I have had the priviledge of working with many churches in my audio career. Some I have just been there as a white-glove mix engineer, while others I have designed installed and programmed multiple systems. One of the huge benefits of getting to work with the number of churches that I have, is getting to see the many different creative ways people are doing things. There are some things that churches seem to get right very often, and some things that they continually get wrong. I have seen some patterns emerge of common struggles that it seems almost every church deals with. Below I've summarize into a few principals what I have discovered that I feel are the keys to taking the audio quality in your church to the next level.
1. THINKING OF GEAR AS AN EXPENSE, RATHER THAN AN INVESTMENT.
Too many churches dread spending money on new gear or equipment. While I understand budgets and am quite a stickler myself on wise use of money, that is also the reason why I feel this way. Too many times money will get thrown at a problem that just puts a band-aid on it "for now". Then they hope the problem will go away, where in the long run it is costing much more to keep putting bandaids on an issue.
Whether its purchasing a new console, microphones, cables, whatever it may be; doing the job right the first time and spending the necessary money will pay off large dividends in the grand scheme by not having to be replaces often and not failing to work when your tech team is depending on it. The best way to set your team up for success is to make sure they have the right tools in their hands.
2. NOT INVESTING IN PEOPLE.
Most of the time the people you find behind the tech booth are usually just the most technically literate people in the church. Maybe not necessarily the most musical, or best person to work with, simply the person with the most technical skills. While I see the logic and reasoning behind this I believe that many times this is a mistake.
Technical skills can be taught to anyone, but a musical ear and a teachable attitude are much more difficult to teach someone. Choose people with those traits.
Once you have people willing and excited about learning and serving, set them up for the win! There are plenty of training tools available online, lots of youtube videos, and instructional videos, articles, and forums that possess a wealth of information. Take the time to develop a standard training method for your audio team. This could look like making a playlist of youtube videos for them to watch. This could mean having them work with virtual sound-checks before throwing them in on a Sunday morning. Even bringing in a profession to walk them through the specifics of your setup and how to utilize it, it will be well worth the money. When people, specifically volunteers, feel that they are valued and being invested into and taken care of, it causes them to be even more passionate about getting great results, just like you. Take the time to properly train your audio guys, you will be much better for it!
3. DESIGNING AROUND PEOPLE, INSTEAD OF BUILDING SYSTEMS.
It is very normal, especially for smaller churches, to have one sound guy who bears the brunt of the responsibility of the audio production for the church. This one person typically knows all the in and outs of the systems, he knows where the trouble spots are, and he knows that you have to jiggle that one cable until its sits a very specific way to make that speaker work. While its great that he knows this...what happens when he's on vacation, or out sick? If you're anything like the majority of churches, you have a weekend haunted by issues and problems.
This is why I believe building around one specific person is bad idea. If that one person leaves, you're back to ground zero. Also I have com into churches to work before where the setups they have in place are clearly the brainchild of one person. Their setup may make sense in their own head, but to anyone else coming in to fill their shoes, it is disorganized and confusing.
The alternative to this, is to design a system of doing things, and place quality, teachable people into that system. Developing a system like this takes a team of people. This is usually where it is a great idea to bring in a professional to setup your equipment in a way that is standard for professionals, and have them teach your team about the details. Then regardless of who you have running audio for your services, the quality is consistent and much less prone to issues.
4. NOT CONSULTING WITH PROFESSIONALS.
This can be a touchy subject for some, but I believe it makes a tremendous difference. Many times churches don't see the value in bringing in or hiring a professional for some consultation. Whether its during the system design phase, when you're choosing equipment for a new building, room, or project, or in optimizing what you already have. There are plenty of well-meaning members and musicians in most churches who feel qualified to make unbiased decisions in regards to how the church should spend their money towards audio equipment...however in most cases when this is the approach (letting a well-meaning "techy-person" make the purchasing decisions) I have found that a professional would have taken a very different approach, most of the time leading to a much preferred result.
Now its easy to think that "professionals" are just out to make a buck, and don't care about churches limited budgets. But the truth is, the information and the neutral perspective they bring is worth far more than what they typically charge. And just because they are a professional does not mean that they are just going to pick all the most expensive options and throw you a huge bill. They are equipped with the real world experience and know where it is okay to cut corners and go the cheaper route, and which things are really worth spending the money on.
The churches that I've walked into that have had a professional come in to get them set, are much much easier to work in and to get high quality, impactful sound from. Now I understand that many churches don't have the budget to have a company come in to do a full scale install, or to contract professionals to run sound every weekend, this is not necessarily what I am recommending. But simply having a professional come visit your venue even for a day and evaluate your current setup and make suggestions and teach your team a thing or two can make a massive difference. Also exposing your team to a greater level of excellence than what they are used to, will most definitely re-inspire them to push for it themselves. Its a win-win!
5. THINKING YOU ARE ALONE
Many churches, specifically in the 200-500 attendee category, struggle very often with feeling they are the only ones who have their problems. It is so easy to get bogged down by problems that you feel like in order to fix, all you need is more money...which you don't have. I have to say though, one of the best things you can do is allow outside influence into your situation. Out of necessity, smaller churches possess some of the most technicaly creative people I have ever met. The church that I am a part of every Sunday (Northlands Church) is no larger than 300 people. We do not have big budgets, but we have been able to pull off quality productions for the last several years because we have reached out and gleaned from what other churches and organizations are doing! The best thing about ideas, is they're free! Well, most of them anyways. Don't be afraid to reach out to a nearby church and maybe even send one of your audio guys to hang out with them for a weekend. Even just being exposed to other ways of doing things can help your team grown tremendously!
I hope you have found this helpful! If you have any questions at all feel free to shoot us an email and we would be more than happy to help!