When our congregation approved the construction of a new sanctuary, my pastor told me that he wanted me to be in charge of the selection and installation of the PA system. I immediately said a very definite “NO!” Several passionate conversations later, he asked, “Why is it that you are so unwilling to take charge of this project?”

I told him, “Because I know how churches operate. They will spend a million dollars on a building, but won’t spend 100 bucks on a PA system. No thanks.”

His reply “That is exactly why I want you to be in charge.” And so, kicking and screaming, I was put in charge of the project.

So—how do you start from scratch? Where does one begin? First of all—PRAY. You will need wisdom, patience, tolerance, and grace for this job.

There are two approaches:

1. Do it yourself or 2. Find a consultant. Even with all the experience I have had in this field, I strongly recommend the second alternative.

The Best Approach to a New PA System

Choose a firm or consultant to help your church implement a new PA system should. This expert should:

1. Not be tied to one company brand

Don’t choose a salesperson for a name brand

2. Thoroughly knowledgeable in the latest developments of sound equipment

You don’t want your brand new sanctuary to have out of date equipment. But also, don’t be smitten by the latest fad. Unless you are willing to be a guinea pig, stick with ‘tried and true’ equipment. You want a workhorse—not a racehorse!

3. Be well acquainted with all the electronics involved

Knowing how to put all the components together strategically is vital for a unified system with good church sound.

4. Understand acoustics and their relationship to the sound system

Acoustical design and implementation is tricky business. This is where an expert can really shine.

5. Understand your worship style—both current and potential future changes

While it’s nearly impossible to predict the future, thinking ahead as best you can is vital. If your church is traditional with a grand piano or an organ–this needs to be taken into consideration with a new church sound system.

6. Be familiar with the unique requirements of a church

Anyone who volunteers to run sound needs to have training. There are unique requirements here to take into consideration.

7. Be willing to give references

The best way to find someone with these qualifications is to ask other churches who they have utilized. Be sure to talk to several references before you choose your consultant.

Ideally, you should be bringing the consultant on board as soon as you have blueprints approved. It is much easier to plan the installation at the very beginning, rather than trying to fit things in after the drywall is in place.

PA Issues to Think Through:

  • Where will the pulpit/platform be located?
  • What style of worship services will you have?
  • Traditional or contemporary have vastly different requirements.
  • Where will the primary instruments go?
  • Where will other musicians place themselves?
  • What about special programs like Christmas and Easter children’s productions?
  • Will you be recording the congregation singing?

If your worship utilizes drums, think through the process carefully. I strongly recommend upgrading to a digital drum set. Many headaches can be avoided!

Lately, it seems that every new or remodeled sanctuary has microphones permanently installed to hang from the ceiling. It looks like a wonderful idea, but do yourself a favor and DON’T do this. Ask churches that have lived with this arrangement for several years before you commit. I have never found a church that did not regret the limitations of this technique. Good boom microphone stands are not cheap, but they are worth their weight in gold. New designs are very slim and almost invisible-and the versatility is priceless.

Microphones

While we are discussing microphones, consider current and future needs. Does your pastor stand stationary behind the pulpit or does he/she like to move about? Are visuals used? Be sure and consult with the pastor—he/she may simply be adapting their style to current limitations.

I recommend a high-quality wireless microphone system for the pastor in the initial purchase. The over-the-ear type has worked the best for everyone concerned at our church, but be sure and buy quality. It seems that no other single piece of equipment has such a wide array of choices ranging down to outright junk. Again, ask other churches about their experience.

There is one more bug-a-boo you need to be aware of here. Wireless mics use FM frequencies—that’s right—some of the same frequencies that may in use by a TV station 30 miles from your church. Be certain that you can exchange the unit you choose for a different frequency if you encounter problems.

The number of additional microphones needed will depend on how many singers and musicians will be involved. Diplomacy is required when suggesting that all musicians leave their amplifiers at home. But it is much more manageable to use a direct input into the system for each instrument. It is better to have extra channels on your board than to wish you did.

Other Ministry Considerations

What type of ancillary ministries will you have? Will you be recording the congregational singing—or just the people on stage? Will you be making audio or video recordings of your gatherings? How many copies will you need? More and more churches today are doing “internet broadcasting.” Consider this as an option and think through it now. The more of these questions that are answered in the planning process, the happier you will be with your final system.
Your congregation is not getting any younger. There is no better time to select and install a system for the hearing impaired.

At some point in the process, the subject of money will come up. It is very useful to make lists:

1. Requirements or needs—these are non-negotiable.
2. Wants or desires—would be nice
3. Future additions—getting these on the table with your finance committee now makes it much easier when you approach the expenditure next year.

The purchase of a PA system an important task. This info will make it easier and hopefully help your church make choices that reflect good stewardship of its financial resources.

Wes Lambert

Author: Wes Lambert

Wes has been involved with electronics and PA systems for as long as he can remember. He is currently the tech director for his home church as well as the worship leader.

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