When working with sound at church, we all know just how many things can go wrong. The kicker is that usually when they go wrong, it invariably seems to be at the worst possible moment.
Here's a checklist for evaluating distraction potential:
1) Was your sound system designed by a reputable audio consultant who understands the needs of the church, the acoustical properties of the sanctuary, and the capabilities of those who operate the system?
2) Was your sound system installed by a certified individual employed by a reputable systems contracting firm?
3) Is the company that installed the system still in business, and involved in your additions and changes?
4) Has your system been installed in phases or added to over time?
5) Are system operators well trained and knowledgeable?
6) Does your sanctuary's physical layout require a lot of audio equipment to be moved around and re-connected between services?
7) Does your church struggle to find trained, motivated people to run the system?
8) Does your system produce random hums and buzzes, level changes, dropouts, crackles, distortions, pops, feedback or other noises that seem to go unexplained?
9) Do you own and consult instruction manuals and documentation on your equipment and system?
10) Is your system subject to regular maintenance inspections?
If you answered "yes" to checklist items 1, 2, 3, 5, 9 and 10 and no to the rest then your system is probably in good shape.
If not, it's time to consider taking the proper steps in making sure your church is a distraction-free place to worship.
The church I belong to, like most, doesn't have a great sound system. We sure would like to have one, but like many, we've chosen to "make do" over the years.One day, I asked the senior pastor what his primary goal would be if we could get a new system. His reply? "We need something that would cause no distractions."
Of course, I was expecting him to mention things like audio quality, ease of use, uniform volume levels at every seat, wireless features, and so on. So his answer surprised me at first. But after thinking it over, I realized he was exactly right. As people who work with sound, we focus first on features and technology.
On the other hand, pastors often consider aspects that can have a negative impact on a service, which ultimately detracts from worship and that's why we're all there in the first place! Everything else comes second.
My train of thought continued. Can a well-designed modern sound system, with simplified controls and intuitive applications, lead to fewer problems and therefore less distractions?
The majority of modern audio components perform far better than their predecessors, due to superior design and manufacture. Not to mention they're newer and thus less susceptible to problems. As to the issue of whether they're "easier" to operate, I believe that's a subjective opinion of each system operator.
But this did lead me to consider another potential source of distractions, and where they often originate when it comes to sound: the training (and lack thereof) of system operators.
Beyond training, how well are most churches equipped to schedule and manage volunteer (or even paid) system operators?
Now, let's backtrack for a moment.
As noted, the church I belong to doesn't have a "whiz-bang" sound system, but it does get the job done, and we work very hard to make sure it causes as few distractions as possible. This is because we invested in quality components, which were installed by a qualified A/V systems contractor.
Not only did we choose to go this direction with the system when it was new, but we also rely on this professional to handle any upgrades of components, to fix problems that come up, and to assist with "check-ups" on a regular basis. A little preventative maintenance goes a long way.
I understand the temptation to try to purchase new systems and products in the least expensive manner possible, and to "self-install" them. This is natural we all, churches included, want the best bang for our buck.
But if there's one absolute fact I've learned after working in audio for nearly 30 years, it's this: one of the best ways to eliminate potential distractions is to have a system designed and installed by trained professionals.
Installation mistakes such as poor grounding, sloppy wiring and terminations, improper cable selection and a host of other little things, can all add up to one gigantic mess. And these types of mistakes tend to be fruitful and multiply!
Worse yet, I've walked into churches and have seen loudspeakers that are not designed to be suspended being hung by eyebolts screwed into the side of their particleboard cabinets. I just hope that these "accident waiting to happen" distractions don't occur during a service.
Chuck Wilson works with sound at his church, was a sound contractor for more than 20 years, and is now the executive director of the National Systems Contractors Association (NSCA). This article courtesy of ProSoundWeb Church Sound. It also appeared on Worship TechDecisions.