I’m not exactly sure who first thought it would be a good idea to line a sanctuary floor with carpet. I’m even less sure of their reasoning. Perhaps it was to make the environment warmer and more comfortable. Some probably installed carpet to cut down ambient noise from footsteps and dropped items.
Or maybe it was the same person who thought churches should look more like converted Wal-Marts than a sacred space.
Whatever they were trying to accomplish, let me tell you, it was a really, really bad idea.
On some level we should know this. We know that being in a live sound environment makes singing much more satisfying. That’s why so many people, even though who don’t fancy themselves professionals at all, love singing in the shower. Being surrounded by sound reflective materials gives life and warmth to our sound, which just pulls the song out of us.
The same is true in a church with a live sound environment. The more traditional options, like finished wood, brick, concrete, and thick drywall, reflect sound waves and provide good singing environments. Carpet,
pew stadium-style seat cushions, and acoustical tile inhibit singers because they kill the sound before it has a chance to carry into the room. They can’t hear themselves or anyone else who isn’t eating a microphone. They might as well be worshiping from the back aisle at the local JoAnn Fabrics.
Of course, there were many factors, mostly cultural, that led to the decline of congregational singing. But carpet is one of the most pervasive and most completely unnecessary factors.
Churches must begin to realize that this is not just a practical issue, but a theological one, as well. In liturgy, we are to be worshiping corporately as God’s covenant people. With our voices, we reenact and retell the beautiful story of salvation together. Killing the sound of singing as well as the spoken word muffles the corporate prayer of God’s people, giving them the impression they are isolated observers who, though welcome to sing along with Mitch, don’t really matter. Couple a dead acoustic with a
chancel stage full of musicians who are electronically projected as if they are entertainers, and we’ve destroyed the corporateness of gathered worship.
Let me be clear: a soundproofed sanctuary sends a subliminal message to your congregation that the only important voices in worship belong to the people holding microphones. It tells the congregation, “Shhh! We don’t really want to hear you sing.” It turns liturgy into entertainment.
While any church planning new construction should take this reality into account, there are things the rest of us can do.
The first step should be getting rid of the stupid carpet!
Need a hand? Tell me where and when, and buy me a utility knife.
(As if an immediate improvement in congregational singing wasn’t enough, don’t forget the other benefits to getting rid of carpet!
1. Carpet is freaking nasty and gross.
2. All you have to do is walk on carpet before it starts to smell.
3. Carpet provides a safe haven for all sorts of crap that afflicts allergy sufferers.
4. Carpet styles change much more rapidly, so before you know it your new carpet can become an awkward, sound-absorbing, visitor-deterring elephant in the room.
5. If, God forbid, you ever must recover from a flooded sanctuary the carpet removal will be your worst nightmare.
6. And most of all, you can once and for all alleviate the fears of the “pretty police” who are always wringing their hands over spills and wax drippings!)
The bottom line is this: our good Creator gave us powerful, magnificent instruments for communicating, for prayer and praise. Why would we want to inhibit the church from using its combined vocal resources in the worship of that Creator?
Flickr, creative commons 2.0