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How to Get the Best Microphones & Sound Systems
By: Daniel Threlfall

Churches need good sound systems. It's as simple as that. The church is about proclaiming the truth of Jesus Christ. That simple goal requires some practical action: making sure that people hear clearly the truth that is proclaimed.

Draft a plan.
Sound systems are big, important, and expensive. Before you go and run up the church credit card, sit down with a piece of paper and a pen, and then start thinking. Prioritize. What do you have? What do you need?

You don't want to spend $230 on some very cool guitar distorters when you don't even have a speaker that the people can hear. By the way, it is more important that people hear the preaching of the Word than it is for them to be impressed by your band or music.

So, give it some thought. Take stock of your needs, your budget, your plan for growth, the kinds of church activities you'll need amplification for, the level of instrumentation you have, the kind of sound equipment you'll need, etc. The thinking and planning stage is by far the most important part of getting the best sound system for your church.

Recruit a pro.
You may not be able to afford to hire a pricy sound engineer, but you should at least get the insight of someone who knows what they're doing when it comes to sound. You may be a pastor and you don't know how to turn up the volume on your microphone, let alone what those other 982 knobs on the sound board do. Get some help. Sound systems are pretty complicated, so rather than leaf through the catalog with a clueless and happy sense of incompetence, find someone who can help. (Volunteers are best; they're free.)

With those two essential considerations, let's get it started. Your church will probably fall somewhere within the following three following budget classifications.

Scenario 1: Broke We have zero money for a sound system.
So, you're totally cash-strapped. You have about as much money as a college student in the laundromat, looking for quarters under the dryers. Besides tearing up the sound system catalog in frustration, here are some things you can do.

* Pray. Your church is God's church. Your work is God's work. Bring your needs to him in prayer. Do you need a sound system? Pray. Do you want better amplification for your music? Pray. Prayer is essential for all things. Therefore, pray whether you have millions of dollars in the bank, or hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.

* Preach. Part of faithful preaching is explaining the importance of giving. Yes, talking about giving can feel Really Awkward. Please, don't turn into a sanctified schmooze. If you are a pastor or church leader, explain to your people the biblical teaching on giving.

* Beg and borrow. Call other area churches and tell them your situation. No, you don't have to ask outright for their equipment. What you may want to do, however, is see if they have, say, a portable sound system that's not in use, or a sound system for the youth that they aren't using on Sundays. If so, they may be willing to loan it to you.

If a church is upgrading its sound system, they may be willing to donate their old equipment to other churches. Keep your ear to the ground for schools, theaters, sporting facilities, theme parks, concert halls, or other churches who are upgrading. You might just be able to snag some free equipment.

* Buy what you can. If you have only 20 people in your congregation, and plan on staying at that level for the next few years, a pricy sound system isn't what you need anyway. On the other hand, if you want to grow or if you plan on having a few more people, it's probably time to bite the budget bullet and buy something, even if it's just a speaker and a microphone, maybe. Make this a priority and allocate the funds.

Scenario 2: Not-Quite-Broke We just have a teeny bit of money for a sound system.
Most churches are in this category. Your budget shows actual numbers. You're in position where you should not immediately throw away the sound system catalog right after it arrives in the mail. Here is what you should do:

* Be quality-conscience. Cheaper is not always better. Keep in mind that often "you get what you pay for." In other words, if you spend 45 cents on a subwoofer, you may be getting a wood bat inside a cardboard box, instead of decent, high-quality bass amplification. You don't need to buy top-of-the-line stuff, but don't immediately buy the low-of-the-line stuff either. Keep quality in mind as you plan your purchases.

* Shop, compare, save. If you buy a car, you probably go to several dealers, surf several websites, and test-drive several cars. Think the same way with your church PA system. Shop around and compare prices. If you do, you'll save money. Don't go blow all your money at once. In other words, spend wisely and carefully.

Scenario 3: Not-at-all-Broke We're pretty good financially. We want the best there is.
Admittedly, this scenario probably applies to less than 40% of all churches. Even if you're not the most cash-flush church in the world, perhaps you've allocated a hefty bit of funding for sound, because you realize it's that important. So, whether you're an anomaly or just a smart, sound-loving saver, here are some tips.

* Don't neglect planning. Just because you have a lot of cash, it doesn't mean that you should just throw it all up and grab all you can without the pen-and-paper stage. Technology changes. Churches move. Sound components become illegal. Speakers break. Coffee spills on the sound board. Plan ahead for expansion, accidents, and upgrades.

* Purchase high-quality equipment. I didn't say buy expensive equipment just because you can. I said buy high-quality equipment. High-quality equipment doesn't break as easily, is easier to operate, and provides better sound quality.

* Be nice to the little guys. If you're upgrading a sound system, find a ministry to which you can donate your old equipment. Do you have a drawer full of microphones that you don't use? Got an old portable speaker in a basement closet? Find a ministry that needs equipment, and be a joyful giver.

Daniel Threlfall is marketing manager for ShareFaith, www.sharefaith.com.

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