Almost every weekend, I attend worship services in a different House of Worship (HOW). I am either attending the service for my own refreshment, observing a service so I can develop a proposal for system upgrades or sitting with the local tech crew while we complete the final commissioning of their new sound system. By observing more than 40 systems each year, I can tell you that there are a lot of bad sound systems, there are a lot of OK sound systems and there are many good sound systems. But I believe that only a small percentage of high-quality sound systems are in use in HOWs in the United States.
I believe that every worship leader wants a studio-quality sound system. Then why doesn’t every HOW have a high-quality system? Unfortunately, there are factors that hinder the adoption of high-quality sound systems: perspective, budget and acoustics. I will explain.
- First: Drawn from talking with hundreds of HOW leaders, their primary concerns are system reliability, volume and ease of use. These are valid points. These points also impact the decision-making process holistically for better and worse. Thus, their perspective of the elements that constitute a high-quality system most likely vary from ours.
- Second: The budget plays a significant role in the pursuit of high-quality sound. When a HOW begins to consider upgrades, they try to set a fixed amount for technology purchases. They often determine the budget without seeking consultation from credible sources. When they seek counsel, they describe their desire for the ultimate system that provides high-intelligibility sound to every seat in their venue. But as the project emerges, and when the vast financial requirements to pay for other facility upgrades come to light, the sound system budget could take the hit.
- Third: If the sound budget takes a hit, then, more than likely, the budget for addressing the room acoustics is often deleted altogether, or a “we will address that after we get into the building” mentality is developed. As we all know, the best equipment on earth will not sound good in a room with poor acoustics.
I do not mean to assert negativity toward the process HOW leaders follow when purchasing new gear. They are doing their best with what they understand. I believe that HOW leaders seek the very best systems possible. So how can we help HOW leaders to adopt the high-quality sound systems (and other media systems) they desire?
My short answer is that we need to help them understand that a sound system is more than a utility. Instead, it is a communication medium that is very important to congregants who currently attend worship. Sure, this is a challenge. But here are a few very down-to-earth approaches that my company has incorporated that have helped us achieve better success.
We work hard to explain that merely setting a fixed percentage of a budget for audio and video acquisition does not genuinely make sense in the 21st century because low-quality and high-quality media directly impact the credibility of the worship experience. We explain to HOW leaders that there are five primary spaces where people typically hear high-quality audio that they use to judge the worship experience: Congregants listen to CD-quality music in their cars, they listen to high-quality audio on their smartphones and other portable electronic devices with headphones, they hear high-fidelity sound through their surround systems at home, and they hear high-quality audio in movie theaters.
In some cases, we make our point by taking the HOW leader for a ride in his/her car (or my vehicle) and simply playing the radio. We purposely listen to the high-quality sound as we return to the parking area of the house of worship. We point out this is what congregants experience as they approach the venue. Then we walk into their worship space and listen to the existing sound system. Most of the time, the HOW system does not sound good compared to the car. They get the point.
Then we explain that most successful HOWs do not purchase a sound system merely for sound reinforcement. Instead, they are investing in a communication medium that is vital for sharing messages effectively and efficiently with very savvy 21st century congregants.
Once the HOW leader understands these key concepts, we have found that the leadership is more likely to allow us to develop a realistic budget that will pay for a system design, a high-quality sound system, installation of the system, training to use the system and acoustical treatment of the room.
As a person of faith, I believe that sharing messages of hope and peace are vital to the human race. Thus, I believe that HOWs should invest in high-quality sound systems that enable them to share their messages clearly. I will never accept that “good” is good enough. That is what I believe. Please tell me what you believe. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.