Recently I've spoken with many people
who've told me of the sound system they put in their church. When
I ask who did the design and installation work, they've been replying
"oh, we did it all ourselves--we couldn't afford to hire
anyone." After a little while they begin to tell of some
of the problems they've got. "There are areas where you can't
hear a thing and some spots it's so loud no one even sits there."
"Yeah, we put in a mono cluster and then a left-right system
for the music. It's funny though, there's a lot of comb filtering
and it just sounds awful. We're planning on taking the whole thing
apart and starting over." Or what about "We figured
we could do the work ourselves to help save money. Some of the
church members spent days at church soldering those pesky XLR
connectors! Unfortunately, we've still got quite a few that just
don't work at all, some that are intermittent, and some that pick
up great hums, buzzes, and the occasional radio station."
Why do churches put themselves through these things? Its
as though it's better to save the money than have it done right!
Now, don't get me wrong! This article isn't about self-promotion;
it's about education and being humble. If you're not educated
in something, you should be humble enough to admit it. Which is
better--to spend the church's money on a company that knows how
to do the job properly the first time, or on pieces of a system
that are put in a jumble by the members of the congregation? There
are plenty of knowledgeable men and women in every church. Plenty
of them are familiar with electronics and possibly even sound
reinforcement systems. These people should know their limits;
they should know when to call it quits, they should know when
it's time to call in someone who does this type of work for a
When the power goes out or the water gets turned off, do we all
start climbing the electrical poles and digging holes in the ground?
No, we wait (as patiently as humanly possible) for those people
trained in such repairs to show up and do their work. When your
air conditioner goes out and the repair person says you need a
new compressor motor, do you argue with him? Do you say "well,
we're going to wait and see if the system will work properly without
it, thanks anyway."? Do you tell your car mechanic "oh,
leave the dirty fuel filter in--I replaced it myself a year ago,
I'm sure it's still fine (even though they just told you it isn't)"?
No, we have the compressor motor replaced and we have the fuel
filter changed. We admit we don't know anything about these disciplines
and we let those that do know tell us what to do, and we follow
Then there's church sound reinforcement. We get a call that so-and-so's
kids choir can't be heard and that the sound system just isn't
working. We get to the church to find that the kids are standing
in a straight line left to right on the platform, and there's
one microphone on a stand 20 feet away. After explaining how the
laws of physics don't allow for such an arrangement, the church
then asks if we'd submit a proposal for "the right microphone
and microphone stand that will do the job in this situation".
No matter what's explained or demonstrated, the church is convinced
there IS a way to make it work.
How about the church that has two speakers set up in a left-right
configuration. The speakers are set on chairs at the front of
the church. They complain that the people in the front pews get
blasted by the loud volume, and the people in the back can't hear.
The people in the middle say the volume is fine, but they can't
understand half of what's said. We again explain the facts of
physics and how having speakers in more than one location causes
comb filtering and that of course people standing 5 feet in front
of a speaker will complain that it's loud. The church says they
understand all of these things; they say they understand why a
cluster is better. However, when all is said and done, they add
"oh, and our mixer isn't big enough, we'd really like to
get a new mixer." After taking an hour to explain how their
problems are speaker related, they decide the fix will cost too
much, and so they want to buy a new mixer instead. "Hey,
the car engine doesn't run, but boy did we get an awesome paint
job done on the body!"
If you ever intend to fix your problems, you must do just that--fix
the problems! Little upgrades here and there won't make the big
problems go away.
So why do churches ask for advice, get it, and then not follow
it? I don't know. It always hurts to see a church with bad sound
problems after they've been told how to fix them. They still complain
that it's bad, but they're unwilling to get it fixed. How many
people are turned away because they can't hear? How many visitors
walk out after their first visit and never return because the
sound was so obviously awful?
In the secular community, sound contractors say a lot of their
clients are churches. However, they also say that their worst
clients are churches. Some churches are always looking for freebies,
always expecting handouts. As a Christian business man, All Church
Sound is part of my ministry. That doesn't mean it's free. Many
pastors call their work their "ministry". This is fine--but
many people think the word "ministry" means "free
work". Pastors get paid for their work, don't they? In the
same way, All Church Sound can be considered a ministry--a ministry
that requires the financial support of it's clients to keep it
running. We call that financial support our hourly rate. My time
is precious. I would prefer to spend it in ways that benefit myself
and my family and friends. I'd be happy to give freely of my time
to help churches with their acoustical and sound system problems,
but then I wouldn't have a place to live, food to eat, or a car
to drive! One of my favorite quotes is "You get what you
pay for". If you pay nothing, you get nothing. Another is
"Anything free is worth what you pay for it." That is,
if you pay nothing, it's worth nothing. It's easier to miss a
free football game than it is to miss one that you paid $150 to
see. It's easier to daydream and not listen to someone when you're
not paying them to speak to you. As soon as they begin to charge
you, you listen. This is true with every discipline. Information
can be given for free or it can be charged for. Unfortunately
free advice isn't worth much at all because people just don't
Back to the original problem--How to know when you need to ask
for help. Simple--if it's not your full time job or if you haven't
been trained to do it, you need to let someone else do the work.
Hiring someone to do the job will cost more up front than doing
it yourself, but consider the cost of having to continually re-do
it because it wasn't done right the first time. Some churches
can financially afford to do that; most can't. For those that
can--is this a wise way to handle your finances?
If you find yourself in a situation where you're not sure what
to do, ask for help--hire a professional.