Before electricity, churches were architecturally designed to carry sound and light into the worship space. While modern architects often factor natural sound and window fixtures into their church designs, many sanctuaries are nothing more than drywall boxes with vaulted ceilings that may carry sound, but not well, and certainly not with clarity. The windows along the sides of the nave help illuminate hymnals, but without large stained-glass expanses featured above the chancel, seeing the pastor or the altar can be a challenge.
Enter the modern lighting and sound reinforcement system. Some form of modern sound and lighting system can be found in almost every church today. Whether you are seeking the latest digital sound and LED lighting system or just need to amplify a single microphone, chances are you will engage in purchasing sound or lighting equipment for your sanctuary at some point.
For most, this can be an intimidating process. A quick glance on the web reveals as many brands and varieties of microphone as there are brands and varieties of shampoo in one aisle at Walmart. Don’t even get me started on amplifiers and speakers. In this post, I’m not going to try to make you an expert on any of these things (especially shampoo). I am going to point you in the right direction and give you some tips on how to proceed, hopefully with a bit of wisdom. This post covers phase one of the process; at the end of the post, you can download the full ebook to learn about phases two and three.
It seems so simple, but quite often, we start doing Google searches for microphones and sound mixers before we really have an idea of what we actually need. You may want to get input from parties with buy-in—that is, from people who actively use the equipment or experience the issues you are seeking to fix or update. This may be your worship leader, deacons, the sound person, or specific congregants.
A needs analysis allows you to hone in on a defined list of problems that a sound or lighting professional can use to develop a solution. A church might be getting complaints that some people can’t hear the pastor very well during the sermon and jump straight to picking out new speakers, when the real issue is that the equalization settings on the sound mixer are off.
When developing a needs analysis, start with the basic problem (e.g., congregants can’t hear the sermon very well) and add as many details to the problem as possible (e.g., only congregants who sit in the back right corner can’t hear). It’s also ok to include wants on this list (e.g., while we’re at it, we’d like to add the ability to record the services).
Armed with your needs analysis, it’s time to consult a sound or lighting professional. There are three roles to be filled in the rest of this process: consultant, sales person, and installer. Some churches may be limited in filling these three roles with a local person or company. Because of this, you may end up with a single individual taking care of all three. This is a business transaction—one that could cost you a lot of extra dollars if you blindly use the local guy just because he’s the only local option.
To begin, I would at least give the local person a shot. He or she has the benefit of being able to stand in your space, analyze your needs against what he or she is seeing and hearing, and make recommendations based on those observations. Before you call this person out to your church, ask about the consulting fees and plan accordingly.
At this point in the process, you are not creating a list of things to buy—something a sales person will very naturally want to launch into. You are simply looking for an overall consultation on what is necessary to fix the problems in your needs analysis. It may not require a purchase, but rather some time from your consultant to adjust your existing equipment to fix the problem.
Once you have a recommendation from your consultant, you need to pay them for their time. This removes any perceived obligation you may have to also purchase from them. This will include the person’s consulting fee as well as any additional time they spent making adjustments to your system. You should request the purchase recommendations in writing so you have them to refer to, and you can send them on to a sales rep if need be.
To learn how to work with sales reps, manage installations, and navigate the rest of the process, read the ebook “Purchasing Audio & Visual Equipment: A Guide for Churches.”