Home -> Educational Articles Index -> Book Quotes #1

Book Quotes #1

Blake Engel, All Church Sound

I've been researching and reading a number of "old" books on the subjects of church construction, sound, acoustics and similar topics. What I've found has been quite impressive. Many of these old titles, long since out of print, contain information and comments nearly identical to what both my associate (Joseph De Buglio) and I have been saying for many years. What's most interesting is to see how 40 and even 80 years ago - people were writing on the subject of church audio and acoustics - and proclaiming the importance of having these things done right from the beginning. Even back then, they knew what mattered most.

Each section below is preceded by the title, author, publisher, and date published of each book. These quotes have been listed here for educational purposes.

Providing Adequate Church Property and Buildings
William A. Harrell
Convention Press, Nashville , TN © 1969

Pg 4
Plans for a major remodeling and adjustments should be made as carefully as plans for a new building.

Pg 38
Properly proportioned space, appropriate furnishings, effective lighting, and good acoustics are all a must for any successful auditorium or sanctuary.

Pg 38
The extremely wide auditorium is usually unsatisfactory.

Pg 46
Heating and cooling the sanctuary is important. Both summer and winter comfort is necessary. Ventilation and circulation of air is accomplished by the mechanical installation which is planned before the beginning of construction. It is desirable to maintain a low velocity of air movement, generally recognized as not more than 700 CFM. {note; today (2004)we like to see a lower number, closer to 500CFM}

Pg 56
The public-address system in the auditorium should be considered at the beginning of the planning.... Special acoustical engineers may need to be consulted. The public address system is part of the acoustical accommodation of the building. Especially this is true in the sanctuary.

A Complete Guide To Church Building
P.E. Burroughs
Nashville , TN © 1923

Pg 14
… But the New Testament sets forth two coordinate agencies for the spread of the gospel, preaching and teaching. We must build both for the preacher and teacher. The educational section of our churches must be devised with the same care, the same attention to details, and with something of the same artistic skill which have marked our auditoriums.

Pg 29
Mr. Geo E. Merrill {Planning Church Buildings} suggests that “a room oblong in plan, with the pulpit at one end, gives at once a form within with the sense of a worshipful atmosphere is most easily produced and in which the maximum number of individuals can see and hear.” In agreement with Mr. Merrill, Dr. Von Ogden Vogt says: “In any case, an oblong space is superior to a square one. There are few successful equilateral churches in the world and the most of these are strongly modified as to the interior proportion by the addition of an apse or choir….The square interior makes a focal point of interest almost impossible. It hinders concentration of attention and of action.”

“Good acoustic properties are of prime importance. –
If the speaker experiences difficulty in speaking, or the singer in singing, or if the hearer finds difficulty in hearing, a chief end of the building is defeated.
Happily modern architecture has measurably mastered the once baffling question of acoustics. And yet even in our day mysterious difficulties and grievous disappointments are not uncommon. One eminent divine thus strongly puts it:
“Acoustics is so important that I would place it before every other merit; before light, or ventilation, or comfortable seats, or beauty, or any virtue. Give us churches in which the human voice can be heard with pleasure and profit.””

Pg 149
It is worth while in this connection to ponder the words of Mr. Sydney R. Badgley:

“Architects should be selected just as men in other professions are selected, namely, on the basis of their professional merit and integrity of character. How many doctors, dentists, lawyers, or artists would enter a ‘free' competition, and submit a prescription, set of teeth, brief, or portrait, to be judged by a committee of non-professionals, and returned with or without a ‘thank you' if their work did not please? What class of men in these processions would enter such a race? Would their services be desirable?”

How to Get Your Church Built
C. Harry Atkinson
Doubleday & Company, Inc, Garden City, NY © 1964

It was Winston Churchill who once declared, “We shape our buildings and afterwards our buildings shape us.” How true. Once the stone and steel are set in place, the spaces they enclose tend to dictate in no small measure how we shall conduct our services of public worship, pursue our teaching procedures and generally condition the effectiveness of the church's ministry. Furthermore, once we erect and use these ill-conceived buildings, we tend to rationalize ourselves into accepting the conditions they impose until they become sacrosanct.

Pg 48
Good acoustics are essential
Good acoustics which adequately serve the needs of both the spoken word and the music of the church are essential to any well-conceived and functionally effective place of worship. Far too many of our buildings, even those recently erected, are seriously deficient in this important matter of good acoustics. The so-called “sacrament of sound” should be very much to the forefront in the thinking of the building committee and the architect. A church with bad acoustics is so seriously handicapped that its own high purposes are defeated. ..... Sound and sight can and should be considered together. It is not enough to have a beautiful building if the sounds are unpleasant or unintelligible; neither does the building need to be ugly to have good acoustics. We have seen buildings with excellent acoustical qualities but so ugly and repulsive in appearance that music and speech were made appreciably less effective.


Good acoustics not only provide the proper environment for good speech and music; they also eliminate or control at tolerable levels all unwanted, extraneous sounds emanating from such mechanical contrivances as heating, ventilating, air-conditioning systems, toilets, light switches, creaking and slamming doors, faulty electronic devices connected with the sound amplification system, or from music or speech originating outside of and unrelated to the area in which any particular group may be at work or worship within the church edifice. Frequently it is necessary to install sound-absorbing material on ceiling and walls of certain rooms to overcome excessive reverberation. Excessive use of this material, especially in the place of worship, will work to the disadvantage of both good music and good speech. Even such commendable sounds as those arising from choir rehearsal just prior to church service should be controlled lest they distract members of the congregation who arrive early for meditation. In some churches it is all but impossible to observe the scriptural injunction “to be still and know that I am God.”

Pg 89
Good acoustics are needed to keep pupil attention
If pupil attention and interest are to be held at those high levels which are so essential to good learning, every reasonable effort should be expended to keep sound within acceptable classroom tolerances and to eliminate extraneous disturbing noises. If the classroom walls are finished in hard, smooth-finished materials, the window areas are large and the floors uncarpeted, it will very likely be necessary to use some acoustical treatment to control the excess sounds generated in the classroom. Furthermore, each room should be protected from unwanted sounds from adjacent classrooms and, particularly, from corridors and stairway areas where clattering feet and high-pitched conversation pose a serious acoustical problem. Heating, ventilating and air-conditioning systems, if not properly designed and installed, can be very distracting. Unwanted sounds, which travel along ducts for long distances and through small openings, disturb classroom procedures, particularly during periods of worship. Good acoustics should be a major consideration in discussing building requirements with the architect. Frequently we find that while the place of public worship is well cared for in this respect, educational facilities are neglected. The time to check on acoustics is before the building plans are complete.

Pg 90
Good heating and ventilation are essential
Two enemies of good Christian education are extreme temperatures and foul air. People, whether young or old, do not respond favorably to any teaching situation if they are uncomfortably hot or cold. Nothing dulls the wits of even the brightest pupil so much as breathing stale air. A good heating system capable of a steady, adequate output, with the proper temperature controls, and a draft-free, efficient ventilating system are basic necessities. Air conditioning is, likewise, advocated for those areas where such installations are required. Humidifiers or dehumidifiers are essential in some areas both for health reasons and to prevent musical instruments, books, furnishings and works of art from deteriorating because of insufficient or excessive moisture.

The following statement from the Illuminating Engineering Society, in their booklet Church Lighting, is so relevant here that we quote it in full:

Research in Europe and America has proved that people vary widely in their ability to see details clearly. People 63 years old need twice as much light as when they were 19, for equal ease of reading. When people are tired or under par, they need more light than when they are at their best. Obviously, people who need their glasses changed have to have more light for good seeing. It has long been known that increasing lighting levels can do much to overcome these handicaps, for both optical and physiological reasons.

Although a capable, healthy and vigorous church officer, wearing properly fitted eyeglasses, might say: "There is plenty of light in the church down the street; make ours like that," his suggestions may arise from his own ease of seeing. It is possible that less than half his congregation have eyes as good as his and could read easily in the church down the street, which may be poorly lighted. Lighting should be designed, not only for the most gifted, but for the less fortunate too. In fact, it is basic to many of the world's great religions that the greatest concern is felt for those who most need assistance. Since proper lighting can help to make worship more meaningful, it should be put to use to help the most needy worshiper in an unobtrusive comer as well as the prominent family halfway up the center aisle.