The Sound (and Cost) of Worship

Audio is where I spend much of my time, both professionally and as a hobby. In fact, quite a few years ago I used to design public address systems and components (most notably loudspeaker systems and subwoofers). That venture didn't last too long because I discovered that many people just didn't care that much about high quality audio and weren't willing to pay for it. If only I had been born 20 years later.

One of the pro sound magazines I receive is Pro Audio Review. Lots of material on new equipment, studio redesigns, and stuff like that. They have a column entitled "Worship Audio" which deals with sound and production gear for the church market. That's right. There's a market, a huge market in fact, for audio production gear in churches. When I was a kid the average church PA consisted of a couple of microphones, a little mixer-amp, and maybe a couple of simple column arrays or ceiling mount loudspeakers. Nothing fancy but it got the job done. I haven't been inside a church in decades (excepting the occasional wedding) and I haven't paid much attention to this worship audio thing, so I was floored when I saw a photo from the latest issue of PAR. The church in question, the Gardendale First Baptist Church in Alabama, is nothing short of stunning. This is basically theater. Behind the main stage for the ministers and whatnot is an orchestra pit, and behind that, a 100 person choir. I don't know how much the structure cost (obviously, a lot) but I can say a few words about the audio systems in places like this. In the case of Gardendale, they recently upgraded to a digitally-centered audio system. Their console is a Yamaha PM1D. Here is a review of the unit from PAR.

You will note that it sells for $110,000.

That's just the mixing console. No amplifiers, loudspeakers, crossovers, microphones, compressors, etc. Nothing. Just a digital console. A very nice digital console, but just one piece of the puzzle. And these folks are not unique. To see some more examples, visit prosound web. There you'll find even relatively modest churches springing for a $40,000 48 channel Soundcraft MH4.

Why do I bring this up? Well, if the primary mission of churches is to help people and their communities, don't you think that the money might be better spent elsewhere instead of making a glorified home entertainment system for the faithful? I think of these places spending several hundred thousand dollars just for audio production gear and I can't help but wonder what the alternate use of those funds might bring. I guess it all boils down to the old saying "Put your money where your mouth is". Clearly these folks have demonstrated just what it is that they feel is important. Perhaps it's just another good reason to tax the churches.

I would be remiss if I did not point out Gardendale's Fast Food Friends program. Definitely worth a future blog entry.

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I was surprised when two of the first five purchases of my shareware sound cue player were from churches (well, at least two; one more didn't specify his organization). I'm no longer surprised.

Now, my app only costs $20, so it's nuthin' compared to these audio systems. Course you need a kilobuck of computer to run it on, but maybe they already have that.

And now back to contemplating the difference between kneeling down and bending over...

By Johnny Vector (not verified) on 13 Jun 2007 #permalink

I live right by Rod Parsley's World Harvest Church, in Pickerington, OH (a suburb southeast of Ohio). Every year, the graduation ceremonies for the Pickerington (public) High Schools are held at the World Harvest Church. Quite frankly, they do a very nice job, using just the sort of equipment you are talking about (and a bunch of really nice video stuff, too). I'm talking cameras on booms and everything so that we get a nice view of each graduate getting their degree.

The church stuff does seem to be minimized, so I have a hard time thinking folks might be offended by the venue. (And I should add that Pickerington has a pretty good school district, with biology teachers who are top-notch and who do not shy away from evoltion, for example.)

So, despite whatever misgivings one might have, in this case at least, it is a real boon to the community.

Uh, well, they are in show business, after all, so why the surprise?

In the 70's commerce learned if you put all the stores in one place everyone would benefit, and they called them malls. I think the mega-churches are based on this model. If you put all the services the church offers into one building and put on a good show (the equivalent of the multi-plex mall theater drawing shoppers)you get more money. Of course, you have to get a boat load of money to build the Mega Church in the first place, so you hit up your potential customer base for that first, and then you got a real money earner. What you do with all the cash your new church generates is, of course, where the argument might begin...

It's good to see that the community gets some use out of the facilities via the HS graduation, but my question still remains: Is this the best use of those dollars and is it in keeping with the stated principles of the church?

With some of these churches spending well over a megabuck for audio/video gear, I cannot help but wonder what that money (initial investment plus maintenance and so forth) would do for the larger community. It all seems very self-centered to me in light of what is professed.

The consumers will be all the more uplifted by church services delivered in high-quality audio. I'm sure they see that as a more than adequate benefit - one that pays it for itself and then some.