Upgrading Your Church’s Audio System: Five Tips from a Church Tech

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in August 2012 and was updated in November 2015.

Josh Isenhart is an audio engineer and consultant who works as a quality improvement lead with the engineering team at Sensory Technologies in Indianapolis. Previously, he worked for Indiana’s largest rental and staging company, and before that, he was director of technical ministries at Lakeview Christian Church. His faith is his passion, so in his free time, he serves as a teaching pastor intern at Nehemiah Project Church.

Josh’s diverse background has given him the opportunity to consider audio from several perspectives. Having participated in many a budget discussion, he has developed a strong knowledge of when and how to replace, build, or improve a system, and he was kind enough to share that knowledge with us. Here's what he told us.

#1 Old Isn’t Necessarily Bad.

Before you start drafting that gear shopping list, assess the equipment you have on hand. Old doesn’t mean unusable. Think of all the people who trashed their tube amplifiers for solid-state stereos thirty years ago, only to find audiophiles preferring the warm sound of tube amps later. So, take the time to examine your gear. Does it work? Is it worth repairing? Can it be repurposed?  Is there another ministry that can use it?

#2 Look at Backbone Issues.

Scrutinize your existing system, then deconstruct it piece by piece.

Speaker selection and placement

  • Do you have the correct type and quantity of speakers?
  • Are they installed properly?
  • Do they adequately cover the seating area?


  • Is there sufficient power for the number of speakers in place?
  • Are the amplifiers properly installed, with good ventilation and appropriate AC power?
  • Is there appropriate processing?

Mix position

  • Is the sound board located where the operator can properly hear the listening environment?
  • Is there enough physical space for the necessary equipment and personnel?


  • Has the system been wired neatly and logically?
  • Were block diagrams and wiring layouts created during installation?
  • Could any knowledgeable technician walk in and repair the system, or does it only make sense to the person who installed it and / or runs it?

#3 Evaluate Your Needs. Then, Develop a 3–5 Year Plan.

The most worthwhile investment you can make in your church’s audio gear is the time you spend developing a strategic plan based on your church’s current and future gear needs. The best sound systems are built on a foundation of communication with your church’s leaders, administrators (for instance, the budget committee) and the worship staff.

  • Determine short-term goals. What's broken or needs to be addressed immediately?
  • Examine your mid- and long-term goals. Develop a plan that adds over time the components needed for the functionality you want.
  • Establish a budget for gear maintenance, upgrades and training, just like your church would do for new phone or computer systems.

#4 Buy Smart, Not Cheap.

You get what you pay for. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. You’ve heard those old saws before, but they're true. Good equipment costs money.

  • Don’t buy anything (cords, cables, mics, speakers, mixing boards, really anything in your system) just because the price is low. Buy it because you know it will work well and reliably.
  • Talk to colleagues at other churches, read publications designed exclusively for church and production technology, attend seminars and workshops, and build a relationship with a trusted AV provider.

Once you understand exactly what you want to accomplish and which products can help, you’ll be ready to start shopping.

#5 Think Visual.

Church AV is no longer a luxury. As you consider retrofitting an old system versus installing a new one, think about how you will integrate all aspects of audio-visual production. The size of the congregation is no longer the determining factor here: it’s the impact of the message on a community raised on fast-moving images.

Now, How Much Should You Pay?

It’s not the eternal question, but it’s still a big one: How much should you budget for a new sound system?

There is no simple answer to this question. You need to take the time to evaluate all of your ministry’s goals. A good place to start is to base your budget on the number of people sitting in the seats, for instance:

  • 200-300 people equals $20,000–30,000 in audio gear
  • 301-500 people equals $30,000–50,000 in audio gear
  • 500-1,000 people equals $50,000–$100,000 in audio gear
  • 1,001-5,000 people $100,000–$250,000 in audio gear
  • Over 5,000 people equals $250,000+ in audio gear

Additional tips:

  • Don’t be afraid to try new things.
  • It’s okay to buy used.
  • Cover your basic needs. Worry about bells and whistles later.
  • Don’t get sold. Arm yourself with the facts.
  • Look for package deals. Some companies will reduce their prices if you buy a bundle of gear.
  • Build relationships with local dealers, contractors and repair shops.
  • Don’t skimp on anything, especially the sound board, speakers and amplification.
  • Get durable, all-purpose microphones. If you’re starting out with a small budget, buy as many SM57s and BETA 58A®s as you can. You can use them for anything, and they last forever.

The bottom line: good sound is good sound. A church building is a performance space, so all the usual rules of sound reinforcement apply.

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Davida Rochman

Davida Rochman

A Shure associate since 1979, Davida Rochman graduated with a degree in Speech Communications and never imagined that her first post-college job would result in a lifelong career that had her marketing microphones rather than speaking into them. Today, Davida is a Corporate Public Relations Manager, responsible for public relations activities, sponsorships, and donation programs that intersect with Shure at the corporate and industry level.

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  • Jim says:

    In our church there’s so much echo that I have trouble understanding what the speaker is saying. I don’t know what we have for an audio system…any suggestions?

  • Kyle Winters says:

    I do like that you remind people to shop smart for their new sound system and not just go for the cheapest thing you can find. After all, whether you’re buying a new sound system for your congregation or a home theater, you want it to provide quality sound. The suggestion to speak with other churches or professionals is great because it can give you a really food idea of which sound systems will meet your needs and which ones won’t. http://metrosoundlighting.com/metro-contracting/

  • enrico g. pingul says:

    we have small chapel here in the philippines, located 72 km from manila our budget is so low and we cannot even buy a good amplifier and microphones, i know shure is a good brand but their to expensive, our parishioners are from low income group. i was chatting with my daughter in las vegas if she could ask for donations from her friends and other realtives. i hope there will be a time that we can receive help from abroad. thank you and god bless.

  • Daniel Powers says:

    Great article! Thank you for taking the time right this up. My church has been having issues achieving a balanced sound across the sanctuary. It’s about 3-6 decibels louder under the speakers than at the sound booth. Do you guys have any advice on how to balance out our sound?

    • Rebecca Senft Davida Rochman says:

      Hi Daniel! Thanks for the question. Our applications engineers provided this answer:

      “There are a lot of factors that go into “balancing” a sound system, most of which are done by products that we do not make.
      The best course of action would be to have an acoustics specialist come in and take measurements. It might be something very simple like speaker positioning or something far more complex that may require mid room delayed loudspeakers. A professional in that field will be able to figure this out and come up with a plan to fix the problem.”

  • franklin says:

    our church long 180 feet with 85 feet ceiling high from floor to 30 feet
    four side cover block wall . how to select sound system

    • Rebecca Senft Davida Rochman says:

      Hi Franklin!

      Thanks for the question. There are a lot of factors when choosing a sound system. In order to give you a thorough answer, you can contact our product support team, who can help your specific situation. Please contact them at support@shure.com.

  • Won Kim says:

    We have a church sound system but
    Microphone sounds up and down,
    need equalizing and reset up amp
    System and need remote micro system.

  • J. LaMar Wagner says:

    Guys, what an awesome article. You covered all the bases. You touched on everything that addresses the needs of not just my church but many churches around this country. Please continue to put out this kind of info so churches can do their best to spread the word of God through excellent audio.

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