This week we’ve been unpacking some concepts that appeared in a post on another website titled Trend: Lousy Church Sound. As I said Monday, I don’t disagree with much of what that author said. At the same time, I thought it would be helpful to bring some context to it. Monday, we talked about the need for a professional to at least manage the increasingly complex production systems that are being installed in churches today. Wednesday, I proposed that when led well, volunteers can do a bang-up job running even complex systems. Today, I want to dig into the costs of production. 

The author of the original article said this of a new PA system:

One church spent $125,000! [Emphasis in original]

Here is where some context can come in handy. The exclamation point indicates to me that he thought that was a large figure. And to be sure, $125K is a lot of money. However, it may not be excessive for a PA. In fact, depending on the room, that may be a good down payment. As church auditoriums get bigger, the amount of PA needed to cover the area well and with sufficient level gets expensive. In fact, spending $300,000-500,000 on a system for a 3,000-4,000 seat room would not be out of line. 

Now, $125,000 might be a lot of money, especially if the room in question is 200 seats. On the other hand, $125,000 is about right for a 700-800 seat room. Unless of course, you’re simply amplifying speech. 

Church Leaders Don’t Realize How Expensive Technology Is

I talk with churches nearly every day about technology upgrades and very few have a clue about how much it really costs. After we walk them through the process, they get it, but few do at the beginning. This problem is compounded by the fact that during a building project, the AVL integrator too often gets left out of the budget process. The architect might put an allowance in there for technology, but again, most times it’s way low. When the integrator is finally brought in, they have to either work within the inadequate budget (more likely) or the church needs to raise more funds (less likely).

Back to our original $125K budget proposition, the author talks about how bad such a system sounded when he heard it. I wonder if he considered that perhaps it’s because the church spent only $125K, instead of the $200,000+ it may have really needed? While I agree that spending $125K on a PA only to have it sound “ten times worse than before” would be disappointing, perhaps the fault lies with the church that in an effort to “save money” didn’t spend enough. I’ve seen more than one system that wasn’t done well due to lack of funds, and we usually take it out to put in a good one. As the saying goes, churches that can’t afford to do it right the first time will almost always find the money to do it again. 

Good People Should be Paid Well

Another comment the author made that I’m not sure about is this one:

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. [sic]

I can’t tell if he thinks the $60K salary is excessive, but I’d say, it sounds about right for an “excellent sound man,” depending on what part of the country you’re in. Out here in SoCal, that would be a good opening offer. And for the guy who was making $30,000, I would say his previous church was very likely way underpaying him—which is probably why he left. 

Churches that pay their senior pastor $150,000+, their worship leader $90,000+ and their tech guy $30,000 will likely be disappointed with the long term results. Especially if they skimped on the system. 

What is really required here is to look at the big picture. Whenever we throw out random numbers, we can incite shock and awe, but without knowing the context, it’s hard to know what is really going on. This is another reason why it’s so important to have a relationship with a great integration company to help guide the process. Good integrators will help right-size the system for the room, budget and team. When they are brought in early and allowed to do their job well, everyone will be happy with the results. Skip this at your own peril. 

Well, that was fun, wasn’t it! Now that we know some of the reasons for lousy church sound, next week we’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming on how to make it better. Disclaimer, I may or may not write about that exact topic next week, but keep reading, it will come around again…

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