How to Convince Your Pastor to Spend Money on Sound Gear

It's a tough spot to be in. You're on the front line serving, solving problems. But there's something that you need, and it costs money. And money can be tricky to talk about at church. Today, we're going to put all the gear and purchasing decisions in perspective as we talk about why we gather at church, how we facilitate it, and what really deserves spending money on.

Hey, if you're new here. My name is James, and I help church sound techs eliminate distractions so people can focus on Jesus.

How to Start the Conversation

At some churches, money can be a really tricky thing to talk about. Sometimes there's just too little to go around for all the stuff that you want to do, and other times you're going to get criticized no matter what you do. So all of that might be rolling around in the head of the person that you just asked for a new sound system. How do you go about talking to your pastor about things that are going to make your church sound great, be a great place to serve, AND make it so that the sound system is transparent, so everybody's thinking about Jesus, not how the sound system sounds?

The short story is that you have to convince them of what they want, not what you want, necessarily. It's best to avoid using a lot of tech language, and you have to keep it really practical and connected to the church's vision. Of course, if you go about this the wrong way and with the wrong tone and attitude, it can make it sound like you're trying to get the church to foot the bill so that you can have fun audio toys to play with. And if you're just there because you like to play with the cool gear, maybe it's time for an attitude check. I mean, would you still be serving on the sound team if they had a little analog console that didn't have any outboard gear? It's a tough question to answer, and I think I would even struggle with that. Now, don't get me wrong, it is awesome to use really great gear and thankfully I've gotten to use some of the best gear in the world. But even after using some of the best gear in the world, I'm still happy serving and mixing for worship on an x32 with mismatched front-of-house speakers. But if we're going to convince our leadership team that they need to open up the purse strings to spend money on stuff, let's zoom way out and talk about what's the point? Why are we doing church audio and why does that matter in the Kingdom of God?

Know Why it Matters to Have Quality Sound Gear

Focus On the Benefits for the Team, not the Features

The bottom line is that we are there to help the leadership team lead. We're using technology to help the leadership team lead the people in singing songs that connect with them culturally. If this were the 1950s, we would be spending the church budget on a piano, maybe an organ, and a loft for the choir. Those pianos and organs were not cheap. And our sound system, drum kit, microphones, and speakers aren’t cheap. So things haven't really changed, just the cultural expression has changed. And the church is matching that to make it easy for those outside the church to come into the church without a total musical culture shock.

Another thing is that the entire building was built around amplifying things acoustically. Some of you are still meeting in spaces that were designed for that, but you've added a speaker system to it and it's become quite a challenge. So instead of the piano maker, the organ builder, and the architect designing our sound system, we have speakers, mixers, microphones, and in-ear monitoring systems so that the band can hear themselves and play well together.

How Are We Going to Execute a Smooth Service?

Now that we've answered the question, “What is it we’re doing?”, now we're going to get to how we're doing it. The vast majority of churches use volunteers and people that weren't trained professionally to run their sound system. So in setting up our sound system, we have the objective of keeping it simple so that new people can do it without a lot of training. We're trying to simplify the learning curve so that we don't have to spend years training somebody to do a job on Sunday morning. So the question for the leadership team is how do we create a simple, low-friction system so that volunteers can run it and make it the least noticeable part of our church service? Seriously, nobody goes home humming the kick drum. You don't want to distract people with the sound system either when it's running wrong or when it's running right and somebody pushed it too far. But that's another story for another day.

One of the key characteristics of a sound system that's doing its job transparently is vocal intelligibility. Basically, the spoken and sung word is the most important part of your worship service. Because if people don't understand, they're not going to be able to engage. And if they're not engaging, then what are we gathering for, and why do we even do it in the first place? After we have vocal and speech intelligibility, we think about the band creating the emotional context that's going to help people sing. It's not about manipulation in a bad way. It's about creating a context that helps people engage their spirit and look toward Jesus. The Father has worship music going on around the throne. And if we pray the prayer, “Let your Kingdom come on Earth as it is in Heaven”, then we're going to have music and singing down here as well.

All of this work that we're doing as a worship team and a sound team is to help people sing. Singing is contagious, so the more people a person hears singing, the more likely they are to sing themselves. Singing isn't the only way that we worship God, but it is a primary way. It's commanded in the Psalms, and singing unlocks the human heart in a way that few other things do. It doesn't require any special equipment, and God likes it no matter how bad it sounds. I mean, who are we to judge what God made in their expression back to him? Nobody else can worship God just like you do. So even if you can't carry a tune in a bucket, sing! It does wonders for your heart.

Prioritizing The Pain Points

So in all that context, now we need to get the right equipment and the right training. The right equipment is there to make it simple. We don't want to have some hot-rodded, supercharged, do-it-yourself console that only one person knows how to run because they designed it and built it themselves. (Although that would be pretty cool, and if you're into that, let me know.) But we need to make sure that our gear makes it easy to run. Maybe this means that your church needs to make the switch from monitor wedges to an in-ear monitor system. That might cost several thousand dollars, but it's going to be a lot easier to train a new volunteer on the sound team if they're not having to worry about seven monitor wedges and mix the front-of-house at the same time. But then you have to train your worship team to mix their own monitors. But that's another topic I’ve covered HERE.

So we don't want a complicated console and we don't want a complicated monitoring system. But the next biggest thing, and probably the most painful thing for churches to spend money on is the speaker system. When your speaker system is set up correctly, it gives you more margin for how the mix can sound, because everybody's getting the same tone in each seat. If your speaker system doesn't match your room really well, there will be some seats where it's darker and muddy and other seats where it's bright and harsh. So in order to make either of those people happy or the least grumpy possible, you have a really narrow margin in which to mix in order to keep things not-painful for people. But when the speaker system is really even, you've got a lot more margin of error on what can sound a little bit off in certain places but still be intelligible and not hurt anybody. And here's a pro tip: the acoustics in your room play as big a role as your speakers do. Paying for acoustic treatment can seem expensive upfront, but it can last a really long time. And I like to use this analogy: If the whole sound system is the race car, then the acoustics in your room is the race track. You're not going to send an F1 racer down a rally car track and expect it to get very far!

Another place where you can spend money to avoid headaches and problems are on your microphones and sound sources on stage. The better quality inputs you have, the easier it is to deal with after the fact. So sometimes this means that the church invests in a guitar rig, or a drum kit so that it sounds good. Especially when you actually maintain them and put new strings and heads on them. And I've never had a church regret spending money on great vocal mics. When the vocals just sound good at the source, it gets a lot easier to deal with them at the console.

But even if you have the best gear in the world, it doesn't really matter if your sound tech doesn't have training. And maybe you're great at training and bringing on new people at your church and you really know what you're doing, but maybe you feel a little bit lost and you don't know what you're doing and need a great way to find new training.

Three Qualities of a Great Sound Tech

The final piece of the puzzle that can cover up a lot of deficiencies in the other areas is the sound tech themselves. The sound tech lives at the intersection of the technology and the music so that they can present clearly, and with an emotional feeling, what’s coming off of the stage and make it so that people can engage. Now there are always people who are going to engage in worship, whether there's a one-string guitar or a broken drum, they're ready to go. But for the rest of the people, the more distractions you can eliminate, the easier it is for them to engage and they open their hearts in worship. That's what the skill of a great sound tech can do. They really carry the same importance as a conductor in the orchestra. They just don't have to wear a tuxedo, stand up in the front, and wave their arms around looking ridiculous.

Great church sound techs have three basic characteristics. They have to be a great team player because it's not all dependent on them, so they have to be able to work together within the team. They have to understand how the music should be presented. And it's really hard to teach this on the fly. You've got to take some time and listen to music away from the board to really understand what it should feel like. And the third thing is understanding the technology to use all the tools that they have at their disposal to take what's being presented to them from the stage and present that to the congregation in a way that's more pleasing than if they didn't make those manipulations.

But of course, you can't just expect everybody, the volunteers who run sound, to have all three of those pieces in place. And even if they have all of those pieces, it doesn't necessarily mean that they know how to train other people.

Conversation Examples  

How to Help Them Understand the Need

So backing up to the big picture, again. If we want our pastors and leaders to teach our congregation to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love their neighbor as themselves, they have to be able to lead the congregation clearly. And the bigger the gathering, the more we rely on technology to make that happen. And the more we rely on the technology, the more we need to invest in equipment and in training. So how do you actually have the conversation with your pastor or your worship leader about stuff that needs to be solved and not in the MacGyver way?

It needs some money thrown at it. We have to talk to them from a place of influence, and from their perspective. They are not worried about how easy it is for you to mix, but what they might be concerned with is how easy it is to train new people so that you can have a team that replicates itself. They're not thinking about how much power the subs have, but they might be thinking about how different it sounds from one seat to the next, and how that's creating intelligibility and maybe even pain issues.

So remember, they're focused on accomplishing their mission, which is to shepherd the church. And they're focused on being good stewards, which is taking care of the budget. So I recommend asking to have a conversation about the conversation. “Hey, do you think we could sit down sometime and talk about the speaker system? It's fine for now, but it's probably going to need to be replaced in the next couple of years, and I don't want that to be a surprise for anybody when suddenly the speaker stops working. I'd rather talk about it now so that we don't have to scramble when it finally kicks the bucket.”

This conversation lets them know that you're thinking about the future and that you're not just pining for new gear. A poor way of having that conversation goes a little bit like this: “Man. Our speakers sound awful! I can't believe they put that junk up there. Who made that decision, anyway?” That makes you look like a snob and a whiner and a complainer. And nobody likes to work with those people. So change your attitude before you have that conversation, even if those thoughts do go through your head.

Maybe your console needs an upgrade. “Did you notice that sometimes we've been having problems with channels going in and out? Well, I think this console’s on its last legs and we need to think about a replacement. Can we sit down and see if there's money in the budget for replacing it now, or if we need to save up for it for a few months?”

The way not to go about it is this: “Wow. Did you see that new piece of gear that's in this magazine? It looks so cool. We just have to have it at church!”

What if you need help with training? “Hey, I know things have been really busy around here, but I haven't had a Sunday off in over six months, and I'm kind of getting on the edge of burnout. I want to be able to serve for a long time, so I was hoping we could get somebody to come in and do some training so we can get more people on the team. That way I can get out of the rotation and we can multiply some leadership in this area.”

Or maybe you're having problems with consistency on your team because no one person on the team has the perceived authority that they can say, “Yeah, we really need to do it this way and you need to bring in a trainer.” Here's how that conversation might go. “Hey, we've really gotten to an impasse with the way that we're doing some of the things on the sound team, and I really want to aim for more consistency. Could we bring somebody in to have an outside opinion so that we can get this issue resolved and we can go forward and get a lot more consistency out of our mixes?” That conversation shows that you care about the right things and you want to help, and you're inviting that leader to speak into that with their wisdom and their resources.

Come Prepared, Bring Examples, Speak to Your Church's Vision

I know this has been a long post, so thanks for sticking with me so far. But here's the conclusion: If you want to get something from your leadership team, you have to paint the picture of the problem from their perspective in a non-technical way. Then you can invite them to speak into it with their wisdom and see if the resources are there in order to solve the problem in some of the ways that you might have researched already, or you might need to do some more research for. You've got to show them how spending the money is going to reduce the headache, reduce friction, and free up manpower for other things that might be more important to give their attention to. Minimize the drama, and if you can, bring examples.

For instance, I was doing some in-person training with a church here in town, and we decided to listen to some music, to listen to what their speaker system actually sounded like. And that speaker system example I gave earlier, where some parts are really muddy and some parts are really harsh? I was thinking about this particular church when I said that. I could have gone in there and said, “Oh yeah, you DEFINITELY need a new P.A. right now!” But instead, I played music with the worship pastor and we walked around to different seats, so he could experience for himself, not on the stage, what it sounded like in the different seats. So when leaders experience for themselves the things that you're having problems with, then they're a lot more likely to help you find a solution and put the resources toward it.

That's why I developed the guide How to Lead Your Church Sound Team. It's a FREE guide that helps define what the parameters are for what makes sound great at your church, connecting with your people and your vision. Because what works for the church down the street might not work for your congregation. You have to define it for yourself. And bringing your leadership team in on that is a great way to build trust and to be on the same page.

That’s all I have for you on this topic today. Remember: it’s all about the low-end, avoid the sound tech solo, and nobody leaves humming the kick drum. We'll see you back here next time on Attaway Audio.

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