Another Sunday has passed, and brought with it another round of congregation members complaining that they cannot understand the pastor during his sermon. Or maybe it's that the music doesn't sound "right." Possibly they cannot even hear at all where they are sitting.
The single most important thing you can do to ensure a successful audio upgrade is to plan and communicate early and often.
Inadequate coverage from speakers, blown or nonfunctioning equipment, or even a poorly designed and calibrated audio system can lead to these issues.
The big question is, "What can I do to make sure we can upgrade our audio system, before it gets this bad?" I've seen it happen in churches time and time again. The pastor or some other decision-maker has finally been faced with too many complaints, and decides to do something about it. However, he doesn't have the slightest clue what he needs to do to fix the problems.
This is where you come in.
Maybe you are on paid staff or maybe a volunteer leader. Either way, you have a heart to support worship services with excellent audio. You are the key to your pastor and decision-makers understanding what is wrong with your current system and what needs to be done to fix it.
The single most important thing you can do to ensure a successful audio upgrade is to plan and communicate early and often. If you wait until your pastor or other decision-makers are frustrated with the situation, then you have failed at preparing for success.
When time is tight and there are expectations for problems to be fixed immediately, the door is flung wide open to allow mistakes in design and installation of new equipment.
To adequately prepare for the upgrade process, there are three key areas that you need to invest your thought in: timing, communication, and research.
The right time to think about an upgrade is not when equipment stops functioning properly. You must start working on an upgrade plan, before your systems start failing. Be proactive in your planning. We're talking about technology here. It is going to fail at some point.
I typically try to start serious planning for an upgrade at least two years before I think I'll need to implement the plan. I try to predict what needs our church will have two years down the road, and determine if our current equipment will still be functioning with enough capacity to meet those needs.
The two-year mark is when I start communicating about the need to replace or upgrade equipment with senior level leadership and the finance team. Most, if not all of them, will initially respond with something along the line of, "Why do we need to replace this, if it's working fine now?" Showing your leadership that you are planning for the future reveals your commitment to the church and its ministries.
Remind leadership that you aren't asking them for money now, but rather that you want them to be thinking with you about how you can best support ministry moving forward. This is a great opportunity to begin teaching your leadership about the value of quality equipment. Have regular conversations to discuss the age and life expectancy of your equipment, the issues you are facing now, and what you expect to happen in the upcoming years, before you are able to replace systems.
Another great need is research. There are many facets of research when preparing for an upgrade. Visiting trade shows to learn about offerings from various manufacturers is a great avenue to research options that are available. Many manufacturers also offer training classes on their equipment and will even send you their gear to demo in your church. Talking with other churches about what has been working well for them and what they would do differently with their systems is another great form of research.
Beyond gear, it is imperative to build relationships with integrators early in the two-year time frame. Identify at least three different integrators that you can start meeting with about your upgrade project. Be upfront and open with them about what you anticipate will be the timeline of the project. The engineers and sales personnel can often help you in the communication with senior leadership at your church as well.
The reason you need to meet with at least three different integrators is that each will have different ideas and opinions about what you should do. They aren't going to want to go through a full design and engineering phase without some form of commitment from your church, but each can present ideas about what they think will be best in your space. Throughout these meetings, you will learn which of these firms you trust and want to do business with.
Some salesmen will push specific brands of equipment, because that is simply all they know, they have limited manufacturers to pull from, or they will receive the most profit from selling a certain make or model. Look for a company that wants to put the gear in that best meets the needs of your church and worship center, rather than pushing specific manufacturers.
Once you have a general idea of what you want to achieve with the upgrade, the integrators can give you some cost estimates for the project. Timing and communication come back in to play here again.
Since you have started far before the church is actually in need, you can give the finance team plenty of time to react, digest, plan, and then save for the expense.
Keep in mind that technology will change over the course of a few years. Even though you have a plan in mind, when it comes time to finally implement it, there will be newer and better options in the market. Again, research is vital as it allows you to keep up with trends and upcoming technology. Even though you might have already gotten a quote from your preferred integrator this early in the process, you aren't locked in until you sign a contract. You can always change equipment out if there is a newer product that better meets your needs.
If you remember to plan early, consider the timing, do your research, and communicate often, then you more than likely won't find yourself in the situation of leadership being frustrated and demanding the problem is fixed in an unreasonable amount of time, allowing for errors to be made that you have to live with.
Certainly there are other issues that will be at play throughout the upgrade process, but paying attention to early planning, research, and communication will ease the tensions for everyone throughout the entire project.