I've been to several churches now
where I've seen an interesting sign posted at the entrance to
the sanctuary. The sign reads something like "Please turn
off all portable distractions (cell phones, pagers, electronic
toys, etc.)." At first I thought it was kind of funny,
until I began to think about it. Most theaters and concert halls
ask the same thing. They know how annoying it is when those
little gadgets beep and buzz during the show. Not only does
it bother the people around the activated device, but it bothers
the actors, actresses, and musicians, too. When was the last
time you heard a live recording of an orchestra where you heard
beeps, buzzes, and rings in the background?
At one church I visited, the pastor told me of a time when
another pastor was preaching on distractions. Just as he had
finished mentioning cell phones and pagers and the congregation
was silent, someone's cell phone went off! The sad part was
that the phone ringing wasn't a planned event.
How dare we bring noises from the outside world into a concert
hall or theater where hundreds, possibly thousands of people
have paid often hundreds of dollars to hear a great performance?
Are we so proud we think we need to show off how well in contact
we are with everyone? Do we really need to have the ability
to be in constant communication with anyone at any time?
I remember a friend telling me of using one of the first wireless
bag telephones. He was sitting on the lake shore of Chicago,
enjoying the summer evening, while chatting business with colleagues
in New York. His friends heard all of the background noise,
and wondered what was going on and where he was. When told of
the new wireless wonder, they commented that it was only a short-term
fad since no one really had to be in contact with people all
of the time. My, how things have changed in only a few years.
"Oh, but its only church" I've heard people
say. People who have never spoken to a large group before or
those who don't see church as being important usually make such
comments. "It's only church, people will understand my
other commitments". Sure, try to tell that to someone who's
hearing the gospel for the first time and is about to make a
decision -- when your cell phone goes off because your neighbor
is checking to see if they can borrow your lawn mower for a
Besides cell phones, pagers, and noisy electronic toys, there
are other distractions in a church sanctuary, too. No, not the
two-month old baby who's crying for food, and not the dear little
old man asking his wife what time it is in a louder-than-expected
voice so she can hear him. No I'm talking about distractions
that are constant. Distractions that your entire congregation
has put up with year after year. Distractions that probably
half the congregation couldn't point toward the specific cause.
I'm talking about poor acoustics and a poor sound reinforcement
"What?! You've gone on and on about electronic distractions,
and now you're saying that the sound system and the room acoustics
are distractions?" That's right. The sound system becomes
a distraction as soon as there's feedback. The moment someone's
microphone isn't turned on or a local radio station breaks into
the pastors' sermon, the sound system becomes a distraction.
None of those things happen at your church, you say? Well, what
about hum and buzz and hiss from the speakers? What about the
fact that the people in the first 10 rows can't hear the pastor,
but the people sitting in the back can hear just fine. What
about the mothers in the foyer who've stepped out to quiet their
child, only to find out they can't hear the sermon in the foyer?
What about the sound system that makes every voice sound like
it was recorded in a tin can or as though your ears are covered
with 10 layers of heavy blankets? How about the sound system
that makes a tape or CD played back sound like you're listening
to an AM radio? These problems are all distractions whether
you know it or not. Most sound system problems aren't realized
simply because no one thought to question whether or not it
could be better or if it was as good as it should be. It's easy
to live with a problem when you don't know anything different.
So what about acoustics? How can the sound of the room be a
distraction? Echoes off the back wall that arrive back to the
choir a split second after than they originally sung that word
or note can throw off their timing. Parallel walls in the congregational
seating area that create standing waves and flutter echoes can
affect the ability of a congregation to learn new songs. Acoustics
so poor that when the minister says to "go home and hug
your Honey" at the end of his message on marriages, some
people become very offended and leave the church because they
clearly heard him say "go home and hug your money".
Acoustics so poor that fundraising programs fail because everyone
brought jars full of "honey" instead of "money",
or when the church sound seminar topic "how to recognize
speech" has low attendance because no one wanted to come
hear about "how to wreck a nice beach". These are
all distractions more than 98% of churches live with on an ongoing
It's not just old or existing churches; it's new churches,
too. How many times I've heard a church board tell me "we've
got a new building complete with a brand new sound system, but
we're now working out all of the bugs". What?! There shouldn't
be any bugs in a new building like that. In many cases, the
money spent on all sorts of fancy sound equipment and acoustic
panels could have been cut in half and still had plenty to do
the job right the first time. The thing is, there's no money
left now to make any repairs now since many members left after
they found out how poor the new building was, and those still
remaining are not so willing to part with their money after
seeing how its use didn't result in anything very good the first
Distractions are all around us in this world. When we enter
a church, we should be able to shut out the hustle and bustle
of this often crazy, complicated, and noisy world we live in.
Kindly turning off electronic distractions helps, walking out
of the sanctuary when our little ones need special care helps
too. But if the room we're in isn't conducive to worship in
song or speech, if the sound reinforcement system degrades the
quality of the original sound or doesn't deliver it everywhere
in the room properly, what do we have? We're left with a situation
where it's not easy to learn new concepts, songs, or teachings,
that's for sure.
How will we understand if we cannot learn?
How will we learn if we cannot listen?
How will we listen if we cannot hear?
God calls us to spread the word to everyone. This includes
non-believers as well as believers. If our houses of worship
are such that words become distorted, mis-communicated, and
misunderstood, are we really spreading the word of God the way
He wants us to, or are we just spinning our wheels? The evil
one would like just that--churches that just spin their wheels,
never getting anywhere, never growing, never bringing the local
neighborhood to God. Miscommunication and misunderstanding are
two of the evil one's greatest devices used to upset and tear
apart. Many friendships, marriages, and other partnerships are
broken because of these problems. The same can happen in our
houses of worship without us even knowing. Don't let the relationship
you have with God or the relationship a visitor is trying to
get with God be broken because of an unknown distraction. Be
aware of the shortfalls many church sanctuaries and sound reinforcement
systems have--and get the problems fixed before any more people
are lost because of distractions no one thought to address.