By Doug Gould
If your church meets in a rented space, in a high school gym, movie theater, a hotel conference room, or an ELKS lodge, you are not alone! But, you are going to have additional concerns beyond the technical aspects of the church sound system.
I envy the worship and tech teams who can just show up at the church every Sunday with everything ready to go … sort of. Setting up and tearing down audio, video and lights every time there is a meeting will get old in a hurry and burn out your volunteers rapidly, unless you have a very well organized system that can be set up quickly and stowed away just as fast.
Few, if any of the volunteers on your tech team have likely made their living as audio engineers. With that in mind, consider the skill level necessary to set up and operate the church sound system.
- Don’t add unnecessary devices to the system that will add to the complexity.
- Discover ways to set up simply, quickly, and efficiently so you’re not wasting the volunteers’ precious time off.
- Think about scalability. The system should satisfy current requirements but be able to grow with the church as it expands.
Buy what you can afford, but don’t cheap out. Quality equipment will sound better and last longer. If the church outgrows its primary application, the equipment can usually be re-purposed for other aspects or ministries.
Things to Consider
- Determine what you need the church sound system to do now and in the future.
- How many attend the services? 0-50, 50-100, more than 200, over 1000?
- How many microphones do you require? Stands?
- How many of the microphones need to be wireless? They cost more and require more resources and more of your attention.
- Will you be using acoustic or electronic instruments for worship or a combination of the two?
- Will the space you’re in support the sound pressure levels of the instruments being played or will you have to adapt and use different ones that are more appropriate for the space?
- Where will the equipment be stored?
- How far is the meeting space from where the equipment is stored? Will you need roll-around cases, hand-trucks or are you going to carry all that stuff from Point A to Point B? I think not!
- What is the makeup of the team responsible for setting the system up? I can only hope that you have considered the weight of the components.
- Will you need a monitor system for the musicians beyond the main system?
- Will you need audio in any other part of the building for Sunday School, Foyer, Cry Room, and Overflow?
- Will you be recording the services? Streaming? Have you thought about how to sync the audio to the video?
- Have you considered assisted listening devices?
- How far is the mix position from the stage? How far is it to the power outlets?
- Does the space have sufficient and clean electrical power to accommodate your system?
- Will you need to condition the power? Have you considered a UPS?
The “church in a box” segment is growing to such an extent that multiple vendors specialize in it, providing very specific solutions. The same components may cost less with other retailers, but what they offer are packaged, organized, efficient systems allowing almost anybody to set them up and store them in much less time. It may be well worth the premium price.
Churches Around 50 Members
Let’s start with the small churches of around 50 people. This was about the size of one of my favorite places to worship, our home church. Do churches in this category need a PA system? The answer depends on the room you’re in and what you’re trying to accomplish.
If 50 people are spread out in a meeting room you may require a microphone so that everyone can hear what’s being sung or said without having to shout. PA systems aren’t just for making things louder (although they do), but they also can help speech and music to be more intelligible and prevent listeners fatigue.
For smaller churches, all-in-one systems are a good choice. If your music team has more voices and instruments than these systems can handle, you can opt for a separate audio mixer with powered loudspeakers. Don’t forget microphones. Dynamic, moving coil microphones will be more than adequate for these applications. Do not buy cheap microphones. Stay away from the “Buy 5 for $100” deals.
Wireless Microphones are a great option as they can save you time from cabling them up. On the other hand, you’ll incur more expense for the actual systems and the batteries that need to be replaced or recharged all the time. I would highly recommend digital wireless systems for ease of setup and sonic superiority.
Don’t forget to add a number of microphones, speaker stands, and cables. Buy spares along with rugged, reliable direct boxes. You may also want to purchase a snake if the mixer is going to be positioned at a distance from the platform.
For Larger Churches
For the larger church space, you’ll need more inputs and, if you’re running monitors for the band, more auxiliary units. Digital mixers are your best bet as they will have many useful benefits that aren’t found in analog mixers, like dynamics processors, graphic equalizers, time-based effects, recording capabilities internally or with external Mac/PC and one of the most useful features, remote mixing with an iPad. All of this in compact footprints.
There are some digital mixers that actually don’t look like a mixer at all. They look like a stage snake box. The idea here is that you place this on the stage and all of your microphones and instruments connect to the stage-box.
An iPad, a computer or a dedicated remote control is used to mix the service from anywhere in the room. That’s right, you can sit with your family and mix or adjust monitors while standing next to the musicians.
This saves so much time and money as you won’t need to buy or lay down a ridiculously heavy snake. Anybody who has ever carried a 24-channel, 100–foot long snake knows the feeling.
Monitor systems can be done very affordably by using headphone amps instead of floor monitors, which in small-to-medium size spaces will almost always interfere with the house mix.
Larger churches are able to get away with floor monitors as they have more area for the sound to disperse. Whereas many others churches, small to large are incorporating personal monitor mixers and earphones. They are priced from very affordable to expensive and offer the musicians the ability to not only create their own mix, but to save it. This is a huge time saver as it can almost eliminate the need for a soundcheck allowing more time for meet & greet, prayer, and fellowship.
If you have a portable church sound system situation, the band typically doesn’t have the same facility to rehearse in mid-week. If the worship team uses a personal monitor mixing system, they can practice virtually anywhere and then save the rehearsed mix in the personal monitor mixer for the weekend service. When they set the system up at the church, all they have to do is hit the recall button and they have immediate access to the mixes that they created earlier.
If given the choice between carrying (A) heavy floor monitors, amplifier and equalizer racks, and microphone and speaker cables, or (B) little plastic mixers that weigh 2 lbs., earphones, and an Ethernet cable, guess which one I would choose?
Lastly, We’ll Look At Loudspeakers
Powered loudspeakers (amplifiers are built-in) are the way to go for portable churches. This saves you the time of moving in/out amplifier racks and the extra cabling to connect to the church sound system. Again, depending on the size of the room, they come in different configurations and with different sizes, weights and ways to mount them. If you start with smaller loudspeakers, like a 2-way 10”or 12”, you can add a powered subwoofer to enhance the low frequencies, making your music sound fuller and richer. As your church grows, you’ll need more and larger speaker systems and the smaller loudspeakers can now be re-purposed and used as front fills, delay speakers, floor monitors or for outreach events and overflow.
About the author
Doug Gould is a veteran of the Pro Audio and Music Technology Industry for almost 30 years, serving in management roles at Shure, Tascam and E-Mu Systems and has been a worship leader, musician and tech at various churches for almost as long. He is CEO and Founder of Worship MD (Market Development) a consulting firm that helps professional audio and music technology manufacturers build relationships with the church through education. He may be contacted at Doug@worshipmd.com.