Church Audio Systems

Before Spreading the Word, Make Sure They Can Hear It

The first consideration for church audio is amplifying the spoken word. Who needs to be heard, and where will they be located? Will they have a microphone or be reading from a dais? How do members of your church participate, speaking during services and on special occasions such as weddings and memorial services?

Music is central to many church services and celebrations, so it's important to give consideration to your audio system. Music may include live accompaniment by your organist and choir, singing by parishioners, and also recorded music.

Be Familiar With Your System
If you're to be ministering, an uninterrupted presentation is important. Get to know the capabilities of your church's audio system so that it's possible to move easily and seamlessly from recorded music to silence to speaking at a microphone from the stage or pews to live performance without interruption or technical difficulty.

Your church library may have music in many formats including CD, digital audio files, cassette tape, and even LP. A well-designed audio system will allow you to integrate these different contributions.

Find the Proper Volume
Be sensitive about the appropriate volume for your church sound system. Music that is meant for prayers or meditation should be cued at a lower volume than music intended to rouse and inspire or bring people to their feet. Remember that some members of your congregation may be older and not enjoy loud music, while parishioners with hearing impairments may be well served by having printed equivalents or slide presentations of key readings and lyrics so that they can easily follow along. Talk with your congregation to learn how best to serve their needs.

Microphones can be quite useful for churches who feature live music, or who have large congregations or spaces in which it can be difficult for a sermon to be heard. Generally, you'll be looking for vocal condenser microphones, with a range between 70Hz 16kHz and 100Hz 15kHz. These microphones can be used to enhance the volume of your choir, for podium sermons, or for free-standing speakers. Keep in mind that wireless microphones can be great for speakers who are very animated, while those who are more stationery may feel more comfortable with a podium-style microphone or a microphone stand.

A few tips for achieving harmonious audio in your church:
  • Practice! The best way to get to know an audio system is to try a run through when your church isn't filled with people and the pressure isn't on. Keep in mind that a fairly empty room typically requires lower volume than a mostly full hall.
  • All church services are essentially performances, which means there will be an operator. Talk to the church organist or audio visual volunteer and get their input.
  • It's a good idea to create a one-page written "cheat" sheet with tips on how to work the audio system, especially if your church relies on a group of rotating volunteers to work with sound.
  • Make a handout for parishioners who would like to create or provide music to let them know what formats your church can support. MP3 players are a good way to involve younger members of your parish and connect to them through music.
  • Using an MP3 player like an iPod lets you create playlists. This is an easy way to cue a whole service's worth of songs and save them for future services.
  • Copyright -- Songs performed in churches are subject to copyright laws, and in some cases, a small fee or written notice may be required. Most older hymns will be in the public domain.

With the proper practice and setup, church audio is easy to handle.

Written by: Diana Wynne