their cheerios (gotta watch out for those ones), teenagers who try to blend in the best they can, and plenty of newborns/toddlers. Needless to say, our church gatherings resemble a big ol’ family reunion, from those in their first year of life, to those who are the great, great grandparents. It’s beautiful, and it shapes the culture of our church.
With our diverse church body comes a diverse set of preferences, styles, and opinions. That too, is beautiful! It really is! God gave us the minds and the aptitude to form preferences and opinions, and we shouldn’t neglect that. But, as you probably know from your own family gatherings, differences in opinion can quickly lead to arguments and defensiveness. Trying to find middle ground in those times is essential, but it’s not easy.
Now, you’ve probably already clued into why I bring this up. As a church family that’s beautifully diverse, there are many ways in which we need to find middle ground with each other, while at the same time not compromising on the most important aspects of our gatherings. One of the aspects notorious for causing division, discontentment, or strife, is musical worship. What songs should we play? How many should we sing? What instruments should we use? How loud should it be? All of those questions are valid, and all of them deserve a great deal of thought and intentionality.
Let me first point out that we at EBC remain committed to keeping “the main thing, the main thing.” Here’s what I mean: In our preaching, in our worship, and in our ministries, Jesus is the center. Specifically in our worship, my desire is that our church sings the gospel every weekend. That with our mouths, we proclaim the truths that we read in scripture: that God is holy, that we are sinners, that Jesus is our great and glorious Savior from sin, and that we are made whole in Him as sons and daughters. We do this with new songs, and with older hymns every weekend.
Secondly, let me point out that we remain committed to creating a worship environment that’s “undistractingly excellent.” This is a large part of why we committed a great deal of time, funds, and effort into reevaluating and revamping our sanctuary sound system. Our hope and goal is that, when all is said and done, our sanctuary sound system will significantly help us to remain focused on Jesus during our weekend gatherings. As many of you have noticed, since part A of the project has been completed, there is a higher quality of depth and clarity in our sanctuary’s sound that helps accurately reproduce the music being played from up front. This is important! But, as you’ve probably also noticed, with the new speakers, the sound is louder. Let me clarify that, every weekend we take readings on an SPL (sound pressure level) meter to help us control the volume. On any given weekend, our average level for the service is 85 dB, which is actually below that of our average dB level before the speaker upgrade.
So, why does it sound/feel louder? Well, there are multiple reasons. The first and biggest reason is that we’re still training all of our sound technicians on a brand new system. With the install of new equipment comes a large learning curve. While training, we’re seeking to find the middle ground between “too loud” and “too soft.” Can there be a too soft, you ask? I’d argue, yes! Absolutely! But on the flip side, is there a too loud? I’d argue, yes! Definitely! So, where’s the middle ground? Well… I can pretty much guarantee that it’s not where you’d like it to be. That’s the reality of being part of a big family. What I can guarantee, though, is that we’re being intentional about listening to feedback, and applying that feedback in our week to week learning, and in our training of sound techs.
The second reason that it may sound and feel louder is that our sound upgrade is not yet complete. The speakers are in, and they are clear and articulate. Yet, there is a second phase of work in which we will be installing sound dampening panels around the stage and room in order to trap some of the bass frequencies, and to take out some of the natural reverb that occupies much of the open space in our sanctuary. Let me be clear that this is not an immediate fix, but it will help reduce the overall perceived volume in the room!
I write all of this to say that I have more than appreciated your graciousness with us as we are seeking to strike the right balance. A quote that’s stuck with me from musician Eric Olsen is that “music is what feeling sounds like.” I am convinced that worshipful music moves our souls to proclaim truths that we might not otherwise express nearly as deeply or passionately. Knowing that our pursuit is Jesus, I want you to be inspired to sing the truths of the gospel to the Lord and to each other every weekend. Ultimately, there will be a lot grace needed from you as we train our sound techs, and move toward phase two of our project. But that’s why I’m grateful that we’re a big ol’ family, seeking to find middle ground, while remaining committed to the “main thing,” that Jesus is our treasure and prize.