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Church Sound: How Many Hats Do You Wear?

Whatever the size of the church or demands on the crew, the standard should be a solid technical performance completely free of distractions.

I find an increasing trend is occurring in the smaller church arena. The sound person is no longer just the sound person. As video projection has become very affordable, the sound person is now also the “PowerPoint” person.

This person (the “AV tech”) has to not only be concern about the quality of the mix, but also whether the right words to a song are on the projection screen.

What has happened is the expectation for great music and production has pushed all the way down to small churches. “Mega” churches usually have multiple people on staff to handle all of the technical production elements. These churches also seem very willing to contract (pay) outside professionals to “make church happen.”

The mid-sized church (500-1,500) has moved to multiple volunteers that handle different disciplines of the technical area (sound, lighting, and video) and will have a technical director (sometimes paid, sometime not) that oversees all of the production elements.

This technical director will make sure all of the volunteers are scheduled and also trained on equipment. Additional responsibilities often include making sure that the equipment is in working order and acting as technical producer for worship services.

Meanwhile, many of the parishioners of the smaller church (500 or less) have attended a worship service or production at a mega or mid-sized church and thus the expectation level is raised. That expectation rightly or not is then placed on the church sound operator, now the “AV tech.”

This person must now not only make sure that everything is working properly; he/she also has to execute operation at the level of the larger churches that have full time staff. This is obviously not an easy task for a one-person band, often also working with inferior equipment.

Is it fair that parishioners of a small church expect the same quality of production as they’ve experienced at a larger church? I believe that on a certain level the answer is yes.

I’m not referring to production elements like moving lights, slick pre-produced videos and such. Rather, I’m talking about delivering excellence.

For the sake of this discussion, excellence is doing the best you can with what you have, every chance you get. For the small church, this could mean that the sound person shows up and sets up ahead of time, rehearses with the musicians, has a great attitude and pays attention during the entire service.

The sound person would also be responsible for making sure that the system is functioning properly during the week, and getting it professionally serviced if not. Most importantly, an additional volunteer needs to be recruited to run the lyrics or “PowerPoint.”

These actions should lead to a worship service that is free from distractions, such as pops, clicks or hum. However, a part of these actions is ensuring that every time a microphone is to be used it’s turned on and ready to go.

So, what does all of this mean for your church? If you’re keeping score, how many of these “lofty” expectations are your technical ministry hitting? Are you delivering excellence?

I’m not the best sound engineer out there; in fact I’ve heard many mixes that sound better than mine. But I have had offered many opportunities that others have not, based on the fact that I usually don’t miss cues (all the right mics are on at the right time) or have any feedback (I know the limits of the system).

A consistent mix will win over a great mix where cues are missed and feedback occurs.

So whatever the size of the church, the standard should be the same: a solid technical performance completely free of distractions.

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