How to Budget Church Sound Systems Effectively

Church sound systems have never been more important than they are now, because in a world overwhelmed by media, worship space loudspeakers are delivering an important message. At the same time, a church's overall budget remains its lifeblood, and the cost of sound systems needs to be balanced against several other considerations. With the right information, a church can successfully factor the cost of a church sound system into its larger financial picture.So, when is it time for a church's sound to go to the next level, and what needs to be factored in when it comes to cost? Let's find out.

Costs of Market Forces

In the last 20 years or so, music artists' revenue has shifted from recordings to live shows, driving demand for higher live-sound fidelity. Thanks to a robust market for live sound, sonic quality for church sound systems is attainable at virtually every budget level. Moreover, competition between systems manufacturers has made affording leading brands easier than in years past.

The sizes of the areas to be covered by sound determines sound system design and scale. Venue interior architectural design also informs the number of loudspeakers needed. The overarching goal of this process is to achieve two primary objectives: speech intelligibility and full-range music reproduction. The former ensures the message is successfully delivered; the latter ensures a church service is an enjoyable musical experience. System costs, while important, should always be secondary to these objectives.

Main Church Sound System Design Types and Components

Church sound systems' designs typically fall into several broad types. Conventional auditoriums and theater-style environments are well-suited for line-array systems, like the Bose Professional Line Arrays, which are generally installed to hang — or "fly" — at the front of the space. Many non-traditional church plants tend to be highly reverberant, and often do better with distributed sound systems. For example, Bose Professional's AMM multipurpose loudspeakers feature purpose-built versatility that can support most spaces' challenges, including whether the church is round, has low ceilings, or requires a more portable solution. Once the church is ready to expand to a campus-wide solution, or when it just requires more powerful audio in their worship space, they can simply build on with Bose Professional ArenaMatch Utility AMU loudspeakers.

Most, if not all, church sound systems — from the largest megachurches' concert-worthy systems to smaller church sound systems — also share certain basic components, including:

  • Loudspeakers. Usually, these are enclosed in boxes that can be stacked or flown to create arrays.
  • Subwoofers. These are loudspeakers designed specifically to handle low frequencies.
  • Amplifiers. Powering the loudspeakers and subs, these can also provide system management via digital signal processing in some advanced systems.
  • Audio console. These are used to mix the audio from microphones and other sources on stage. Most are now digital and cost more than analog consoles, but these offer more functionality and higher channel counts.
The back of attendees standing during a church service.

Church service , worship, and community

The Overall Costs

When it comes to dollars and cents, this online calculator can be a useful starting point. A few helpful rules of thumb that can help better determine the final costs include:

  • Scale and size. The size of the space will largely determine how much equipment — mainly loudspeakers and amplifiers — will be needed to adequately cover key areas. Those include the main sanctuary or auditorium (with the number of seats as the usual metric) as well as spill-over areas such as youth rooms and lobbies.
  • Worship type. Is the church's music traditional chorale and organ? Or do services include a band on stage with drums and guitars? What is the balance between preaching and worshipping at your church? Is your church focused more on worship? Do services include a band on stage with drums and guitars? Whichever the case, sound systems need to accommodate varying worship-music styles. For example, bass and drums may require subwoofers as part of the PA system. Louder worship-music presentations will require larger and more complex sound systems, which can be more costly. Consider choosing a system that allows you to add to it as your audio needs evolve. Your initial investment may be higher, but you'll avoid needing an entirely new system down the line.
  • Professional services. Industry veterans tell you a typical church might go through as many as 10 sound systems and upgrades — and the later systems are almost always done to correct problems created by the earlier ones. Consider starting with a system that has the capability to grow with you. The category of contractors is professional AV systems integrators. They will assess the physical space and recommend an appropriate system design. As with many things in life, referrals from other churches is the optimal way to find the integrator that best suits a church's particular needs.
  • Ancillary materials and costs. The core components of a sound system's hardware costs are the loudspeakers and amplifiers themselves. However, there are other related and critical components such as acoustic treatments. In churches, these are mainly absorptive materials that control naturally occurring reverberation and echoes. Well-designed and installed acoustic treatment can significantly reduce the number of speakers needed in some system designs — and thus reduce the overall cost of a system. Additionally, much of what's usually needed in terms of treatments is available as ready-made products, which helps control costs. For instance, the pastor of this church used commercially available treatment products to lower estimated treatment costs from over $25,000 to just $5,000.

There is no one fixed formula for determining the final budget for church sound systems. However, these tips on understanding the different components and leveraging available expertise can serve as a roadmap to help navigate a typically complex process.