July 31, 2014


One of the most basic rules of the universe and one that seems most universally ignored in our culture is this: everything affects everything else. Everything is connected in some fashion, be it physically or causally, and so when you make a change to something, everything around it will change. You may have heard this called the “butterfly effect”; little changes can be unpredictable in what else they’ll change around them. Our culture doesn’t like this observation much because it doesn’t fit with our cultural narrative of individual manifest destiny: we want what we want, we have a right to have it and thus become happy, and what makes us happy is nobody else’s business. What I do in my private life is my own business and doesn’t affect anybody else, right?


Everything affects everything else. Sometimes it's big, sometimes it's so small you hardly notice, sometimes it takes a long time, and sometimes it's immediate, but the effect is always there.

This has a lot of implications for worship ministry.

Acoustic space, for example. When an Audio Tech is mixing a live service, the act of making small changes in the EQ or the levels of one instrument can have repercussions for how other instruments or voices are heard by the congregation. Making a guitar louder, for example, can change how a singer is heard when the increase in volume interacts with the singer’s range and overpowers or cancels out the sound (sometimes called “destructive interference”). I’m constantly surprised by the fact that, during rehearsal, I can always hear myself from my monitor wedge, but during a worship gathering, my voice is suddenly lost amid two hundred people singing back at me, sometimes at “re-part my hair” volume.

And so naturally I panic, and hope I’m not singing off-key.

By way of another example, people (acoustically speaking) are simply large sound absorbers for certain frequencies, and the more of them you put in a room, the more you need to compensate for certain instruments. But it depends on the room and on the day and the size people, because humidity, temperature, ambient noise from AC units, and monitor placement will change the way sound waves interact with each other and with the room surfaces and the people in them, and so literally make the room a different room at every moment of every gathering. Placing tile or carpet under chairs or pews can actually be a hard choice depending on whether you want your people to be able to hear themselves singing or not - traditional/classical church cultures tend to use tile to hear the voices of those around them, whereas modern/contemporary church cultures tend to prefer carpet to provide a more “immersive” experience for the worshipper driven mostly by the example of those up front.

Know your space. Know your culture.

Because everything affects everything else.

The same is true for bands or ensembles. Different voices interact in different ways. More voices on a worship team present a different challenge than fewer - more voices means more people to blend together and requires more precision on intonation and diction, though it also makes it easier to hide stray notes; fewer voices, on the other hand, while feeling more exposed, make it easier to hear parts clearly and with less effort. Smaller bands are more exposed, but present a less complicated sound to mix. Adding one brass instrument to a group of woodwinds can increase the blend of their collective sound, whereas adding a different brass instrument can destroy it. When I play my french horn in a woodwind quintet, I play very differently than with a marching band or an orchestra or a brass choir because my sound interacts differently with each ensemble.

Everyone needs to know why they are there and what their role is in the group.

Because everything they do affects everyone else.

Just imagine how this extends to church governance and administration. Volunteerism. Missions. Communication. Growth.

There is always a bigger picture than the one thing we think is wrong. 

It might feel like the volume is too high for a service, when the problem might really be an imbalance of the instruments in the band, not the decibel level. We might think our teams are just not good enough to lead, when the problem is really their equipment or the room. A worship team might be in the best groove of their life, and yet a congregation may not sing because they’re dealing with loss; a congregation may sing at the top of their lungs despite a badly rehearsed band. And sometimes, circumstances totally beyond our control might be affecting what’s happening around us. 

Along the way, we have a choice on how the changing conditions will affect us. We can choose to let a bad band or a difficult acoustic space or a volume level not to our preference or music we don’t like drag us down and keep us from engaging a God who is always present among us. But we can also choose to worship that same God in those same circumstances.

And since everything affects everything else, someone might follow our examples and be able to worship too.

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