Stage Preparation: The Three Key Areas of Importance

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Stage Preparation: The Three Key Areas of Importance

Does this stage setup look like that of a church?
Photo provided by jakeliefer

The front of the church sanctuary is where all eyes are focused. It’s the place where the pastor presents the Word of God. It’s the place where the congregation is lead to worship in song. It’s the place where people kneel at the cross. It’s the place of most importance.

I believe it’s important to note the use of the word “stage” before going on. The room is the sanctuary. The place the pastor speaks from is the pulpit. But what do we call the place where the pulpit and musicians and choir are located? Generically, it’s called the stage. In strictly church-specific terms, it’s called the chancel.  I bring up the term chancel because I think it’s too easy to view the front of the sanctuary as “a stage where the musicians and pastor work” instead of how it should be viewed; “a place where God is worshiped.”

Working in a variety of churches over the last 23 years, I’ve done my share of stage preparation. Whether it’s been setting up the auditorium for a portable church or setting the stage at a large church, there are three key areas of importance; needs, safety, and esthetics. Let’s break these down a bit further;

  • Needs; the stage should have all of the elements necessary to meet the needs of the church service. This includes microphones, cables, monitors, all of those audio needs typical thought of as important, as well as the elements the pastor needs such as objects for sermon illustrations. Everything on the stage has a purpose and there are a lot of needs to be met.
  • Safety; I like the word chancel for its respectful tone. However, using the word stage is a great reminder that it’s an active area, like a theatrical stage, where people are moving around. Therefore, you have to consider the safety of anyone who steps foot on the stage. From environmental safety (loose wires) to electrical safety (faulty equipment), safety must be a consideration in preparing the stage.
  • Esthetics; going back to the respectful tone of the word chancel, the front of the sanctuary is the place where all eyes are focused. It’s not a place for disorder. It’s a place of respect and therefore should be prepared as such.

Let’s break these areas down even further and look at practical application in stage setup.

Needs

  • Meeting the needs of the musicians would be ensuring they have the necessary equipment available, and in working order, so they can fully engage in leading worship. This means giving them the right microphones and cables for connecting to the system. It also means placing monitors in the best location so they can get the proper volume level on the stage without creating too much stage volume. Often, your stage work focuses only on this area.
  • Meeting the needs of the pastor and other people who speak on the stage would be ensuring they have the right equipment, know how to use the equipment, and know what to do if something goes wrong. For example, the pastor should have a wireless microphone which has been set and configured for their voice. It should have a fully charged battery in it. They should know how to turn it on and off if. They should know which stage microphone to grab in case their microphone goes out.
  • Wait! How do I find out the needs of these people? This happens in several ways.  Regarding the musicians, contact the worship leader mid-week and ask them for a song list and the names of the people who will be in the band (and what they play or if they sing).  If you have the same band members each week, ask if the line-up is changing.  Regarding the pastor and others, it all depends on your church structure.  For example, in a small church, it’s likely best that you directly ask the pastor if there is anything extra required. In a larger church, that might be the responsibility of the Tech Director or Producer so you’d want to check with those people.  The easiest way to remember all of this is to know that it’s your job to ask who, what, when, and where and then have the answers.

Safety

  • Place equipment in non-traffic areas. The pastor should be able to walk around the pulpit without worrying about tripping on cables or bumping into equipment. Just the same, even though the musicians have their spots, they also need to safely walk to and from those spots.
  • Only use equipment that works 100% of the time. This goes for cables, di boxes, amplifiers, and anything else on the stage that passes an audio or electrical signal. Not only can failure disrupt the service, but it could also cause physical harm or fire.
  • Regarding small stages, plan for pathways. It’s easy to eat up floor space with monitors and music stands. I’ve seen stages that only gave the pastor about a four-foot diameter around the pulpit. When planning the stage layout remember that people need to get on and off stage safely while also getting to their area on the stage.

Esthetics

  • Work with the worship team on eliminating extra equipment. There is very little extra equipment and it usually comes down to music stands and microphone stands. Find out if two singers are willing to share a music stand. Replace four single microphone music stands with a multi-mic stand like the Softpod Mic Holder.
  • Tie up loose cables. Any time you have cables on microphones stands, such as boom stands, use the small Velcro ties to secure them to the stand. This way, instead of the congregation seeing a mic stand and a dangling cable, they only see the mic stand.
  • The less you see the better. This goes along with the concept of safety. Use only the amount of cabling that’s required. This way, the congregation does see a lot of extra cabling coiled up on the stage.  Look for what can be moved off-stage or to a less conspicuous area.

Take the Test

Look at the photo below.  This is from a church service.  Please note this photo was taken at a point in time so I don’t know what happened immediately before or after it was taken.  However, this single point in time does make for the perfect image for asking you this question; related to needs, safety, and esthetics, what would you change on this church stage?

Stage Preparation: The Three Key Areas of Importance

Photo provided by jakeliefer

The Take Away

Stage preparation is an important part of your job. By meeting the needs of those involved with the church service, providing a safe area for leading the service, and providing a clean-looking area, you are presenting the front of the sanctuary as less of a stage and more of a chancel. During the service, you are lifting up your production work as an offering to God. During the stage preparation, you are showing respect to the area in which it all occurs.

 

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Comments

  1. Rach says

    thanks Josh! :)

    The listed equipment are tend to be bought. I will consider your suggestion very carefully.

    Thanks again

  2. rach says

    Hi,

    I need some of your feedback on my concern. We are going to get a new sound system for church (about 100 more or less seats).
    We heard of power amp speaker but we still prefer to have passive speaker.

    Do you have any comments for the following:

    Mixer : mackie pro FX 16
    PA speaker: Yamaha Dual way Spekear 1000 watt 15″
    Amplifier : behringer EPX 3000 ( we are not sure of how many watt and power should we get in order to work the best sound with the speaker.)

    Thank you for your time and your professional suggestion.

    • says

      Is this all “to be bought” equipment? or do you already have some of this?

      The mixer is very similar to ours (Mackie CFX16). I run through 2 Crown XLS1500 amps into passive speakers (2 JBL EON’s for mains, 1 Yamaha speaker for vocals), 2 yamaha active speakers for our pianist and drummer, and our guitarist brings his own guitar amp that I use for a monitor feed for him….I actually use a home stereo sub from my house too….I wanted to try it out one time, tried it, it worked and added some decent sound, so I keep using it lol…..

      Powered or Active speakers are usually built with amps that will allow the speaker to not be under (or over) powered. eg. your Yamaha dual way speaker with 1000 watts and 15″ horn. Never plug in this speaker into an amp (unless you take the outfeed of the speaker into the in feed of the amp….thats usually just fine since most active speakers do not send out a powered signal, only line level). These speakers takes a line level input, not a powered input.

      Passive or non-powered speakers do not have amps and must be powered by a separate amp. eg. my JBL’s. These must be plugged into an external amp (so the speaker recieves a powered signal from the amp, the amp recieves a line level signal from the mixer).

      Yamaha tends to be a good brand overall, so the speaker should sound fine (of course if the source doesn’t sound good, then the speaker won’t sound good). If you are using that speaker as your mains, use the “main out” ‘s on the mixer, if its going to be an aux, then connect it to the “mon send” or if you need a 3rd monitor feed and no FX’s, use the “FX send” (just make sure you turn off FX’s to the mains).

      Behringer is the company many have had problems with, but there are a few like me that haven’t had any problems at all. Look at reviews for the amp to make sure its a decent buy. I thought about doing the behringer amps, but chose not to as the company still has a lot of bad rep, I don’t want to put more then a couple of hundred $$’s into equipment from them….So I picked my crowns….I haven’t heard anything bad about them, they always have good reviews, and they are still quite cheap compared to say Yamaha. If you get an amp, make sure you get passive speakers to connect to it, otherwise you’ll just blow everything up if you connect an active speaker to it. The behringer amp you listed basically allows for each channel to have a 1500 Watt speaker (or 1 3000 Watt bridged between the 2 channels), I like having overhead on the amp though, so even though I could put a 1500 Watt speaker on each channel, I probably wouldn’t put more then a 1000 Watt speaker on each.

      ——
      ——

      so basically for what you listed for equipment, either drop the amp, or swap the speakers for passive speakers (thats all assuming you don’t need the amp for other passive speakers you may already have).

      If you have any more questions, give me a shout. I’ll see what I can help with :)
      josh(at)joshschultz.ca

  3. says

    I will always try to keep things tidy. If things look messy, I think it becomes a bit of a reflection of the Church (to outsiders). That doesn’t mean go all wireless, but it does mean cover what you can, hide what you can, and place things where it makes sense…..oh did I just say sense? lol

    As for the pic:
    1. get rid of all the mic stands, and only have one at a low position able to hold them all. Vocalists can hold mics with their hands :)
    2. have a mini-snake going to the vocalist area to minimize the cords
    3. Why does the leader (I assume the guitarist is the leader) have a wireless microphone when he has a wired guitar?
    4. I bet its a really loud stage, the monitors are way to far away from their ears….

    Thats it for now :)

  4. Aaron Jackson says

    First the good:
    I have recently colour coded our XLR cables by length by wrapping a small amount of electricians tape near each plug to encourage the people at the earlier services to use the shortest ones suitable. This clears the floor of excess cable and leaves the longer cables available for when they’re really needed.
    The bad: Last Sunday found me on the sound desk unexpectedly and I mentally wasn’t there. I took an easy option to not move a foldback from the previous service which led to me getting feedback when I wanted to add more flute and it was the first time in a very long time, and not waking up to the fact that the sound from a couple of speakers was too low (like most sound techs I have good hearing and fell into the lazy trap of ‘if I can hear it so can everyone else’) and someone asking me to turn it up.

    Stage preparation, and mental preparation could have avoided both of those problems.

    • says

      Aaron, mental preparation is another key part and I’m glad you mentioned it. On the days I’m on duty, I start with a nutritious breakfast and a lot of water. That starts me with the energy I need to last me until after the last service.

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