There are some conversations that I have over and over. Of late, conversations about building a new building have been popping back up. Of course, hundreds of things need to be considered when building a new building, but there are few themes that seem to get missed more often that not. Skipping these things ensures two things: First, you and your congregation will not be happy with the performance of the sound, lighting and/or video in the room. Second, there will remain a healthy market for companies that specialize in fixing churches that were designed and built poorly.
With that said, here are three things you cannot skimp on when entering a building project.
Fix the Acoustics Before You Build
First, the overall acoustic signature of the room has to be correct. This is where most churches take short cuts. They let the architect design the building; which is fine except most architects really don’t understand how acoustics work. Now that I work with architects, I understand why. They don’t look at buildings the same way we do as production folks. A few are getting better at it, but they're the ones who design churches for a living and have AVL guys on staff.
The problem is most architects want the room to look nice and be easy to build. They never consider standing waves, comb filtering, reverberation time, reflections, and other nasty acoustical anomalies that will make it hard to get decent sound. Some argue that it can be fixed with electronics. It can't. There is no magic black box that will suddenly cancel out the bounce off the back wall that makes it really hard for everyone in the room to hear what the pastor is saying.
So I strongly suggest all churches have an acoustician look at the plans before they are finalized. Most of the time, it only takes a few tweaks here and there to make a huge difference in how intelligible the room will be, and most of the time the cost to build is the same or only marginally higher. Very few churches get this part right, and it's why there's a huge market for acoustical study and retrofit of existing buildings. Given the acoustic treatment budgets in some of our remodel projects, I can guarantee you it’s a lot more expensive to fix it later.
Don’t Skimp on Infrastructure
The second thing to consider is infrastructure. Again, most churches don't think of this. Audio, video, and lighting take a lot of wiring. If you leave it to the electrician to do it, you will be fighting the building forever. Especially if you are on a concrete slab. You need an easy way to get cabling from the tech booth to the stage; to speakers, to video projectors and to the dimmers. That means conduit. Conduit is cheap and easy to put in as the shell is going up. Afterward, not so much. Once you determine your needs for right now, lay out the conduits you need and make double-dog sure they get put in. Then add a few more empties just in case. And go big on the empties. Nothing is quite as frustrating as trying to figure out how to get a VGA cable down a 3/4" conduit (unless you enjoy making up Mini-15 connectors...). Having a couple of empty 2" conduits will make your life (or someone who comes after you) a lot easier in a year or three.
Get Your Systems Integrator Involved Early
The final thing (well, I could think of a dozen more, but these are the biggies) is to get your A/V/L systems integrator involved in the project now. Again, most churches wait until the building is up and drywall is being taped before considering who they'll use for the A/V. Bad idea. As with the acoustician, the earlier you get the A/V guys involved, the easier, cheaper and better the final product will be. They will be able to tell you what kind of wire to have pulled while the building is open. They can work with the acoustician to get the speaker fly points set correctly. They will be on the watch to make sure a duct run doesn't end up where you need to put a screen or projector.
Choose your vendors carefully of course; make sure they have a proven track record of getting church design & install correct. Don't skimp on the design and planning phase. Cut out equipment if you have to. You can always re-purpose your existing mixer and upgrade to digital later. It's a lot harder to acoustically retrofit a poorly designed building. It's better to start with just a few lights and add as you go than to be fighting too low of a trim height because the building wasn't designed properly.
There is a lot to do when starting a building project. Sadly, the systems that churches rely on every single week to create powerful and engaging worship experiences are often afterthoughts at best. Don’t make that mistake. Your congregation will thank you later.