A pastor and friend brought up a great question in response to last week’s post:

“93% of churches in America are under 350 people in size. Most of those do not have the budget or the pool of volunteers to use a "professionally trained” sound tech. They simply are looking for a warm body and don’t have the money to invest in training or hiring someone outside of the worship minister. What can they realistically do? How can they address the “too loud issue”? Is there a stop-gap solution? When they can’t get someone in to address the mix, is turning it down a temporary solution?“

It’s a valid point. My suggestion to bring in a professional audio tech, acoustician, systems engineer, etc is great… if you’ve got the cash. What if you don’t?

I can think of a lot of specific gear and tactical advice I’d like to give, but one thought comes to mind that kind of sums it all up:

Work up to the line, not down from it.

A pattern I see a lot in smaller churches:
- picture the end result
- list the components in the picture
- go to the store or on Monster.com to acquire needed components
- realize a huge discrepancy between available funds and actual cost of the industry standard version of needed components
- (*here’s where the mistake happens) Create an alternative list of needed components - same number of items, same type, but drastically reduced price and, consequently, quality
- Remove professional installation from the plan - read lots of books and go the DIY route
- Experience years of disappointment and frustration

Look at the image in your mind. They have drums. We have drums. They have 4 speakers and 2 subs. We have 4 speakers and 2 subs. They have a 5 piece rock band. We have a 5 piece rock band. They have a young worship pastor. We have a young worship pastor… you get the idea. But their setup cost them $400k and yours cost $10k. It may look like you have all of the same stuff, but you don’t have what they have.

Right. Because you can’t afford what they have (at least not right now). But we feel we need it to look a certain way, so we sacrifice quality. That’s really our only solution, and that’s where our problem lies.

Here’s what I’d suggest: If you have $10k but you know that everything you want, done right, will cost $100k, start with less. Believe it or not, you don’t need a 5 piece rock band to start a church or to be relevant to a younger generation (baby boomers, maybe ;)). And if you don’t have a 5 piece rock band you don’t need as big of a PA. Instead, you can afford a smaller, high quality PA with good even coverage (and installed by a professional) for much less money. If you have a smaller PA and 1/5th as many instruments to mix, you don’t need as experienced of an audio tech. Instead, have a professional company come out and set up your PA for the pastor, worship leader, and the guitar or piano that you’re starting with. Have him show your 2 low-experience techs what it should sound like and ask them to reproduce that every week. With a smaller band and a more conservative PA, there are far less variables from week to week. That requires less experienced audio techs. In this case, you’re not sacrificing quality on any of the components. You’re just reducing the amount of components implemented on day 1. Now you’re doing the little you do very well. That’s something to build from. It won’t distract from your message, and since you’re doing something high quality, you’ll attract artists and techs (artists are attracted to high quality things). Over time, you can add components because your church is growing, you’re attracting artists and techs, and you can actually afford to do it right.

I know the tension to want to do it all on day 1. I see it in our church. But I believe "going big” on day 1 can be more about the leadership’s identity than about actually growing a healthy church. What organism are you aware of that is born full-grown?

Regardless of motivation, if you give me the option between a phenomenal worship leader and her guitar through a well designed and configured, modest PA (mixing is almost a non-issue in this case) vs a full band of so-so musicians through a pieced together (loud but imbalanced) PA, mixed by a so-so mix engineer, I’ll take the solo worship leader every single time.

Because people don’t come to church to be technically impressed. They come looking for something real and meaningful. If we spend our energy and focus trying to impress them (or ourselves), we’ll lose out on a much better thing. Instead, let’s use what we have and use it well. Work up to the line, over time. That’s real.

What About the Church of 175? (a follow up to my previous post)