Today’s Houses of
Worship are embracing music – and serious music programs – like never before.
This may sound like we’re stating the obvious, because, of course, pipe organs,
choirs and classical music were literally developed and thrived under the
guidance of the church. None of that is going anywhere. But, it is the
popularity of the contemporary music scene within the church environment that
has changed the way houses of worship spend their dollars. Building vibrant and
successful contemporary music programs is where they tend to focus their
efforts because the payoff is often new members (especially younger families
and young people). So, building a serious music program is a priority for any
church that wants to grow and remain relevant. Now, more than ever

Wealthy, so called “Mega
Churches” aside, one of the most difficult, and surprising, challenges to
conquer for small and mid-sized churches is determining the appropriate technology
and professional gear needed to insure a positive listening experience for the
Making the wrong choices can be a serious – and costly –
problem. Churchgoers – like everyone – are savvy audiences. A flawed sound system
(or a poor operator of a good sound system) can ruin the worship experience.
We’re all used to feedback-free presentations. We’re not tolerant of muffled
sound. We expect the volume and sound balance to be appropriate for the venues
where we gather.

There’s a lot to think
about, and much of it is ignored, because, in many cases, a church’s music
program expands – and audio purchases are made – at the same rate of growth as
its congregation. So, initially, many of these decisions are made by volunteers,
amateur music lovers or even well-meaning choir directors (all of whom may have
many talents, but are not necessarily well-trained when it comes to designing
and installing live sound and live sound recording systems). So, the results
can be disappointing. And that’s a shame, because small and mid-sized churches
have limited funds to spend. Poor equipment choices, shoddy installation,
attempting to retrofit an older system into a new space, etc. can prove costly
for a growing church and the decisions can have a lasting financial and
creative impact.

“I’ve seen
churches buy a wide range of different live sound and recording equipment for
different sanctuaries and presentation venues as they grow in size and scope.”
Says Corey Kirkendoll of 5K Technical Services in the Dallas area. He and his
staff have learned a lot about the struggles of small and mid-sized churches as
they design building connectivity systems for them. “They just can’t bear to
get rid of an older mixing board, for example, even when it doesn’t work for
the room any more. Or, they don’t consider future growth when they purchase the
board in the first place. Imagine having volunteers trying to learn 3 or 4
different mixing consoles or audio recording software – all within the same church?
It just creates problems. And it costs too much. It diminishes the power of the
choices they’ve made.”

Kirkendoll also points out that sound and recording purchases should not be
made in a vacuum. These days, live sound and recording gear should be connected
via the same digital cables that a church’s VOiP and Internet systems are
utilizing. That offers any church a great deal of flexibility as growth
occurs. So, a thoughtful strategy can really make the difference.

Pro-audio retailer Mike
“Spunky” Brunone of Audio DAWg (also in Texas) agrees. “The smart way for a
church to select the right gear for now – and for the future – is to bring live
sound and recording experts to the table, along with the experts in
connectivity. These days, each piece of gear needs to talk to each other.” Many
churches are also embracing products such as FocusritePro’s RedNet® line of Dante® interfaces that provide an audio-over-IP solution and a
scalable, modular audio system. Again, the goal is flexibility and easy connectivity.

But, there’s another
step that’s often overlooked: training. According to Brunone, “Churches often fail to build product training into the
plan, so they end up with incredible, professional sound systems but no one who
is qualified to operate them! Whether that person is a volunteer, a paid member
of a music program or an outside pro, it’s critical that training and
maintenance is built into the budget. Otherwise, there can be a lot of

Spending dollars wisely
is always a top concern. Tight budgets, and the popularity of
contemporary church music, has, sadly (for lovers of classical worship music)
means that some churches are simply no longer interested in maintaining an
authentic traditional music program – or even a real pipe organ with real
pipes, for that matter. Those that do (we applaud you!), recognize that, while
maintaining a pipe organ can be expensive, it also provides a truly
unmatched, rich worship experience.

For those seeking a
reliable – and impressive – solution that keeps tradition alive, a virtual
experience is available. Pipe organists who are willing to consider a virtual
pipe organ experience will find that it can be just as rich and satisfying.
Some would even say more so, because a virtual pipe
organ offers Pipe Organ Sample Sets from around the world. So
now, even a small sanctuary can feature a Notre Dame Cavaille Coll
French organ or a Father Willis Hereford Cathedral English organ at a touch of
a button! Plus, virtual pipe organs feature easy expandability
at an affordable price.

This solution can be
elegant visually, as well. Virtual pipe organ software from companies like
Hauptwerk are now being paired with gorgeous, traditional pipe organ consoles,
real wood key manuals and pedals, touch screens and tabs or draw
knobs. Music from a virtual pipe organ includes its own compliment of
speakers and it can be perfectly balanced through the house sound
system that is also utilized for contemporary services, sermons, etc.. So,
it’s a House of Worship trifecta – for those with an open mind.

Says Brunone, “Church
music programs are growing. Fast. But, without a plan, and some innovation, it
can be a bumpy path.”