Saturday, March 31, 2007

Congratulations John Carlson!

Congratulations goes to John Carlson, Parkview's Instrumental Music Director for winning this years IndieHeaven Award for Best Christian Jazz Artist. Congratulations John!

Over the last several days John has been in Nashville for the Christian Indie Alliance Summit which ended with this evenings award ceremony. For more information about the ceremony and John's experiences at the CIA Summit, you can go to his new blog GrooveMatters here. You will want to keep close tabs on John's new blog. I am sure it will be a source for some outstanding thoughts on ministry, music and life.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Thoughts on Family Worship

Joe Thorn recently posted some thoughts on family worship that got me thinking about my own family’s devotional times. My wife and I have tried to have regular family devotions with our children around meals or at bedtime. These times often include a bible/devotional reading and prayer. I would venture to guess that our practice represents what the average Christian family attempts to do during their devotional times together.

Interestingly, previous Christian traditions (such as the Puritans) would call this gathering time “family worship”. Though family worship included reading of the Word and prayer, it also included a time of singing. Perhaps today’s Christian families are missing out when we don't take the time to regularly sing together. After all, Christianity is a singing faith and there is no better medium by which to both engage our affections for God while also learning about Him through His Word. Why shouldn’t singing be a vital element of nurturing our children and glorifying God as a family? The following are a few of Joe's tips about family worship.

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1. Don’t overdo it.

Most people I know who try to start family worship have unrealistic expectations about what it should look like. I know I did. Back in seminary my primary source for instruction in this was no one I knew personally, but the puritans. They spoke of reading the bible with simple explanation, prayer and singing. In my mind, this must have meant 1 to 2 hours for each gathering (and they often did it both in the morning and the evening). Then I came across “The Family Altar,” a compilation of the writings of Doddridge, Bickersteth, Watts, Hamilton, and Barnes and found relief through a more realistic expectation of how much time we should spend in family worship.
But some, in excuse for the neglect of this duty, urge the want of time: - their families are too large - their business presses them - it is of such a nature that they cannot control their hours. This they plead that they have not time for a duty which they confess to be all-important. On this point permit me to remark, that good people do sometimes err in spending an unreasonable length of time in the performance of this service. We may be so long as to become tedious in our prayers; and whenever this is the case, it creates a weariness, especially in the minds of the young, that is too apt to end in disgust or aversion. But when we urge the duty of allowing no day, in ordinary circumstances, to pass by without, as a family, spending ten, fifteen, or twenty minutes, in the solemn worship of our Maker, and when the objection made against it is the want of time, we ask, Can men be serious when they say so? (pg. 44)
This was very liberating for us. The warning of potential spiritual damage done to children by well-intentioned and over-zealous parents was helpful and reading that meaningful family worship can happen in the span of 10-20 minutes was exciting.

2. Find the right time.

Even after having a better understanding of what needs to be happening, finding time to be regular in this proved difficult for me as a pastor. Our attempts at family worship in the evening were often interrupted by church activities, counseling, associational meetings, etc. So we decided to move it to the mornings, and this changed everything for us. We get up, eat breakfast and then gather in the living room to read the Bible, pray and sing a song. Our 3 year old and 5 year old really enjoy this time, as do Jen and I. Family worship is now a regular and natural part of our lives. I would love to hear what you do for family worship, and/or what books and material you have found to be helpful.

Two Reasons People Say No to Your Idea...

Seth Godin recently posted this insight on his blog regarding two reasons people say "no" to your idea.

"It's been done before"
"It's never been done before"

Even though neither one is truthful, accurate or useful, you need to be prepared for both.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Christ and Culture

Parkview's Pastor of Young Adults has started a series in his blog on "Christ and Culture" that is laying out a theological frame-work for some of the issues I touched on in my recent post "Challenge to the Church". Here is the link to part 1, part 2, and part 3. These are important issues because to those of us raised in the wake of this centuries brand of Evangelicalism, there is a strong aversion to accepting the goodness of the physical world and our obligation to participate in it's renewal.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Satan Hates Life

I'm not sure I'd be willing to build a church marketing campaign around quotes by Satan, but here's a church that is... recently launched a billboard campaign around the nation with slogans like " is killing me", "I was robbed at", and " sucks". It is definitely an out-of-the-box marketing campaign that will generate a lot of attention. Here's their Satan hates life web link.

(HT: Church Video Ideas)

Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Watchmaker

Kids 4 Truth has an internet video called The Watchmaker that is a great teaching tool for kids. It is a story that illustrates intelligent design in a creative and engaging way. Check it out here.

Here is a synopsis from Kids 4 Truth regarding the message behind The Watchmaker...
We are hoping that this presentation causes you to acknowledge that there is one true Creator God and to inquire as to Who this God is.

Jeremiah 29:13 – And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.

We believe there are two foundational spiritual questions that far surpass all others: Is there a God? Has this God spoken? We believe the answer to both those questions is a resounding "YES!" We believe that there is one God, and that this one God has revealed Himself generally through Creation and man's conscience (sense of right and wrong), and has revealed Himself specifically through the Old and New Testaments of Scripture.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Challenge to the Church

Here's a quote from "Christian Mission In the Modern World" by John Stott. We read this book as a church staff several years ago. It is relevant because a lot of people both at Parkview and in Evangelical churches around the nation are having discussions about the role of social transformation and cultural renewal within our churches.

Should evangelicals only concern themselves with spiritual conversion? Should we leave social justice issues to mainliners and only be about the important business of saving souls? If we believe in the value of cultural renewal, what does that mean for us? Here are some thoughts from John Stott and others.

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Going into the world means presence. Moreover, it is to be the visible presence of a church which bears an attractive aspect. As Samuel Escobar wrote in his paper for the Lausanne Congress: "The primitive church was not perfect, but evidently it was a community that called the attention of men because of the qualitative differences in its life. The message was not only heard from them, it was also seen in the way they lived" (Let the Earth Hear His Voice p. 308). There can be no evangelism without the church. The message comes from the community which embodies it and which welcomes into its fellowship those who receive it. The fact immediately brings a challenge to the church. Dr. Visser't Hooft in 1949 referred to the boomerang effect of the evangelistic question:
"The Church which would call the world to order is suddenly called to order itself. The question which it would throw onto the world: "Do you know that you belong to Christ?" comes back as an echo. The Church discovers that it cannot truly evangelize, that its message is unconvincing unless it lets itself be tranformed and renewed, unless it becomes what it believes it is. (Philip Potter in his 1967 address to the WCC central committee in Crete).
(Christian Mission, Page 56)

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Evangelistic efforts are invalidated if the church is not being truly Christian in its behavior. We need not choose between the cause of spiritual or physical transformation. An "either/or" construct must be replaced by a strong commitment to "both/and". This means ministering to widows, helping the poor, and healing the sick must be a shared priority with evangelizing the lost and discipling the flock.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Mute Math Typical Music Video

This is truly one of the coolest music videos I've ever seen. Played in reverse, but the vocals and music are often perfectly aligned with the video. I'd love to see the "making of" on this one. Crazy.

(HT: Vitamin Z)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Parkview Welcomes Adam Carmichael

One year ago Dan Grimes resigned from the Technical Director position at Parkview in order to take a position as an engineer in a local company. Since that time we composed a new job description for Technical Director and, in the Fall, opened a search to fill the position. After interviewing both local and non-local candidates we narrowed the search in on Adam Carmichael. Adam made first contact with us in November. Following numerous phone interviews, several visits to Grand Rapids, and a candidating visit to Iowa City March 8-11, we offered him the position. He immediately accepted and will be joining us in June. Pictured below is Adam with his future bride Holly. They will be married in May.

Adam holds a Bachelor Degree of Music in Worship Media from Grace Bible College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. While at Grace Bible College, Adam was the Director of Worship Arts for the college’s chapel service. In 2004 he completed an internship at Central Wesleyan Church in Holland, Michigan. Adam is presently employed as an assistant Technical Director at Ada Bible Church, a church of over 5,000 in the Grand Rapids, Michigan area. He is also an Audio/Visual Technician at the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel.

Adam and Holly are delightful people who will be a wonderful addition to our amazing technical staff and volunteer teams. Please join me in welcoming Adam and Holly by either leaving a comment or joining us for a welcome reception soon after their arrival!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Easter Service Times

In my previous post about our Easter Services I had a mistake in the times for our Good Friday communion services. Here are the correct times for the entire weekend. FYI: Our chapel venue will be enfolded into the Worship Center services for this weekend. We will still have complete video overflow in the chapel to alleviate overcrowding.

  • 6:00 pm
  • 7:30 pm


Saturday, April 7
  • 4:30 pm
  • 6:00 pm
Sunday, April 8
  • 7:30 am
  • 9:00 am
  • 10:30 am

Bob Kauflin on Media, Music, and Bible

I link to Bob Kauflin somewhat regularly on this blog. Bob maintains the leading blog on worship issues in the blogosphere. Bob was recently interviewed on the New Attitude blog about media, music, and the Bible. You can go to the interview to see all the questions and Bob's answers. Here was one of the better snips...

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Na: Is music inherently good or bad? How does God's word see music?

Bob: Music is a language of emotion expressed in a cultural context. Because we always connect music to something it’s difficult to talk about the total neutrality of music. I think of it as morally relative. Relative to the person listening, the person making it, the culture that surrounds them, and what we associate it with. Music can be good or bad depending on why we listen to it, what we do when we listen to it, what is leads us to do, etc.

The Bible tells us that music is a gift from God given to us for our pleasure and his glory. The two shouldn’t be separated.

- - -

(HT: Between Two Worlds)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

How To Have A Successful And Enjoyable In-Ear Monitor Experience (From a Band Leader’s Perspective!)

As I have alluded to in previous posts on volume control, Parkview uses in-ear monitors (ear buds) to keep stage volume controlled and provide singers and musicians the ability to customize their mix (either from the board or personal via Aviom mixers). Parkview’s Instrumental Director, John Carlson has some excellent information in this post regarding how to set-up in-ear monitors for your band and vocals.

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Several things are key to a successful experience with in-ear monitors for your band & vocalists.

1.) If you’re just starting out, keep in mind that this will be a learning process for all involved – it will take time for people to adjust both physically and sonically, and for some musicians, the very idea of wearing in-ears can be a challenge in itself. In fact, things may even get worse in terms of the team’s experience before it gets better. Acknowledge this first thing up front to everyone involved and stress that you’re all in it together to make this work. Stress the advantages of this approach over your previous monitor set up. (Lower stage volume = better sound, better overall for your ears, etc.)

2.) Provide several different sizes and types of in-ear inserts. For example, with our Shure E2s, there are several options available: small, medium, and large clear silicone inserts, or the same sizes in a soft black pliable rubber that some people prefer over the silicone, which also have a slightly more ball-like shape. There are also the orange foam inserts in different sizes as well. They all feel, fit, and sound different, and everyone has different size ears. Give your teams a choice and they’ll certainly appreciate the chance to experiment. Remember you’re dealing with people’s hearing – it IS important. We organize our in-ears in a large multiple drawer organizer – the kind you’d use for screws and hardware items on a workbench. (See pictures at end of post) Each of our team members has their own drawer with their name labeled on it. They each have their own set of personally selected inserts that they use each time they’re up. They simply pick up a pair of in-ears from the separate drawer they’re contained in, and put on their own inserts, and remove them when they’re done. We also provide some disposable rubber medical type gloves and alcohol wipes to keep the inserts clean and sanitized.

3.) The first thing that will happen with use of in-ears is that people will tend to sing and play more quietly, as now they are hearing themselves so well and “in their face” so to speak. The trick to curing this is to help them establish a mix that has a fairly strong amount of backing instruments, and enough but not TOO much of themselves. For instance, I can usually tell when the drummer is hearing so much of himself over the band that he’s afraid to play out because his drums suddenly sound so loud to him in the in-ears compared to the other instruments. The second thing that everyone will notice is a marked lack of ambience or “room sound,” depending upon how live your room is to begin with, and how many other open mics there are. This will tend to make the team feel separated from the congregation, as if they’re “in a box.” I encourage you to do one or both of two things. First, try setting up some room mics to capture the natural ambience of the room. Position them within or towards the congregation, as this can also help the team to hear the congregation’s sound and singing. A little bit of that added to the Aviom mix will help a lot to put the team “in the room.” Secondly, a bit of a nice hall reverb--not too big, not too small--can help simulate the lost room ambience and make for a more pleasurable experience for the in-ears, although this of course will not help capture the sound of the congregation.

4.) A good stereo mix is imperative for the in-ears. If you have a monitor engineer mixing in-ears, it’s imperative that this person knows their way around a good mix. But more often these days, the band and vocals are mixing their own in-ears with Avioms or similar personal mixers. Teaching them a few simple principles of a good mix will truly help them to have a good in-ear experience. I’m often surprised when I look at or hear someone’s mix and realize that it’s very poorly set up or obvious that the person doesn’t understand a good mix set up. The most important aspect of this, next to individual levels of course, is what we call “Pan” or where the instrument or voice is placed in the stereo spectrum from left to right. I’ll tell you what my process is and how I generally set up my mix and hopefully that will give you an idea.
  • First we set the general volume level/gain structure of the signals for each channel going to the Avioms. I like to get enough of each instrument or vocal so I can make them TOO loud if I want to. Then I back them way off to about middle level and start my mix from there.
  • The idea with panning is to spread everything out in a visual sense so that each voice or instrument has it’s own “space” as if standing in the room – and so that your entire mix is not all straight up the middle of the stereo field which is very unpleasant and hard to hear individual signals. Of course there are certain signals you will want in the middle, like lead vocals and usually the bass. Listen to recorded CDs in headphones or in-ears and identify how instruments are mixed. Where is the guitar? The keyboards? Percussion? Bass? Vocals? Here is what my mix looked like this past weekend for 16 channels of my Aviom mix:
1.) Worship Leader Vocal – panned middle
2.) Acoustic Guitar – panned slightly to the right of middle
3.) Jim’s lead Vocal (on one song) – panned middle
4.) Vox 1 – Soprano – panned middle
5.) Vox 2 – Alto – panned almost all the way hard left
6.) Vox 3 – Tenor – panned almost hard right
7.) Synth Left – panned hard left
8.) Synth Right – panned hard right
9.) Piano – panned slightly to the left of middle
10.) Jim’s Electric Guitar – panned hard right
11.) Dan’s Electric Guitar – panned hard left
12.) Bass – middle
13.) Drums Left – panned hard left
14.) Drums Right – panned hard right
15.) Loops/Click – middle
16.) Talk Back – I like to pan this right, but this is a personal preference to distinguish it from Scott’s talking as worship leader.
Notice that certain like instruments, such as the electric guitars, I pan hard left and right and they sound GREAT that way. It leaves a lot of room for the other instruments and voices to have a place, and it spreads the guitars out into a wide stereo spectrum. This is common on recorded mixes. Encourage your teams to experiment and be creative with their mix. It’s often the difference between a miserable and discouraging experience, and a very satisfying one. And of course, the better your team can hear and sing, the more joyful that experience can be, and the better your team will sound and worship.

5.) Encourage your team to learn how to deal with volume levels of their mix. Everything can’t be the same generally. I like to start with bass and drums and get a good solid mix there, and then add the other instruments accordingly to my taste. Being an instrumentalist and band leader, I keep the vocals a little lower than you’d want to hear in a studio mix (sorry vocals!) but I keep the worship leader on top of that mix so I can hear his lead and directions. Also – if you’re having problems bringing your instrument or voice up (or another instrument), and everyone else seems to be fine and has plenty of what you don’t have, you probably have the general level of all the channels too loud. Before asking for more gain on the individual channel and throwing off everyone else’s good mix, try first turning everything DOWN except the signal you can’t hear well, and then turn your overall master volume up and see if that helps.

6.) Encourage everyone NOT to mute anyone else’s channel in their mix – unless it’s just so distracting that they can’t sing or play. First, it’s just wrong to mute a fellow teammate’s channel. That’s like saying “I don’t care what you have to add to the worship experience.” Second, it obviously puts you at a disadvantage not hearing all of what’s going on. If you’re a piano player and you mute the electric guitar, you’ll never hear crucial rhythms he’s playing, or fills, and generally you will tend to overplay yourself to compensate for what you’re not hearing. If you’re so good that you only need to hear yourself, then you need to be doing a solo gig, not playing on a worship team! If what someone else is doing is SO distracting that you need to mute it, have a talk with the worship leader or bandleader and find a way to express your concerns appropriately to solve the issue. If that’s truly the case, then you’re probably not the only one who is having difficulties.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Kitchen Diaries

Check this video out. Thanks for the link Greg. Unbelievable.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Church Video Ideas

Both Phil (our Interim Tech Director) and I have been enjoying reading Greg Atkinson's blog entitled Church Video Ideas. Greg has a lot of experience in technical ministry also participates in a regular podcast called Creative Synergy. Greg's blog does a good job keeping people up on new video releases and resources for churches.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Stage Volume and Your Sound Mix

This article is a continuation in my recent emphasis on sound and volume in worship services. Remember, I am not a professional sound technician, so these observations are made from the perspective of being an Arts Director and Worship leader for over 15 years; consequently, I will try to abstain from getting too technical in my observations.

Many churches are very poorly equipped to handle the musical nuances that come with a contemporary approach to musical worship for the following reasons. For one, in the last decade many churches have transitioned from more “traditional” to more “contemporary” musical paradigms; however, the majority of these churches are still worshiping in rooms designed for traditional music applications (choirs, organ, piano, etc…). Another reason churches struggle with sound issues is because, in the name of saving money, churches often put far too little money into acoustic and sound reinforcement design. Poor acoustics (rooms) and inadequate sound systems lay the foundation for a whole host of problems when mixing sound for the contemporary music service. So, what are the solutions? Of course, not every church can afford to scrap their present worship space and invest in state-of-the-art structures, sound, and acoustics; however, there is one relatively simple way to improve your mix even if you are vexed by a poor system and challenging acoustics. Namely, minimizing stage volume.

Since most of us do not have the luxury of worshiping in really large, acoustically dry, theatrical auditoriums, the sound created from the stage is often a major problem for creating a good room mix. The primary sources for high stage volume are stage monitors, drum sets, and electric guitar amps. The following are a few ideas about how one can deal with these challenges in order to reduce stage volume.
STAGE MONITORS: Do whatever you can to eliminate the use of floor wedges. At Parkview we’ve gone almost entirely to Aviom personal mixers. Not only do these eliminate the stage volume issues, they give each musician and vocalist total control in creating and controlling their own personal sound mix. If you can’t afford Aviom, there are more affordably priced competitors worth considering. Don’t forget that every Aviom will need headphones or earbuds. At Parkview the instrumentalists use Etymotics ($165 @ Amazon), the vocalists use Shure E2’s and I use Ultimate Ears. The vocalists and worship leader often run their Avioms into a Sennheiser wireless transmitter in order to maintain mobility.

DRUMS: Having worked with fine music directors over the years, I have quickly learned that using digital drums at Parkview is not an option. Why is this? Digital drums cannot produce the sound and offer the playing versatility that comes with an acoustic drum set. Not only do digital drums hinder the player’s ability to make good drum sounds, but they will ultimately serve as a “stay away” sign for prospective drummers who are interested in serving the Lord with musical excellence.

So, if we must have “real” drums, then how do we deal with stage volume? The answer is found in good drums, good mics, shielding, and baffling. Invest in a good drum set, get some good drum mics, and then shield the drum set with a plexiglass surround. If shielding doesn’t cut down the sound enough, then consider adding a sound absorbent roof and baffles behind and in front of the drum set. As a side note, I have seen churches build entire rooms for a drum set. In my opinion, this is a bit over the top. It may cut down on stage volume, but it also creates a harmful disconnect between the drummer and the band.

ELECTRIC GUITAR AMPS: Guitar amps must operate at a certain volume level in order to produce a good guitar tone. Though this volume level can create problems for the sound mix, good amps are a necessary component of a good guitar sound. Forcing your players to go direct into the system without their amp is not much different than making your drummers play digital drums. It may reduce volume, but it will also hinder good guitar tone and keep good players from wanting to serve in your ministry.

The few solutions I’ve seen to this problem are to point guitar amps away from walls or other reflective surfaces, use baffling behind amps in order to eliminate volume leaking from the back of the amp, or use guitar amp sound cabinets. Though I’ve never used an amp cabinet, I saw them when visiting North Point Church in Atlanta. There, the amp is placed within the cabinet off stage. Players turn up the amp to the optimum volume level, a mic is placed within the cabinet, and then the cabinet is closed. This allows the player to operate at optimum levels for tone, while also virtually eliminating any stage volume issues.
Though lowering stage volume is only one element in creating a good sound mix, it is an important element in helping less than ideal rooms handle the musical challenges that come with the contemporary music style in worship.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Volume in Worship Services

Zach Nielsen (our former Instrumental Music Director) weighs in on volume in worship here. It looks like Z is feeling the brunt of anonymous comment cards.

Building Teams and Developing Leaders

Resurgence just posted a talk by Jeff Vanderstelt, the pastor at Soma Church in Tacoma, WA. Jeff is a former leader at Willow Creek Church and has some really cool insights about what it takes to build teams and develop leaders. I am in the process of listening to it right now. You can tell this guy really gets what it takes to be truly missional and incarnational in ministry. If you've wondered what missional ministry looks like, this talk will give you a good glimpse. Just go here and click on listen now. Also, check out the Soma Church website. Very creative and innovative.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

How Many Americans Go to Church?

The quote below is from a recent post on Between Two Worlds. I found it interesting because, after years of aggressive growth, Parkview's attendance has settled in the last 1-2 years. I think there are numerous internal reasons this could have happened, but I also think we are reflecting a trend of what is happening in a lot of churches nationally.

Read the rather sobering statistics below...

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How many Americans go to church regularly?

If you listen to the answers provided by major opinion research firms, the answer usually hovers around 40%. (National Opinion Research Center: 38%; Institute for Social Research’s World Values: 44%; Barna: 41%; National Election Studies: 40%; Gallup: 41%.)

But in recent years this consensus has been challenged. It seems that it’s more accurate to say that 40% of Americans claim to attend church regularly.

In 1998, sociologist Stanley Presser at the University of Michigan—whose “research focuses on questionnaire design and testing, the accuracy of survey responses, and ethical issues stemming from the use of human subjects”—co-authored a study entitled: Data Collection Mode and Social Desirability Bias in Self-Reported Religious Attendance, American Sociological Review, v. 63 (1998): 137-145 (with L. Stinson). Comparing diaries with actual attendance, they made the estimate that the actual percentage of Americans attending church from the mid-1960’s to the 90’s was about 26%.

One of the problem comes in how the question is asked in a poll. Different questions yield different results. For example, in a survey you might ask, “What did you do last weekend?” listing for the person a number of possible activities, including church-going. This will yield a very different response than if you asked, “Did you attend church last Sunday?”

One factor is that people often answer according to what they think someone like them wants or ought to do. So people tend to overreport on the number of sexual partners they’ve had and how much money they give to charity, and tend to underreport on illegal drug use and the like. Hence, church attendance is often inflated.

In 1998 C. Kirk Hadaway and P.L. Marler published an article in the Christian Century entitled, Did You Really Go To Church This Week? Behind the Poll Data where they examine many of these factors. The authors focused on individual counties in the US and Canada, surveying actual church/synagogue attendance and comparing it with random surveys they were conducting. They found that actual church attendance was about half the rate indicated by national public opinion polls. Their estimate for US actual church attendance is around 20%.

Dave Olson, director of church planting for the Evangelical Covenant Church, surveying only Christian churches (i.e., evangelical, mainline, and Catholic) has come up with a similar number. The percentage of Americans regularly attending church is 18.7%.

Olson has collected his findings in an eye-opening slide-show entitled Twelve Surprising Facts about the US Church. The 12 points cannot be copied and pasted, so I’ve reprinted them below, along with links to his charts and maps.

  1. The percentage of people that attend a Christian church each weekend is far below what pollsters report. (US percentage of population in worship on any given weekend in 2000)
  2. The percentage of people attending a Christian church each weekend decreased significantly from 1990-2000. (US worship attendance in 1990 and 2000 by percentage of population)
  3. Christian church attendance is between 1 ½ and 2 times higher in the South and the Midwest than it is in the West and the Northeast. (Percentage of population attending a Christian church on any given weekend in 2000)
  4. Only one state [Hawaii] saw an increase in the percentage attending church from 1990-2000. [California, Connecticut, Georgia, and Washington were close to keeping up with population growth.] (Increase or decline in percentage of population attending a Christian church on any given weekend 1990–2000)
  5. The percentage that attends church on any given weekend is declining in over two thirds of the counties in the United States. [Among the states with the highest percentages of declining counties were Minnesota, Wisconsin, and South Carolina.] (US counties: Increase or decline in percentage of population attending a Christian church on any given weekend 1990–2000)
  6. Evangelicals, mainliners, and Catholics are strongest in very different regions of the country. (maps for Evangelicals, mainliners, and Catholics)
  7. Churches with 50–299 people in attendance are shrinking, while the smallest churches and larger churches are growing. (Decadal growth rate of churches by size category)
  8. Established churches, from 40–180 years old, on average decline in attendance. (Yearly attendance growth of existing churches by decade started)
  9. The increase in the number of churches is about one eighth of what is needed to keep up with population growth. (Net increase in number of churches in the US between 1990 and 2000)
  10. The church-planting rate has been declining throughout the history of our country. (Churches started per 1 million residents)
  11. Existing churches are plateauing and new church growth provides less than half of the growth necessary to keep up with population growth. (Attendance growth percentage of Protestant churches 1990–2000)
  12. If the present trends continue, the percentage of the population that attends church in 2050 will be almost half of what it is today. (Projected percentage of population attending church on any given weekend)

Equal Loudness Contours

This quote is from an article in Soundcheck Magazine called How Loud is Too Loud. I am not sure how many techs would agree with Curt Taipale but he does have an interesting take on how to mix sound levels due to the Equal Loudness Contours. In essence he says a mix should be established at 85 dB (average level I assume) and that this mix will then provide an excellent basis for either boosted or reduced master levels. Sorry if this is too technical for some of you to find interesting. (I also liked how he adjusted the EQ on softer ballads to compensate for ELC. Interesting.)

The Equal Loudness Contours reveal the average human hearing sensitivity at frequencies in the human hearing range over various listening volumes. They were determined something like this: The researchers would play a reference tone at, for example, 1 kHz, at a designated sound volume. They would then play a different frequency, adjust the volume and ask the listener to indicate when the new frequency sounded like it was at the same volume as the original frequency. They continued this process through several frequencies to come up with a "contour" of human hearing sensitivity at that one reference sound volume, say at 80 dB SPL. Next they would change to a reference volume of 85 dB, and repeat the process.

They averaged this data over several listeners to come up with their published Equal Loudness Contours. Part of what they discovered is that human hearing is most sensitive to sounds at around 3 kHz. At very soft listening levels, our hearing is least sensitive to very low frequency sounds, and slightly less sensitive to high frequency sounds. This is why there is a "Loudness" switch on your home stereo. You'll notice that when you switch it on, the sound gets a huge boost in the low frequencies, and also gets at little brighter. This is really just a special equalizer circuit tailored to counteract our hearing "deficiencies" at soft listening levels. At very loud listening levels, the contours start to flatten out, so the theory is that you would switch the Loudness circuit off when listening at elevated volumes. I know, I've turned it up loud with the loudness switch still turned on too.

Now, I figure that God didn't really build a deficiency into our hearing. I'm not really sure why it's that way. Maybe someday I will. But I do know that, when I'm trying to mix a "big" song at a soft volume, it helps the authority factor if, for example, I boost the bass guitar a little more than usual. Maybe I'll boost the kick drum slightly, or the low end piano mic. I would not go for the house system equalizer and offset it for this curve. That would cause more grief in other areas than it would help in this. But subtle adjustments to the mix of various instruments, or maybe a slight lift in the low frequency EQ on those channels, can provide a significant improvement to the sound. It won't solve everything. Louder will still sound bigger. But it may be the better compromise. If your sound system includes subwoofers, it can prove even easier to give your music that "authority".

Recording engineers have known about the equal loudness contours for years. Studies show that the average home stereo listening volume is 85 dB SPL. So the smart engineer will try to keep his mixing volume at around that volume. He will check it at very, very soft volumes, and he will turn it up loud and check it there as well. If the producer wants to hear it really loud, the really smart engineer will show the producer where the volume control is and leave the room. If this policy of mixing at 85 dB is followed, when you play it softer it should still sound fine. When it's played really loud, it should sound huge, bigger than life. If, on the other hand, the engineer mixes the songs at loud listening volumes, and then tries to listen to them at a soft volume, the resulting sound will not have the same punch. This isn't because of hearing fatigue. You'll still hear the same lackluster mix tomorrow after your ears have rested. Mixing at loud volumes alters both the EQ decisions as well as mix choices that the engineer makes. Those are based on what he's hearing at the time.

Volume in Worship

Last night at a congregational meeting a concern was voiced in regard to volume in worship services at Parkview. In response to this comment I felt it would be prudent to discuss the issue in a few posts over the next several weeks. One thing for sure, there are a lot of passionate and diverse opinions about what makes a good church sound mix. Usually when the issue is discussed among the average church atttender (i.e. non musician) the comments typically refer to volume. The unknown reality is that getting a pleasing and engaging sound mix is much more complex than simply managing volumes. Sometimes a louder decibel (sound intensity measurement) mix can sound very pleasing and warm. Other times a softer decibel mix can sound too loud and harsh. Though I am not a expert in this arena, I will address a few “less technical” issues that come into play when discussing the general issue of sound reinforcement in a church worship space. If any of you have links to relevant articles or posts from more technically qualified sources, please send them to me and I will consider linking to them.

It is helpful when discussing sound volume to understand how volume or loudness is measured. The term decibel is the scientific measurement for determining the loudness and softness of sound. Below are a few measurements I pulled from the Galen Carol Audio web site (I believe these are dB A scale measurements). You can see the complete list here.

Normal Conversation – 60-70 dB
City Traffic (inside car) – 80 dB
Train Whistle at 500’ – 90 dB
Power Mower – 107 dB
Pain Begins – 125 dB
Jet Engine at 100 feet – 140 dB
Loudest Sound Possible - 194 dB


Normal Piano Practice – 60-70 dB
Loud Singer at 3’ – 70 dB
Chamber Music in Small Auditorium – 75-85 dB
Loud Piano – 84-103 dB
Symphonic Music Peak – 120-137 dB
Rock Music Peak – 150 dB


8 hours @ 90 dB
4 hours @ 95 dB
2 hours @ 100 dB
1 hour @ 105 dB
.25 or less hours @ 115 dB
At Parkview we typically peak at around 90-92 dB (95 dB when we have a horn section). If any of you reading attend other churches, I’d be interested in knowing what is typical for your worship service.

Please check back for additional posts on this topic. Also, if you are leaving a comment, please observe the “comments policy” by keeping your comments respectful of the various opinions represented on this topic.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Contextualizing the Gospel

Recently in my Perspectives course we finished an emphasis focused upon how missionaries are to go about contextualizing the gospel for different cultures. It was an interesting and insightful section that helped me to put a familiar strategy into a different light. Let me explain…

I grew up as a Christian in the wake of the “seeker” movement in the United States. As a young Christian I remembered how the “big new idea” for churches was to become relevant and intentional with reaching the culture around us. As I think back on those days I can’t help but ask with a hint of sarcasm, “why was the concept of relevant ministry considered such a hip new thing?” Our need to contextualize (make relevant) the gospel message is not a new idea! It is a foundational concept in the book of Acts and most clearly stated by Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:22, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” For centuries missionaries from Raymond Lull in the 13th century all the way to Hudson Taylor in the 19th century were doing it. Mission training goes to great length to help missionaries understand how to reach foreign cultures by contextualizing the gospel and doing it in such a way as to avoid syncretism (the improper convergence of Christianity with false belief) and other negative consequences that can come from ineffective contextualization.

So, why was such an old idea hailed as such a “new idea” in the last few decades? I think it is because Christians, if left unchallenged, will always evolve into self-centered, self-sustaining, closed communities that are more concerned with disciple maintenance and Christian fellowship than they are missional expansion; consequently, the “seeker movement” of the 80’s was the “new thing” because the church had allowed itself to become ingrown and ineffective at reaching lost people.

This is a passion of mine for two reasons. One, because any child finishing a Sunday School lesson on the great commission in Matthew 28:19 could tell you that Jesus final exhortation for believers was to GO and share the gospel! The missional purpose of the church is un-debatable and un-deniable; therefore, the cause of seeking and saving the lost must resonate deeply within every true Christian faith community. The second passion (maybe better stated, concern) I have is that today’s evangelical church must pay attention to the postmodern cultural shift that is taking place around us. If we take our eyes for one moment off of our missional calling, we risk not having the necessary fortitude to resist the colonizing and institutionalizing of our faith that often happens within a church where biblical mission is neglected. If we aren’t careful, we will become less and less effective at translating the timeless message of the gospel for new generations and we will once again need a “new and hip” way to do what we’ve been called to do since the beginning of the church age.