7 Steps to Great Worship Audio

Producing great sound in a worship service can seem as elusive as finding a soloist who always sings on key. However, this doesn’t have to be.

 

Producing great sound in a worship service can seem as elusive as finding a soloist who always sings on key. However, this doesn’t have to be.

Many factors influence the quality of sound: room acoustics, sound-system design and performance, operator experience, and quality of musical performance.

Here are some practical tips on how to tie all of that together toward an optimum result.

1) Understand The Basics

To get the most out of a sound system, you must first understand how it works. Basically, acoustic energy, or the sound you make, is converted to electrical energy via a microphone, then colored or equalized via a mixer.

The mixer sends the sound through processing equipment (crossover, equalizer, signal delay), then to amplifiers to enhance the signal. Finally, the amplified signal goes to speakers, where it’s transferred back to acoustic energy.

The key components of sound—processors, amplifiers, and loudspeakers—should be professionally designed and set in a church, then left alone. The mixing board is where you should make adjustments in tone and sound levels.

2) Build A Team

A sound system won’t run by itself. It needs a trained, motivated crew to function to its true potential.

I like to recruit one-on-one, much like a hunter who goes to the woods looking for a specific target. The hunter may see ducks, squirrels, and turkeys, but he sits tight for a certain kind of deer. When he sees exactly what he’s looking for, he pursues it with vigor. The same can be done when developing a sound team. Decide what kind of people you need, then recruit them vigorously.

You can also try the fishing-pond approach. That means recruiting candidates from a select gathering of people.

For example, when Marty O’Connor was at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL, he and his video crew offered a yearly seminar on how to make movies with a video camera. After the seminar, the crew would bring out their studio cameras and invite seminar attendees to try operating one of the “big boys.” All the while they’d look for people in that “pond” with special aptitude for working on a video crew. Then they’d recruit them.

3) Grow A Team

The acronym TEAM—meaning “Together Everybody Achieves More”—particularly applies to a sound crew. To be truly effective, team members must grow together on the job in knowledge and experience as well as in spirit and emotion.

Make sure that you provide spiritual, emotional, and technical food for sound-team members. Every week, I spend about 30 minutes in prayer and devotions with my sound crew before our hour-plus sessions in sound training. That time helped unite us and focus our work.

It’s also important to keep the team informed of what’s happening in the sound industry, such as regular visits to ProSoundWeb and reading other industry publications and sites.

Finally, to encourage ownership and 100-percent participation, every sound crew member should be welcome to make suggestions about the sound system. I take seriously crew member suggestions on equipment purchases.

And thank the team! Saying thanks is powerful, but showing thanks is even better. My favorite way of showing gratitude to crew members is to send thank-you notes to them and their spouses.

4) Aim For Consistency

“We are what we repeatedly do,” Aristotle once wrote. “Therefore, excellence is a habit not an act.”

Doing everything right with sound in a performance is hard enough, but repeating it can seem impossible, especially when different volunteers are involved.

To raise the percentage of success, standardize the layout of your mixing console, label it, then get everyone to conform to it. Example: I always lay out my mixing console with drums on the left, followed by bass, electric and acoustic guitar, then keyboards, and finally vocals. The lead vocal is always in the farthest right channel next to the subgroups and masters.

I’ve been doing that for the past 20 years, and my team follows this layout consistently. But how you lay out the board doesn’t matter as long as it’s logical and everyone follows it. The advantage is that when something goes wrong or there’s feedback, they know instinctively what to grab to fix it.

Aim for consistency also with equipment storage. Organize cables, stands, and mics so that even with last-minute changes, such as having to work with five singers instead of the four you had planned on, you can secure the proper equipment to keep a rehearsal moving.

5) Preparation, Preparation

When I was a sound technician, I was blessed with a worship leader who provided worship service outlines weeks in advance. I used to kid him that the Spirit moved in him two weeks before it hit the congregation.

One lesson I learned from him is that someone who is well prepared is able to respond much better to last-minute complications than someone who wings it. I’ve served as a consultant to churches that supposedly had sound system problems, only to discover that the real problem was poor preparation.

Example: A sound team shows up at 8 am to set up for a 9:30 am service in a temporary facility. By 9 am the sound system is set up, and a CD is playing. Musicians begin arriving for a last-minute rehearsal.

The service starts seven minutes late. That’s bad enough, but what’s worse is that there’s been no time for sound checks and input testing. The service proceeds, accompanied by hums, cracks, pops, and a lousy mix. Ninety minutes later, the crew is exhausted, the musicians disgusted, and the pastor fed up. He decides to call in a sound expert…

He needn’t have spent the money. Preparation would have alleviated most of the problems. Preparation means sending information to your team well in advance of a service. Distribute the order of worship for the Sunday service to crew members early in the week so they can get a jump-start on what they’ll need to do.

Preparation also means doing sound checks with musicians prior to the service and testing all mics. Even if the same person leads worship every week, he or she may have a cold or feel insecure about a piece of music and need the sound turned up.

The key is to show up early, anticipate the unexpected, and be prepared. You can’t be too prepared.

6) Provide Training

Offer ample opportunities for your team to grow in technical knowledge. Find an expert you respect and hire that person to come in two to four times a year to train your crew.

Team up with other churches to sponsor a regional conference on sound, led by consultants such as Marty O’Connor or Curt Taipale.

Further, send for brochures and guides, and reprint articles on sound for your crew. Many manufacturers, such as Shure and Crown, provide free guides, and often, these are posted online for convenient download. Encourage your crew to participate in focused online discussions about sound with online communities such as the Church Sound Forum here on PSW.

And lead your team by example. If you want the crew to be on time, be on time yourself. If you want others to keep the sound booth and related areas organized and clean, keep your areas organized and clean.

7) Encourage Relationships

To do its work well, a crew must work in harmony with musicians and presenters. All too often there’s friction between sound technicians and performing artists. Some of that could be eased organizationally by including sound technicians in the church’s fine arts or music ministry.

The lead person of the technical team should report directly to the worship leader or minister of music—no one else. They work things out, striving for communication and harmony.

Example: I saw how that could work at a sound seminar, where David Sheets, minister of music at Central Wesleyan Church, Holland, MI, and his worship team participated in a session I led titled “Mixing a Worship Team: A Live Demonstration.” We purposefully had no rehearsal or sound check before the seminar. We merely tested the inputs to make sure they were working.

During the seminar, a conflict arose between the piano and synthesizer players. The synthesizer player wanted more synth in the monitor, and the piano player wanted less. The problem: they were sharing a monitor mix.

David let me know about the problem, and I told the players that since there were no more monitor mixes available, they should work out a solution together. He led the players through a quick trial on the monitor until the players reached agreement. They reached harmony in less than three minutes.

Tip: The key was David’s willingness to tell me about the problem, and the opportunity I had to explain the set-up limitations to the players.

I’ve discovered that when technical people are given the opportunity to explain a problem, performers are very cooperative.

Of course, technicians must never abuse that trust by blaming their mistakes or ignorance on equipment, or by refusing to listen to a musician who needs adjustments in a monitor.

Trust can also be destroyed by performers or technicians whose egos get in the way of working with others. In the sound booth or in front of a mike, the motto should be: “Check your ego at the door.”

I also know how important a good relationship can be between a technician and artist. I spent four years working with Jack Lynn, a worship leader. We had such rapport that we could communicate from sound booth to platform via hand signals.

When Jack put two hands on the mic, I knew I had to put more piano level in the monitor. Two hands with a raised index finger meant he wanted more voice. A step back from the monitor meant it was too loud. The signals worked well because I kept my eyes on the platform, and Lynn always made eye contact before signaling.

Bonus: Serve Others First
If we serve others first, we have far less friction between sound technicians and performers. Here are some ways sound people can serve others to enhance their ministry to the church. Show up early to set the sound equipment with enough time left to pray with speakers and singers before a service.

Provide little extras for platform participants, such as a glass of fresh, cold water near the lectern. Take the pastor and/or worship leader out to lunch in appreciation for their support. Tell them how much you value their contribution.

Explain to singers or speakers what you’re doing to adjust their sound and why. For example, tell them you’re moving a monitor two feet to the left so that the sound from the monitor is in the non-pickup area of the microphone and will thus give them a purer sound with less risk of feedback.

The Ultimate Goal
The sound ministry is like custodial service. When it’s done well, few will notice. When done poorly, everyone will notice.  Work as a respectful team, and you’ll find that your sound is consistently excellent—and you’ll have a great time to boot!

 

Getting the Biggest Change in Sound Quality for the Smallest Investment

“How do I get the biggest change in my sound quality for the smallest investment?”

I’m often asked this question from cash-strapped churches that need a sound system upgrade but don’t have the funds to accomplish it all at once.

If it’s the sound operator who approaches me first, his goal is usually to get a new mixing board. If it’s the worship leader, he’s usually focused on microphones and/or monitors.

Then there’s the pastor, who’s most often interested in the solution that will get everybody else to stop bothering him.

So what’s the answer?

I go about solving this dilemma by looking at the number of people who can potentially benefit from each upgrade. With that in mind, what follows is a suggestion of how you can determine your next “best” upgrade.

First, look at what I call the “heart” of the system. That is, loudspeakers, amplifiers and signal processing. Not only are these usually the biggest ticket items (though the mixing console may compete), they’re also the items that in most cases will bring the most significant improvement to a system.

In surveying the heart of your sound system, first check out the loudspeakers to ensure that they’re working properly. Are there blown drivers? Hear any rattles or other strange noises?

Do some research to find out the coverage pattern of the loudspeakers, and map that coverage over your seating area. Is the coverage adequate or are there zones that are being missed? (You can also hear this by slowly walking through the coverage area with the system playing tracks.)

Continue your research and determine the frequency response of the loudspeakers. If they roll off at 180 Hz, it’s not likely that they’re producing the nice “thump” out of the kick drum or any of the deeper lows from the bass guitar.

Next, find out power handling of the loudspeakers and match that up with the power available from your amplifiers. If you don’t have enough “headroom” (available “extra” power), the system will always sound mushy and like it’s being “pushed.” (As in pushed too hard.)

Finally, give the signal processing a good look. If it consists of a number of analog devices (EQ, crossover, delay, etc.), it could be time to upgrade to a quality digital processing unit. Even better, have a new digital processor implemented by a qualified professional who knows how best to use it to maximize the performance of your loudspeakers.

And that leads me to an important point. If you find any of the above aspects lacking during your research, consider bringing in a qualified professional to help make the most of what you have.

While you may be able to address some of these aspects adequately, it’s not a game for amateurs. Quite often, the use of professional assistance, combined with a new component or two, can make all of the difference in the world while still fitting within the confines of a tight budget. And it’s almost always money well spent.

Once the “heart” of the system is taken care of, feel free to move on to mixing boards, monitors, microphones and other accessories.

I look at it this way: the best sounding microphone is only going to sound as good as the loudspeakers reinforcing it.

What is Good Design and How Does It Impact Your Church Facility?

Take a new look at your facility and apply some creative design ideas to raise both the form and the function of your building.

 

What is good design and how does it impact your church facility?

We live in what I have heard Daniel Pink describe as the dawn of the conceptual age.

As we moved long ago from an agrarian society to an industrial society to an information society, we are now making the transition to a conceptual society.

Pink in his decade old book A whole new mind talks about this transition subtitling it Why right-brainers will rule the future.

As most know the brain is dived in to two hemispheres and in generalities the left side is our logical side with the right side being our creative side.  Breaking this down a bit more, the left side thinking grasps details. Things like logic, sequence and analysis take place there. The right side takes care of our thinking related to the big picture it synthesis information, controls our emotions and gives us the big picture.

Pink outlines reasons for the rise of the right brain and its importance in the “conceptual age”. Part of what he argues is for the importance of design.

Design, at its core is our ability to create our environment in new ways that serve our needs and give meaning to our lives.

Paola Antionelli design curator at the New York Museum of Modern Art in her TED talk, Treat Design As Artstates that her view of heaven as satisfied curiosity.  She has also been quoted regarding design, “good design is a renaissance attitude that combines technology, cognitive science, human need and beauty to produce something that the world did not know it was missing” I would add that good designers have the ability to synthesize current needs, issues and culture.

Good design will create something that never existed or it will have people interact and have a new behavior with it.  BMW’s Chris Bangle states: “we don’t make cars, we make moving works of art that express drivers love of quality”.  A car is not new, but Bangle sees design as providing a new way for people to interact and experience a car.  Design dives into our emotional response to an object or what is around us.

The Tabernacle was a good example of God’s design and laid out in detail in the book of exodus. It provides us with some insight into design:

1) The tabernacle was first and foremost a very functional facility.  
The tabernacle was designed to be used, each of the Tabernacle had materials used based on function and purpose. It also solved the problem of a holy God dwelling in the midst of a sinful people.

2) It displayed wealth and beauty.  
The Tabernacle was a work of art.

It was inspiring and directed people’s thoughts and emotions to connect with God.

3) The building of it involved all of the people.
Designed for use by all people. It was also build by the very skilled craftsman who would worship there.

4) It reveals the character of God. 
The excellence of the tabernacle, both in its materials and its workmanship, is a reflection of God.

5) While composed of various elements, it displays the unity of all, in design, function, and purpose.
The design was complete, it was a sum of parts that all came together to produce a hole that was greater than the sum.

Through the Tabernacle God reveals that design is not just about objects, art, function or beauty.  It is about all of them with an emphasis on the behavior that these elements produced.

In today’s contemporary church I see a lot of emphasis on stage design.

Stage design being band layout, sets, projection or video elements and lighting.  A large number of new churches that have been built in the last decade or are under construction are what I would call the black box sanctuary.

If you have been to a production at a black box theater you know exactly what I am referring to.

Black stage walls black ceiling black covering on the stage floor. Black box is great because you can create an infinite number of “looks” by using set pieces. A good set designer can take this “blank canvas” and turn it into whatever scene or look the designer desires.

For some churches stage design is visited every week and different elements are used to give a new or different look every Sunday.

Others do thematic stage design that is built around the current message series that is going on. Some do 4 sets a year, generally built around the four seasons in nature.

Not all churches are black boxes and thus have elements that already exist and need to either be covered or designed into the new look.  www.churchstagedesignideas.com is a great place to get ideas and to learn about design techniques.

Design not only applies to the stage in the sanctuary it applies to the entire facility.  From traffic flow in the parking lot, the signage that directs you into the building to the artwork on the walls.  Design applies to almost every element.

The late Steve Jobs said “Design is not just what is looks like and feels like, design is how it works” I believe that good design also grabs our emotions and drives our behavior in how we interact with it.

Take a new look at your facility and apply some creative design ideas to raise both the form and the function of your building. After all, Design, at its core is our ability to create our environment in new ways that serve our needs and give meaning to our lives.

 

The Art and Science of Audio

Just what is the real art and science of great audio? The author narrows the discussion down to a one-word solution.
One of my favorite sayings: “Audio is an art that everyone thinks is a science,  and audio is a science that everyone thinks is an art.”

There’s no doubt that delivering an accurate (not to mention good-sounding) mix without missed cues is the right blend of both art and science.

Knowing the science helps in setting up the mix and making sure that everything is routed properly and the right things plugged in to the right parts of the system.

Knowing the art
helps to creatively bring all of the various sounds from the instruments and singers together to deliver a pleasing sound without any distractions.

Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Not so fast…

I love the title of the book written by audio’s beloved patriarchs, Don and Carolyn Davis, “If Bad Sound Were Fatal, Audio Would Be The Leading Cause Of Death.

If that title were true, I would not be here writing this, and the unfortunate thing is that I would be dead from self-inflicted wounds!  Over the years I’ve found that I can usually attribute the reason for the bad sound that I’ve mixed to one word: anticipation.

On the science side, anticipation means:

1) Being generally prepared, having the right tools, and being aware of what is going on at the event.
2) Check over the system to make sure everything is working.
3) Check all the inputs to make sure they are working and patched correctly.
4) Visually reviewing the board, making sure things are routed were they are supposed to be, the channel EQs are on and aren’t set too crazy, etc.
5) Having a backup emergency microphone on stage that everyone knows to go to if his/her particular mic fails.

And on the art side of things:

1) Thinking ahead, planning to boost the levels for solos.
2) Keeping my eyes on the stage to make sure mics are turned on ahead of people speaking.
3) Having my headphones handy so I can pfl channels to check anything, and quickly.

4) Being in tune with that is going on so I can react quickly to any changes that occur.
5) Having my cue sheet or order of service right next to me and then read ahead and mentally prepare for the next event on the sheet.
6) Listening to the worship songs ahead of time to hear what the original recordings sound like.
7) Knowing where the backup emergency mic is patched and being prepared to use it for any surprise events (unplanned testimony) or mic failures.

Obviously anticipation alone doesn’t guarantee a great mix – you still need to have the fundamentals down. But it does greatly increase the potential of having an error-free service or event.

So there you have it. The real art of audio, or, I mean the real science of audio, is… well, in both cases, it’s anticipation.

Worship Leader vs. Tech Director

 
I have been in sound checks and rehearsals where the tension in the air was so tight that it was palpable.

 

Worship Leader Vs Tech Director.  Who leads who?

At a Leadership seminar I attended, Bill Hybels was talking about what he calls his 360 Leadership idea.

In a nutshell, you lead down, lateral, up and you lead yourself.  Hybels expanded on the lateral leadership part by talking about how, at many church seminars, big churches assume more self importance. They would come in and talk down to small churches, thus alienating them.  The relationship is a lateral one and should be treated that way, it is Pastor to Pastor, Leader to Leader.

The Sunday morning relationship between musician and tech can sometime get a little, shall we say, heated.

I have been in sound checks and rehearsals where the tension in the air was so tight that it was palpable.  When this happens, it is often the case where the worship leader has “taken control” and everybody must listen to him and follow him or else.

This dictatorship style leading can work well in crisis situations like fighting a fire or engaging in warfare combat, where there is no time or place for niceties or questions.

Sunday mornings should not be like this.

There is also the case where the sound tech is so rude and controlling that musicians will live with a terrible monitor mix, just because they are afraid the sound tech is going to fly off the handle and yell at them if they ask for a change.

Sunday mornings should not be like this.

What is needed is lateral leadership.

My interpretation of lateral leadership is where both the worship leader and the production team look to influence, help and serve each other.

For this to take place these 6 key things must be in place.

1) Respect.
If there is not respect between the worship leader and production team someone must leave or radical change needs to take place for this relationship to work.  I have been around too many ministries where there is the tech click and the musician click and they are both at constant odds with each other.  They talk behind each other back, complain among themselves about the “other guys” and keep walls up so communication is stifled.  For a team to function well and exhibit lateral leadership there has to be mutual respect.

2) Listen first.
Everybody has opinions and that is great, share your opinion, but as a rule not before the other person has shared their idea or opinion.  When we are extremely excited about something it is hard not to blurt it out.  It is also hard to really listen to the other person as you just want to spit out your idea.  You need to listen, really listen to the other person before you speak.  Really listening means that you are seeking to understand the person not just hear them

3) Extend trust/be vulnerable.
Give the other person the benefit out the doubt and be willing to share how you are feeling about things.  Until you decide to trust the other person and to be vulnerable, chances are they will also not be vulnerable or trusting of you.  Without trust there is no real relationship.

4) Create a safe space.

Be proactive about creating a space where opinions and ideas can openly be expressed.  Never put down a person. Never dismiss their idea in a way that makes them embarrassed for bringing it up or belittled by your response to it.  For the worship team and production team all ideas and opinions should be validated and encouraged.

5) Do not move on without consensus.
You might have to say something like, “George, I know you don’t necessarily agree with me on this, but can we move forward and can you do it with 100 percent effort? I know that it is not easy, and I appreciate you doing this for the sake of the team” Note, if the consensus required is always to get people to agree and jump in on your ideas, you are really operating under a dictatorship.

It may be guised as a collaborative group, but if you have conditioned everyone to be yes-men and women, or you are always convincing (manipulating) others to get your way, face it, you’re being a dictator.  Maybe a nice one and a crafty one, but still a dictator.

6) Understand Each other. 
Previously I have written articles on this.  “What Techs really want from a worship leader?” and What does a worship leader really want from a sound Tech.  I recommend that Techs and Musicians read both of them.  In Stephen Covey’s book on The 7 Habits, Habit 5 states, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Learn what “the other” guys really want or need, before you push yours.

Lateral leadership really boils down to serving, supporting and encouraging each other.

This article probably should have been titled “The service between a worship leader and a tech director” instead of “Worship Leader Vs Tech Director, who leads?”

 

Evaluating Our Abilities And Starting Fresh In The New Year

As the new year draws near what challenges will you face?

 

I’m not rally a big fan of New Year’s resolutions, primarily because when I make them they tend to last about 1 – 2 weeks.

However I do like to take the opportunity at this time of year to re-evaluate, re-focus and re-energize what I’m doing in anticipation of the coming new year.

As I do this and reflect upon over a quarter of a century of experience of doing live production in some fashion or another, I find a desire to return to the absolute basics.

1. Just smile
No matter how frustrating, how intense or how upset I am at the time, just smile and walk away.

Every time I don’t do this I end up regretting how I act and what I say in the heat of the moment.

If I smile, listen and then walk away, I have the opportunity and time to process the information and take some of the emotion out of the situation.

2. Admit my mistakes
Every time that something goes wrong and I try to pass the blame on to someone or something else I end up asking myself “why didn’t I just own up to it?”

It can be difficult, because on one hand I want to be the leader, in charge, the one who makes thing happen. However, when things don’t go as planned, I don’t always want to be the leader and accept the responsibility. I want to blame someone or something.

In the end, it’s always best to admit our mistakes.

3. Build others up…all of the time
I have this habit of avoiding confrontation.

In doing this, I will sometimes not mention to a person that I am bothered by what they have done. That alone isn’t good, but it’s even worse if I were to go around and complain to someone else about what the person did to bother me.

I see this happen very often, and regrettably, have participated in it many times.

4. Improve my craft
Musicians rehearse, they practice at home and then with others they are playing within advance of a Sunday morning service.

What do I do to practice at my craft?

I do participate in some rehearsals but they are usually sound checks for the sound team and a quick run thru for the band.

One thing I can do is to get the music in advance, and actually listen to it, critically. I can listen and then plan and prepare as to how I can best reproduce what I’m hearing.

5. Further embrace digital
OK, I admit it, until fairly recently, I was a little intimidated by some of the digital consoles out there.

Part of the reason is that I had long used a premium analog console, so I didn’t have to mix on a ton of digital boards. I liked where I was and didn’t want to “embrace the change.”

Who would have thought that the kid, of so many years ago, that fanatically embraced digital processing would have been intimidated by a little ol’ digital console?

Eventually, I came around—in part, and perhaps a bit ironically—because of a New Year’s resolution a couple of years ago. If you’re in the same boat, perhaps this is the year.

 

The Importance Of Regularly Testing Cables

Why let one of the least expensive aspects of a system be its weakest link?

Operating the sound system from the mix position during a recent Sunday worship service, it all began when the first note from our grand piano was distorted. Hmm…

We’d checked the piano channel and sound prior to the service, and all was fine. My first reaction to the distortion being produced was to reduce the gain on that console channel, thinking perhaps the piano player was nailing the keys very hard. Yet the problem remained.

Next, I did a pre-fade listen (PFL) in my headphones – yes, it was definitely distortion on the piano channel, no question about it.

To capture sound from this grand piano, we use a magnetic pickup from Helpinstill Designs, which sends the original vibrations of the strings (the source of the piano’s sound) directly to the mixing console. (If you’re struggling to reproduce a full, natural piano sound, these pickups are definitely an option to consider.)

Anyway, my next thought was that someone had accidentally bumped the pickup so that it was hitting some of the strings. Oh well, nothing could be done until the service ended, so I just did my best to work around and minimize the problem. But a quick look immediately after the service showed that the pickup had not been disturbed.

Continue reading “The Importance Of Regularly Testing Cables”

The Path To Worship Mix Success

A great mix is the sum of a whole lot of components in addition to pushing faders and twiddling knobs…

After mixing sound at worship services for more than three decades, and teaching dozens of others along the way, I’ve formulated these “10 steps to worship mix success” that have proven effective.

None of this is rocket surgery or brain science (or vice versa), but rather, a straightforward playbook that if followed will produce the results that you and other members of the tech team are seeking to deliver at every service.

And note that a lot of what I’ll be discussing is not about hands-on mixing. That’s because a great mix is the sum of a whole lot of components in addition to pushing faders and twiddling knobs.

Here we go…

1) Be prepared.  Being prepared means “being all there,” ready to engage and do our best. Sound checks and rehearsals can be tedious, but they present us with the opportunity to get off to the right start.

For example, it’s a great time to make sure all tools and “stuff” are available and accessible, right down to the board tape to label the console. And if you know you’re going to get thirsty, have a bottle of water handy ahead of time. Continue reading “The Path To Worship Mix Success”

How Often Should You Renovate a Church Facility?

Practical guidelines to help you determine when it’s really necessary for you to update or renovate your space.

Is it really an absolute necessity to update or renovate my 15-year-old building?

The working life of a building can and should extend well beyond 50 years, and I’ve personally seen buildings hundreds of years old still in use and functioning quite well.

The question deserves considerable thought, and begs a slew of additional questions:

1. Has your programming changed (are you doing more youth or children events, etc.….)

One of the biggest pressure a growing church faces is space.  As the ministry grows there needs to be a place where people can congregate, infants can be cared for, children trained and youth challenged.  Sunday is the crunch day.  As a culture, we have been conditioned that Sunday is the day where we as Christians head to church for a worship service and education.  Also, as a culture Sunday morning has become our social connection time.

When we come to church we often find ourselves getting a cup of coffee and connecting with friends that we just do not have the time or do not make the opportunity to connect with during the week.  The church has used many names to refer to this connection space.  Whether you call it a narthex, lobby or gather place, this space has become a very important part of a church. Traditionally this space was not given the importance that it is today, so you may find the need to expand, re-arrange or renovate to accommodate the social time that takes place before and after services.

Has your ministry experienced growth in a specific area of ministry?  Do you have far more infants in the nursery than in years past?  Is your youth ministry rapidly growing? What about the food pantry?  I believe that a growing church is almost always in the reuse, renovation or expansion process. A church that is growing is most likely engaging in culture and as culture changes, ministry changes and therefore facility needs change.

2. Are you filling up the sanctuary to more than 80% of its capacity?

The “80% rule” is commonly thrown around.  The “rule” is that if you are more than 80% full seating wise you are full.

The logic behind the “rule” is that if the space feels to full, guests and visitors might feel like there is not a place for them.  So, what happens when you hit 80% do you add another service?

Do you set up a satellite overflow room?  I have mixed feelings about the 80% rule.  Millennials will more quickly spend money for an experience and thus I believe they are attending church for an experience.  Does a full sanctuary give them the rich experience they are looking for?

Millennials also long for intimacy and connection so would a smaller venue serve them better?  What about the rest of the congregation, what are their preferences?  There is not a right over arching answer here, However, there is a right answer for your congregation.  My suggestion is to be aware of the 80% rule and make decisions with that knowledge in hand.

3. Does your building look dated?

By dated we are not talking about a neo-classical or some other look that is time-less.  What I am referring to is the purple, mauve other dated colors from the previous few decades.  I also want to differentiate from dated vs not kept up.

Dated means it is out of style.  It doesn’t mean that there are tears in the carpet, chips in the walls or dust covering the kickplate on the walls.  Those things are things that are not kept up or cared for.  Something that is not kept up is not acceptable in any style décor.

When I visit with churches that have that dated look, I think to myself why do they not just refresh the paint and change out a little bit of furniture?  The cost would be minimal and the impact would be great.  What I have come to realize is that people who attend the church on a steady basis do not even notice it.  It is just like your home you become accustom to it and do not even notice what it looks like.

I suggest that you find the person in the church that has “the eye” for design and have them take a fresh look at your space and give some ideas.  If there is not someone in the congregation, hire an interior designer and give them clear direction as to what you are wanting to accomplish and the budget that you plan to spend on improvements.

4. Has the expectation of your congregation changed?

If you say no to this question you are most likely not in a church that has engaged modern culture.  Expectation are always changing.  Just think how technology has change our expectations.  We expect immediate response and answers.

Thanks to amazon prime we expect it in 2 days without shipping charges.  As culture changes expectations definitely change.  Let’s go back to the discussion above on the Lobby.

In previous generations people were regularly engaged and connected to their neighbors and surrounding community.

Church was just one of the many places that people would see each other and have meaningful conversation and connection with each other.  Today church is often the only spot where we connect with people and stop and talk rather than just saying a quick “hi” as we pass each other.

5. What is the expectation of people who come and visit your church?

A big red flag here if you do not know at least something about the expectations of the people that visit your church.  Unfortunately, most people who visit have low or wrong expectations based on their history or exposure to church.  In this case I believe it is the churches responsibility to blow up and change the expectations.

Shouldn’t people have an expectation when they come to visit your church of finding a warm, well cared for functional building filled with warm welcoming people?

Is it necessary to update or renovate a building every 15 years?  My take as I stated above is that you should always be renovating, updating, changing and/or expanding.  Doing this on a consistent basis keeps your facility looking fresh and helps to support the ministry areas that are experiencing the most growth.

Facility = Function and Feeling

The combination of physical elements and the emotions one experiences from their surroundings can shape the the comfort level from beginning to end.

When you enter a church, or for that matter any building, you’ll have a visceral reaction to the entirety of the facility

You will have an emotional response as well as a physical response to the space.

An emotional response maybe to the pleasing colors in the space.

A physical response maybe the goose bumps that cover your arms from the super chilled air.  Both of these responses are natural and also important.

I have previously written about the power of scent in a space.  I have also written about traffic patterns in a facility these are both very important things that influence how you react and interact with the facility.

To clarify my word usage I will use feelings for emotion and functional for physical.

Currently, I am attending a startup church. We are less than a year old and have been blessed to move into our own building.

We were meeting at a local college in a room that had a real cool vibe.  The space we were in was a recital hall that seated 300 people. It had lots of wood and warm finishes.

The new to us space was built in 2005, seats 400, and feels a little sterile.

Thankfully, the Lead Pastor and Worship Leader have an eye for design.  A new color scheme was immediately implemented with more changes yet to come.

The simple changing of the color gave the room an incredibly different feel.

Additionally, we will be adding wall wash led lights and a backdrop to the stage. In this case the functional act of painting created a contemporary look and a feeling of warmth.

On our first Sunday in the space we noticed that the room heated up rather quickly. This was in part due to the fact that the space came with all conventional house and stage lights (basically mini heaters)—with all the lights cooking we jumped 5 degrees very fast.

If the rise in temperature had been slow, many would not have noticed, as humans adapt to slow incremental temperature change very easily.  However, we humans do not adjust well to rapid changes in temperature.  Think about the last time when it was cold and you dashed to your car from a warm building.

We also discovered on that first Sunday that the room cooled very quickly, as we easily dropped 5 degrees.  Almost everyone noticed the rapid temperature change, but what was noticed the most was the noise that the roof top air conditioning units made.

The change is background noise level jumped about 10dB (at 3db most people perceive the change in volume) and spiked much higher as the unit turned on.

The functional part of cooling the building was causing an emotional reaction to both the temperature change and the background volume change.

We learned a lot that first weekend as we were given possession of the building on the Wednesday before the first service. With only 4 days to prep and get setup for a service, we knew that there would be some surprises.  In fact, our first Sunday in the space was B.Y.O.C. (bring your own chair).

With what we learned we will adapt.

Feeling
• Welcoming
• Warm
• Inviting
• Cozy
• Comfort
• Intuitional
• Cold
• Life
• Dead
• Safety
• Security
• Cared for
• At Home
• Established
• friendly

Functional
• Parking
• Directions
• Ease of Navigation
• Safety
• HVAC (comfort)
• Security
• Restrooms
• Barrier Free
• Traffic flow
• Capacity

It is great to have leadership that not only gets the importance of the word and worship music, but also gets the importance of a space feeling right and being functional at the same time.