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Church Sound: Who Will Train The Tech Crew?

Why do so many churches purchase technical systems with no clue how to operate them?

By Gary Zandstra September 27, 2010

Photo: JDB Photos.

One of the most discussed topics in the world of church sound and A/V is training. 

Integrators are installing more sophisticated and complex systems as more churches are incorporating A/V and production into their weekly services. Churches spending big dollars on these installs are expecting big results. 

But a big problem rears it ugly head as volunteers will little or no training try to operate these highly technical systems.

Whose Problem Is It?
The technical advancements that have happened in the church market over the last 20 years have been astounding. 

The average church has gone from a six/eight channel mixer to 32 channels, and from maybe one wireless lavelier microphone to eight or more wireless systems of different types. The most profound change has been the move from piano, organ and a single “minister of music” leading worship to a much more contemporary worship style. 

Today, fir a typical worship service, it’s common to find a worship team consisting of four or more vocalists, worship leader, guitars (electric, acoustic and bass), keyboards, piano, and drums. This can also include a flute player, violinist, and even a brass section. 

Yes the typical worship has changed. Now add in to this the drama productions with four/five actors and numerous sound effects.  At times, a church can look and fell more like a cross between Broadway, a touring concert and a motivational seminar. 

I’m not going to go on and on with a dialogue as to what is proper and appropriate in this regard—it’s something for each congregation to decide based on their mission and calling. 

The point I’m focusing on is that in 20 or so short years, the church has had an expectation placed on it to provide relevant, entertaining, uplifting preplanned programming. And with commensurate production quality to match.

The A/V industry has not necessarily had a great track record on training the end-user. In fact, it doesn’t even have a great track record of training its own people. Up until recently, and the attempt at NICET certification and now C-EST, the industry was primarily made up of home-grown, self-taught personnel. I would even argue that it’s still that way because many integrators do not take advantage of the training offered by Industry associations like NSCA. 

In addition, a decent percentage of integrators installing systems in churches have no real experience in what the demands of a production-orientated church service actually are.

A friend of mine who has been a worship leader at churches that have spent millions of dollars on technical equipment stated: “It (mixing for church) is not like mixing for a two-hour rock concert. You have a worship team, band, sometimes orchestra, the spoken word, video elements, lots of transitions, drama, loud moments, quiet moments, even silence…and then to top it off you have unpaid volunteers who are the talent on the stage.”

I would add to that in most cases you also have an unpaid volunteer at the mix position.

Read the rest of this post


About Gary

Gary Zandstra
Gary Zandstra

Consultant, Dan Vos Construction, Writer for Worship Facilities and ProSoundWeb
Gary Zandstra has worked in church production and as an AV systems integrator for more than 35 years. He’s also contributed numerous articles to ProSoundWeb over the past decade.


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chris says

I can see your point and agree with most of it.  However, I’ve observed something that might shed light on how we got to this place.

You’re stating you think the church (money, building) is partially controlled by the sound guy.  As a sound guy, I find much of that isn’t “taken on” by the sound guy as much as it is “forced on” the sound guy.

It plays out like this…the sound guy is technically oriented…therefore if anything technical needs work, call the sound guy…web site, computer, etc.  Now the sound guy is also the IT guy, the web guy, etc.

Andrew says

Can I get an “Amen?!”

Thank you for writing this article!  I agree with the lack of training, energy, and appreciation for the church Audio engineer.

Chris, to your point, I think a lot of church sound engineers have been forced to do a lot of unnecessary tasks.  Things like IT, web stuff, and even operational tasks.  I think there has to be a fundamental shift within the church itself.  We need to start valuing the church audio volunteer.  There’s a Worship pastor to lead, teach, train, and help grow the members of the music ministry.  No church would be caught dead without one.  But what about a Technical Pastor?  There should be a knowledgeable person on the church staff who knows the equipment well, BUT who can also teach, train, and pastor their tech volunteers.

Gilbert says

As the audio/video guy in my church, there’s no question that, as much as possible, I want a distraction-free environment during our service. The Gospel is more than offensive enough without being able to see and hear everything properly.
So, yes, I do think more and better training is useful, and needed in the aspects described in this piece.

But, I truly believe that we need to put this in proper perspective. I’d much have a service completely focused on Jesus Christ than a less than perfect audio experience. That’s not saying we shouldn’t do our best to make it as good as possible; of course we should.
But I would say that the content of what is coming out of the system is far more important than having a “great experience”. Unless the audio is truly distracting, let’s get the content right first…before we try to improve the audio quality. Let Broadway be Broadway and let the church be the church. Neither should ever be confused for the other…then we can work on the training and quality. My pastor knows that if I hear anything counter to Scripture coming from the pulpit, that mute button gets immediately and liberally applied. Train your sound guy on that first!

Adam says

This is an awesome resource created by the sound guys at North Point Community Church in Atlanta. In a nutshell this is the answer to this article, it provides complete training for sound guys in Church environments.


Jim says

I’ve been at this church sound thing for around 25 years. My problem is the lack of cooperation from the worship team and the pastor. We pretty much have good equipment to work with. I do our training for our media team (sound, lights, computer, recording). But there was a time when I had to learn it on my own with no help at all. I understand the frustration that comes with trying to mix all those elements with no or very little training. I agree integrators should offer the training.
And just a side note: the guy who said he will mute his pastor if he doesn;t like what he says needs to check his attitude. He’s only there to help his pastor get his message across as clear and distraction free (noise, feedback, etc.)as possible. In fact our only job is to reinforce the worship leader and pastor. Our job is to be a blessing to them, not a censor.

Keith says

I’m a bit stunned that you would call on integrators to provide “complete comprehensive training” putting the responsibility of the church on a contractor.  By suggesting that it is the contractors responsibility to provide this you are creating an expectation that cannot possibly be met.  I’m all for good system training, but there must be an understanding that the owner will provide competent users for the system, so that contractors are training users how the system works, not how to mix sound, run video, etc. 

What constitutes “comprehensive training”?  You seem to be implying that the church could employ an eight year old to operate a $500k system, and breaking it would still be the contractors fault and responsibility.  Negligence and ignorance by a church shouldn’t be the responsibility of others.  I suppose that’s the American way though.

To make the point clear, what you are suggesting is equivalent to stating; Ford Motor Company ought to be held responsible for every auto accident that occurs in one of their vehicles, and it should be their responsibility as a provider of goods to properly train every driver of every car it sells.

You go so far as to suggest that even “operator error” be the responsibility of the contractor.  So, if I push a wrong button on the console, or the mix sounds bad, I can call you every week at no charge to come out and “fix” it?  Sweet! You’re hired.

stephen says

The one issue that I felt was missing was a lack of professional relationships between local pro-sound resources and the church technical team.  And it is true - manufactures are not interested in supporting their products once sold to the end user.  We experienced this with ETC’s Smartfade ML lighting console.  It took over two years to resolve issues with them that our local dealer could not resolve.  It wasn’t until we pushed the issue by making preparations to return the board that ETC finally took notice.  Even then, it took two months for them to resolve our issues.
  I do not agree that there are no resources available for training a volunteer technical team.  The trick is to obtain and develop passionate members on a technical team.  They are the ones that will hone their skills and become great volunteer techs.  We start looking for those ‘potential techs’ when they are in Jr. and Sr. High School.  We have a definite training path for our techs and by the time they are ready for the adult tech team we know who is talented, gifted, driven and has the potential for passion in this ministry. 
  Finally, it is imperative that the tech team remain invisible during a major event.  Anything less is unacceptable when you are part of a team that brings the Body into the Throne room of our Lord.  It is a given that mistakes will be made - especially by new techs - but the bar still has to remain high so that the message of the Gospel doesn’t get lost due to technical distractions.

Gary Zandstra says

Thanks for the great comments.  Keith, good analogy with the ford car.  Ford does need to provide basic operation information on the vehicle (usually an owners manual), but the also are relatively assured that the operator has a liscence, and therefore propoerly trained in the operation.  On sound systems one does not have to take any formal training, or for that matter any training, so part of my putting pressure of the contractor is really for their own self preservation. 

I have so many time heard one of the system that my guys at Parkway have installed sound mediocre.  only to go back and check things out to find that eq, gain structure and even basic board layout and labeling are wacked out.  All operator issues.

Because of instances like that we have tried to raise the bar and provide additional info, training and support for our clients.  Some of it is included in the system, some falls loosely under the “marketing” category and some we bill for.  Our main objective is to try to insure the best we can that our systems always sound great.

Gilbert,  yes every sound member and for that fact, everyone involved in serving in the church should be spiritually mature and receieve spitirual training.  However, in regards to the mute button, I can say that my understanding of leadership and who God puts incharge (authority) over us would lead me to confront my pastor in private.  This would insure that I did not take something he said the wrong way, perhaps missing the context that he was saying it in because I was distracted for a moment. 

Thanks all for the great comments!

biton walstra says

hi gary,

thanks to bring this subject up as this is what i do in my church; training people to do the sound, microphone technic, sermon recording etc.

i’m a sound engineer since 1978 and did lots of different things in sound, well i can say every thing smile

so now i’m training people and hoop that when i get some more spare time going to train people from other churches to.

many thanks,

brad000123 says

Be careful here.  This really needs to be done professionaly if you want to avoid over-treatment.  I have a full on stage acoustic treatment that we did by ourselves, and our sanctuary has concrete block walls.  Just the opposite of your problem, we have so much sound damping material on stage (carpet, wall treatments, etc.) that a lot of the sound coming from the monitors gets absorbed by the stage floor and stage walls.  My up front vocalists are getting more reverb off the sanctuary back wall than they are getting from the monitors right in front of them.  If I get the monitors loud enough to overcome this, then I end up with muddy, barrel sounding lows bleeding off into the crowd.  I’m sure we should get an acoustic treatment to the sanctuary to help this.  I’m just saying, don’t overdo it if you’re doing it on your own.  You can buy enough acoustic damping material to actually kill a good natural reverb that you need on stage in order to create fill for your vocalists and musicians.

brad000123 says

I’m afraid this article didn’t illuminate much - other than the name of the hall, and the name of the final selection.

“Many floor monitors perform well when an artist stands at a microphone, but not when the artist sits down. Our waveguide does not have this problem.”

How exactly does that affect the monitor’s performance? Is it optimized for the sitting position?

And do “nose flutes from Borneo” sound better through this monitor? If so, why?
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ali503 says

Attitude is always pleasant to enjoy the fruits of our labours, of course. Sometimes, however, it seems that whatever we do, it’s just not enough to be able to afford that new car or that foreign holiday. So, what do we usually do then? We work harder, longer; we increase the stress on our minds and bodies; we spend less time with our families and friends; we become more irascible and less likeable people.
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juliarobert says

it is true, but it’s also true that if your stress level goes up when you walk into that sanctuary, you’re better off leaving it all behind. That’s not what serving is about. testking mcsa/70-158/70-162/70-169/70-177/70-178/70-181/70-235/

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