As individuals, most of us have made a list of resolutions for the New Year. At the same time many houses of worship have also resolved to upgrade, replace or re-invent their sound system.
There is no doubt that January is a great month for these plans. Actually any month would be fine, but most budgets start in a calendar New Year…so I get more calls in January from churches that want to make changes to their sound systems than any other month.
Ergo: January is usually a great month for me.
Ok, let’s assume a house of worship is planning or willing to entertain conversation on improving the sound that serves their congregation. Their first question should fall along the lines of “How should we go about this endeavor?”
There are a few schools of thought here.
Initially, they would call someone (like me) who is a professional at designing and installing house of worship sound systems.
The obvious advantage to calling in a professional is that they (should) know everything about audio that laypersons don’t. In other words, a professional will have the experience necessary to evaluate the current sound system and advise on whether it can be improved upon, or whether it should be replaced.
Also a good installation company can recognize the acoustic problems the sanctuary may have and how to correct them, and some other recommendations such as how to improve the stage lightning system.
The other school of thought is that a person or committee selected from the congregation that will make all the audio decisions, and then do all installation work using volunteers.
This idea can work if there is some audio expertise, or at least some audio enthusiasts, in the congregation for the person or committee to choose from.
A scenario I run into pretty regularly is a combination of both ideas: The church leaders call in an expert for design and advice, and then use qualified people from the congregation to install the new sound gear.
For example, I designed a new sound system for a house of worship near me. I also acted as the buyer for the equipment. However, the church is using their people to build a new stage, a mixer location and do all electrical upgrades. I will also be using their labor to install the new system. The advantages are 1.) the house gets a pro to design the sound and 2.) money is saved on the installation.
Now that they have decided on a new project, how much should the new (or upgraded) system cost?
This is really the biggest question they’ll face.
Too often a house of worship decides what their budget will be before they have any real idea of what kind of sound system or upgrades they will need.
Simply arriving at a budget because the leaders of your church have decided on a set amount of money they want to spend is not a very good strategy.
Ideally, some solid bids should be solicited from a couple of sound installation companies…and based on those bids…they decide whether there’s ample funds, or if they will be able to procure the funds, to go forward with your project.
There is something else that should be considered before a house of worship dives into a new sound system: What is the environment the sound system operates in?
In other words, what are the acoustics like in the sanctuary?
I have walked into churches where the minister, elders or committee believe they need new sound system, but, in fact, they merely needed to improve the acoustics in the room.
For some houses, just adding drapes, acoustic panels, or other sound controlling treatments will dramatically improve the overall sound. Once again, this is a good reason to get a professional’s opinion before planning and budgeting a project.
Ok, moving forward…
Let’s assume the house of worship has received some written bids. Those bids will make it much easier to budget out the project.
If they don’t have adequate funds for the project, all is not lost. As a professional consultant, I also suggest some creative means for them to raise the money needed as well as the way to spend it.
Here is a formula that I use with clients to figure out how to finance a system, or the difference between their funds and what is needed, over a short period of time:
Let’s say your house of worship seats 200 persons (average) on a weekly basis. You have decided to spend $20,000 dollars on your new sound system.
$20,000 divided by 200 works out to $100 per seat.
Now divide that $100 by 50 weeks in a year (I know there are 52) and you have $2 dollars per seat per week.
So, with this formula the congregation would have to increase their giving by $2 dollars per week in order to pay for the sound system in a year.
If they put up an extra $4 dollars per week, you would pay for your system in 6 months and $8 dollars in 3 months etc.
This formula may seem very simple, but the numbers do work.
I currently am working with a house of worship in Whittier, California. They will have saved for their new system by March of 2013, by simply asking for $1 per week from each of their members.
Of course there are many other ways of financing sound for a church.
In my home church the money for the original sound system was donated by one person, whereas the next sound system was financed by a combination of additional giving…and a variety of yard sales…not to mention a lot of prayers.
Whatever means used to raise the money, the formula I gave is just a tool to look at what a new (or improved) sound system will really cost a church over time.
That said, I can’t stress enough how important it is for the church to get some solid numbers before deciding how much to spend on a sound system or system upgrade. It may be much less expensive than originally thought, and therefore more feasible.
Or it may possibly cost more than they ever imagined, but with efficient, realistic budgetary planning still doable.
As a consultant, part of the job is to provide all aspects of the project…and hopefully eliminate some of the accompanying stress that goes along with this type of project.
After all the whole purpose of a sound system in a house of worship is to communicate the word of God and lift the congregation up.
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