A Worship View from the Pew
In a visit to a local church I was interested to see the basic stage setup that many churches have adopted in which the Worship Band (some call it a Praise Band) was playing a live Prelude. As the service began, a group of singers joined the group (commonly referred to as a Worship Team, or Praise Team, or Praise Vocalists if they are distinguished from the band. It is a misnomer to call them “Praise prompters” – but that’s a topic for another article!). The whole ensemble began to lead a series of choruses and hymns – some familiar, some not so familiar – and sought to draw the congregation into the worship atmosphere.
There was a problem, however, in that the whole group sounded as if they were playing behind a wall, or in another room. There was sound, but it didn’t seem to be in the right place. The sound was there, but it wasn’t within the congregation. It wasn’t present. What I mean by being present is the sense that the music (or even someone speaking) is in your presence – right with you. You don’t have to strain to hear them, and they don’t have to shout or raise their voice.
In the Sound Booth, this is referred to as clarity. How clear are the sounds that the congregation is hearing? Does the hearer understand the spoken word? Is it muffled, or distant? Can the singers be heard above the music, or does the music drown them out? The sound person’s goal is to set all of those knobs and buttons in such a way that the hearer experiences a natural sound (though amplified). Sounds that are distant, or muffled, are good for special effects, but should not be the norm.
In a previous article, I spoke to the issue that one of the Worship Leader’s primary responsibilities is to gather distractions to himself (or herself) in order to allow the congregation to worship undistracted. The sound system, and the way it sounds, may be one of the most critical areas for this to happen. If the sound is poor, people are distracted and you’ll hear comments or see the glares back toward the sound board. If the sound is good, and clarity is pure, then most likely no one will ever say anything and the sound person is the unsung hero of the day. There is not much room in between.
Going back to my visit to the local church, I had a theory. Maybe I was sitting in a “dead spot” in the sanctuary. One of those black holes of sound where nothing sounds good no matter what the sound person changes. My thought was to visit again and sit in a different area, which I did. And my theory was wrong. Same problem, different seat. I did notice, however, that during the showing of a video presentation that the sound cleared up and the muffled sense was gone. But, when the pastor began speaking, he was there – but not there. The “muffling” had returned.
As I pondered this situation (well, as I was distracted by it), I determined that the problem was the amount of sound between the main speakers (those facing the congregation) and the monitor speakers (those facing the people on stage – so they can monitor their own sound). The monitor speakers were what I was hearing the most, and that’s what gave me that distant, muffled feeling. The musicians and the pastor were not present to me (and the rest of the congregation) because the sound was going at them, not at us!!
My contention here is that although there may have only been a few who could figure out why it sounded the way that it did, in actuality it affected the entire congregation because it affected the clarity of what they were hearing. Subconsciously, and even consciously, people get frustrated when they can’t hear or understand what’s going on. They’ll read the bulletin, write their check for the offering, or wander off into a daydream, but they won’t be attentive to what’s happening.
Although the sound person is responsible to be sure that there is good clarity, it is the Worship Leader’s responsibility to help the sound person understand what that means. Especially when our sound operators are, for the most part, volunteers doing their best. The reason for this is that the Worship Leader is, overall, responsible for the complete atmosphere of worship. If the sound operation is causing distractions then the Worship Leader should seek to improve that.
I would suggest some training, and not necessarily at an expensive 3-day Sound Technician’s conference. There are probably other churches nearby that have more experienced sound operators. Try the local high school, as they may have some students that could help. There are also many stores that sell sound equipment that can train your sound operators. (Just don’t let them sell you a bunch of new equipment, use what you have first and then upgrade as your current equipment is used to its fullest potential – and as your sound operators become more experienced.)
In my recent experience all that needed to happen was for the band and singers to be turned up in the main speakers. The sound level (volume) would have gone up, but there was room for that to happen and still retain a good deal of comfort for the listener. In other situations the monitor level must be lowered so that the balance is more appropriate, and in such cases the overall volume level drops (often to a more comfortable level).
The fact is live sound is difficult, and it will not sound like your home stereo. Seek for consistent improvement in clarity so that the congregation can have the best opportunity to hear God’s Word, unhindered by wires, knobs and buttons. This is the point, after all.
Posted on November 17, 2014, in Content of Worship, Corporate Worship, Leadership, theology, Worship Leader and tagged Mark Sooy, theology, worship, worship leader, WorshipThink. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.