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Church Sound: The Cost Of Getting It Wrong

Get it done right is not cheap -- but it will actually be less expensive in the long run

By Mike Sessler August 29, 2018

Image courtesy of Amigos3D

A few years ago, Tim Cool from Visioneering posted a thought-provoking post of the same name (The Cost Of Getting It Wrong).

It’s very good, and I suggest you go read the whole thing. He asks several questions related to staffing, building and designing.

As I thought about what he wrote, one particular question resonated with me:

What will it cost to have the wrong audio and acoustics in your worship center? Again, this is not just the cost to fix the issue, but the frustration quotient and emotional capital. What are they worth?

This is one of the things I see churches missing regularly. How many churches have to build multi-million dollar buildings that sound terrible because they didn’t want to spend $20,000 on an acoustician? How many churches have installed hundreds of thousands of dollars of AVL gear that doesn’t work properly because they didn’t want to spend any money on design?

This article is provided by ChurchTechArts.

As someone who’s mission in life seems to be helping churches undo the bad tech decisions they’ve made (I’m sort of like a Mike Holmes of the church world), I can tell you the cost of getting it wrong is pretty high.

In my church, for example, I spent three years pulling out tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment that wasn’t thought through, and thus didn’t work. And of course, in addition to shelving all that old gear, we’ve had to spend money to buy new stuff.

It’s easy to see how churches fall into this trap. Most times, senior leadership has no idea how any of that AVL technology works, so they rely on either their staff—if they have them—or well-meaning volunteers when they have needs in the tech department. One of three things usually happen at this point.

Potential Outcomes

First Possibility: The staff or volunteers don’t know what they’re doing and ask for the budget to hire someone who does. Money is tight, so that request is denied, with the comment, “Just find a good deal and make it work.”

Second Possibility: The staff or volunteers don’t know what they are doing but don’t want anyone to know that, so they just try to figure it out. With the knowledge that money is tight, they look for a great deal and try to make it work.

Third Possibility: The staff or volunteers don’t know what they’re doing and ask for the budget to hire someone who does.

That request is approved, a knowledgeable consultant or integrator is brought in, and a well-designed system is implemented correctly.

Sadly, this seems rare.

I supposed there is a fourth possibility: The staff members or volunteers actually know what they are doing and put together a great system.

That does happen, though it’s mostly in larger churches with highly qualified technical staff. But as more churches are jettisoning their tech staff, this will happen less and less.

In the first two scenarios, you can guess that the results are not going to be good. Those are the “systems” (and I use that term loosely) that I end up tearing out.

Those systems are very expensive because they are paid for twice; once for the first attempt, and once again for the proper fix. Of course that assumes it only gets “fixed” once.

We Have To Fix This

Look, the resistance churches have to paying for good design has to end. We’ve all seen it, and we all know it’s a big problem. There is no savings to paying for something twice. It’s just math; and while I don’t expect senior leadership of the average church to be math wizards, it should be pretty easy to explain that 2x is more than 1x.

This also means we as technical artists—both paid and volunteer—have to take the lead here. I’m not saying you need to bring in a specialist every time you want to buy a vocal mic; but if you’re looking to install an IMAG system, know your limits. If you haven’t designed a well-functioning system or three, bring in someone who has. We have to stop just connecting a bunch of equipment together, hoping it will work.

For us in the technical world, this means holding our ground when we say we need design help. We simply must be willing to say, “I don’t know enough about this to be confident in designing a system. I need to bring in some help.” And we must hold to that position even when they say no. If you don’t think you can properly do the project, don’t do the project. Stop wasting your church’s money.

Those in senior leadership have to get over wanting everything for free. Because, guess what, it’s not free. When you try to pinch every penny in the design process, you cost yourself and your church thousands, tens of thousands or maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars. Don’t be that leader.

Get it done right, not cheap. Believe me, it actually will be less expensive in the long run.

About Mike

Mike Sessler
Mike Sessler

Maker of Magic for Velocity Pro Systems
Mike has been involved with church sound and live production for more than 25 years, and is the author of the Church Tech Arts blog. Based in Nashville, he serves as the Maker of Magic for Velocity Pro Systems, which provides design-build production solutions for churches and other facilities.


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Gary says

Another 4th possibility - The staff or volunteers don’t know what they’re doing and ask for the budget to hire someone who does.

That request is approved, a knowledgeable consultant or integrator is brought in, and a well-designed system is presented but is deem too expensive and your are back to possibility #2

Bob Griffin, CTS says

Couldn't agree more ... it can be quite challenging to get folks to realize that spending more up front actually saves $$ in the long run.
Sadly, too often there's also an Option 3.5 which is the funds are allocated and the design is done and then is incorrectly / poorly installed by either shoddy or unethical contractors who prey on the church's limited knowledge base.

Dennis Buhrmann says

Thank you Mike, we just have to keep telling them "Lets do it right" until they've all heard it again and again..

Isaac Da Silva says

Mike how would you go about finding a qualified audio engineer to work in a church. I'm trying to propose the idea to my church and see if we can afford anything. We are in the Fort Myers, Florida area.

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