Right Gear for the Small Church
The temptation for a small church to function as a large-media ministry
Audio, video, and lighting technologies have become a center-point of the local church. The worship market is now the premier installation environment within the industry. Large conferences geared toward the church abound and market-specific ads are the norm. With so many megachurch installations in play, it can appear the only solution is to try and keep pace with the current state of the art. However, while a megachurch will spend $10,000 on just the pastor’s mic and a backup, that sum often represents the entire budget for a small church audio system. Clearly, there must be a better approach to applying technology within the small church.
Determine the appropriate technology for the application and learn to use it well
In the analog past, performance was directly related to price since better components cost more money. However, in the digital age, the baseline performance of lower cost chipsets is generally comparable to premium models and features are based on code, so, to the average user, a modest digital product functions almost as well as a more expensive version. Technology in the small church, then, need not be contemporary, only recent.
The ubiquitous Behringer X32 mixing console is the prime example of this trickle-down technology, where the previously avant-garde Midas digital boards have become $2,299 Guitar Center commodities. The small church can also look beyond the accepted specifications for a way to improve performance at lower costs. For instance, Shorewood Church of God in Illinois was in need of a new video projector for their high ambient light environment but could not afford to invest in an 8,000-lumen projector. The solution was found in NEC’s NP-M402H that, despite its modest 4,000-lumen output, boasts an impressive 10,000:1 contrast ratio. This wide contrast ratio allows a lower output projector to have more gradient levels between light and dark and appear to the eye as bright and pleasing. So, for half the price of a larger model, the NEC met Shorewood’s need.
Appropriate Vs. Expensive
Appropriate technology can also replace expensive dedicated hardware devices via common platforms available to anyone, such as an iPad. PreSonus has leveraged their skills with software to provide multiple points of access for musicians to have control over their individual mixes via iPhone while also allowing the engineer to mix from any location in the room via an iPad remote. The result is a low-cost board with the feature set of a much more expensive console. The fact the StudioLive 24.4.2AI does not have moving faders and a large touchscreen is offset by the mixer’s ability to command numerous external devices at once.
Beyond the level of equipment, another advantage large churches have is a trained technical staff. A small church is typically not in a position to pay audio, video, and lighting techs for their efforts, so the ministry is volunteer based. However, volunteer does not necessarily mean less competent, especially in light of the swift changes in digital technology. A teen with programming skills can easily adapt to a PC-based lighting console. For example, Martin Lighting offers the M2GO hardware DMX console for about $7,000, but the PC version is about one-third that price. While there are some differences, the PC version is sufficiently powerful for almost any small church environment. And the PC-based teen will acclimate to it easier than to the old-school hardware variant.
A worship leader in a small church can use technology effectively when the best match of features and pricing are met through research and the expertise of a trusted resource. If time is spent finding a creative solution to dollar-based problems, the results can be satisfying as the need is met at a price that fits the small church budget.
Kent Morris delivers a bridge-building perspective to the technical arena. He is a live sound engineer for Paul Baloche, Tommy Walker, Kim Hill, and Israel Houghton and served as a senior pastor for a decade. He spent a dozen years in MI retail and wholesale. Currently, he is an audio/video system designer with Cornerstone Media, whose clients include Mt. Paran Church of God and In Touch Ministries.