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Buying the best sound equipment is useless if you don't have someone to run it.

Here’s an interesting story I’ve heard told several times by several different churches over the past month.

A church invests in a brand new sound system (one church spent $125,000!) and everyone unanimously agrees on one thing: The sound is horrible.

You can imagine the drama of spending a ton of money only to have what you spent it on work 10 times worse than what you had before. What’s going on?

Growing pains.

Churches are discovering the complexities of modern worship. In other words, you can’t have a new mixing console that resembles the cockpit of the space shuttle and expect a volunteer to (ever) be able to get it to work right.

Here’s a potential scenario: A church of 500 managed just fine on their less-than-cutting-edge sound system. Rotating volunteers could easily manage the knobs and sliders to get a decent sound. Then the church starts growing into megachurch territory—shooting up to 2,200, maybe moving into a new building. The new state-of-the-art sound system is rolled into the loan of the new church, and on the grand opening they end up with music that sounds like it came out of a tin can. They haven’t yet realized they can’t invest in pro equipment without hiring a pro to run it.

Soundmen are the new hot commodity in the megachurch world. I know of one megachurch that just hired an excellent soundman away from another megachurch—they’re paying him $60,000 a year and he was making $30,000.

And, boy, does a pro make a difference. I visited a local megachurch a few years ago on Easter Sunday and heard absolutely the worst sound I’d ever heard in a church. A ministry of this size should have known better—tinny, bright frequencies that hurt my ears and no bass. A few years later, they hired a worship leader who “gets it”—one of the first things he did was hire a full-time soundman. The next time I visited, I was stunned—I experienced the best church sound mix I’ve ever heard, and they were using the exact same equipment—only run by someone who knew what he was doing.

Bottom Line: Megachurch worship costs more than you think.  

Don Chapman Arranger/composer Don Chapman is the creative energy behind several websites devoted to contemporary worship: HymnCharts, WorshipFlow, and WorshipIdeas.com. He's the editor of the weekly WorshipIdeas newsletter that is read by over 50,000 worship leaders across the world.

More from Don Chapman or visit Don at http://WorshipIdeas.com

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  • Brian

    Sound people are vital to the sound. But the answer isn’t paying top dollar for someone who, instead of investing in a church body and becoming part of it, hires himself out to the highest bidder. It isn’t Biblical for “talent” to be for hire in a church context, nor is it Biblical for churches to offer insane amounts of money to attract the “best” talent. It isn’t a job….it is being a SERVANT. If you wouldn’t do it for free, then you shouldn’ be doing it at all, because you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.

    So…either train your volunteers how to use that fancy new system, or don’t bother to upgrade in the first place. Is the slight increase in the sound quality really worth it in the long run, both in money and in allowing “normal” people to serve in your church? I hope not….

    • Justin Hitchborn

      I see what you’re saying, but it doesn’t work like that all the time. A busy church with a sound guy on FULL TIME needs to pay him, or he isn’t going to eat anything. A servant’s heart is required, no doubt…but the church has a long history of abusing people’s time and gifts.

      • Doug

        Agreed. I am the Tech Director for a 500 (appx) member church. I’m at every service running sound or on stage with the praise team. Every wedding, funeral, etc. I also produce a weekly hour long radio show for the church. They pay me $12k/yr for my 15 or so hours per week.
        I’ve been a professional audio engineer for over 15 years. Yes, I could go somewhere else and make 4-5 times that amount, but it’s not about the money, it’s about serving where you are called to serve. They compensate me for my time, and I think it’s fair.

  • peterhamm

    Stop fiddling with the eq.

    FInd the annoying frequencies and JUST CUT THEM… you’ll be 90% of the way there.

    And… not all volunteers can be “trained”. Especially the ones that won’t listen.

    • Justin Hitchborn

      Yes, yes and yes. Being able to hack one’s way through a sound check isn’t actually very difficult using this method, and if the band is doing half of what they should, the job should be pretty easy.

  • Vintage Gibson

    While a sound engineer is as much a “member of the band” as any other musician.they often can be just as temperamental and sensitive and difficult to deal with. Unfortunately, mega-church ministries are a business more than kingdom minded and “talent” is a commodity to be purchased along with the youth director and the church’s financial manager. It should NOT be that way, and I seriously doubt that God honors it. The scripture that says “A workman is worthy of his hire” can be taken out of context and often is in the post modern church world.

    I wonder if the complexities and extravagances of the modern worship “performance” exceed the expectations and desires of our Savior. I think we would all do well to put that $100,000 sound system money back into the mission fund and not fool ourselves into thinking that it is necessary to have all the fluff we think is needed to “reach people with the message of Christ.” Not only do we not count the cost, but we also do not make good stewardship choices when we pay more for sanctuary chandeliers, air conditioned diesel buses, sonic maximizers, racks upon racks of the latest technology and other toys, but don’t feed the welfare folk in the neighborhood because we don’t wish to enable them. There is more than one kind of enablement. I wonder if it is God who is the focus of the worship, or us.