I was recently asked a question by a church elder. "Do sound engineers get to worship during the service?" I wish more people would think about this question. After ten years of experience on sound ministry teams, I still can't worship 100% during my time "behind the mixer." That's just part of the job. Sound engineers, however, shouldn't take on un-necessary stress. This article highlights stress reducers that benefit both the engineers and the church worship experience.
1.) GET A TEAM
Make sure there is a team of engineers. My personal opinion is make sure the rotation gets a person behind the board every 5-6 weeks. Anything less frequent and it's easy for engineers to get out of practice. Anything more frequent than every three weeks and burnout occurs. If you only have one sound engineer then announce help is needed and hold a training session.
2.) ESTABLISH A PRE-SERVICE SCHEDULE.
An example of a worship schedule might be:
- 8:00: Get sound equipment and stage set up and ready
- 8:15: Worship team practice
- 8:40: Soloist practice
- 8:50: Choir practice
- 9:15: Run through the sound system checklist and order of worship (more on that in minute). Make sound operation notes on the bulletin or order of worship and settle in.
- 9:30: Service begins.
I recommend sound engineers have equipment ready fifteen minutes before the start. That gives you some time to take care of last minute things like tracking down a soloist to get their accompanyment CD, coordinating with someone on a change in service order, or dealing with a malfunction or broken piece of equipment. If you allow for a 15 minute window, these issues will be dealt with long before the service starts.
3.) CREATE AN ORDER OF WORSHIP
Engineers need an order of worship – ON PAPER. Actually, everyone involved in the service from the pastor to the praise team to the soloist should be working off of the same order of worship document. Church bulletins can be used for this as long as they contain enough information. Consider using the following format:
Person/Event | Song Name/DVD Name | Media (CD/TAPE/MP3)
Pastor Bob … Sermon … DVD Clip
Choir … "As The Deer"… Pianist
Sara Smith … "Wing and a prayer" … CD
If the order of worship needs to be changed, don't forget to check in with the sound engineer to make sure they are made aware of the change, and to make sure the changes won't cause a problem from a sound operation standpoint. It's usually not a problem, but consider it a common courtesy. Remember that sound engineers are always planning ahead to the next cue so they can provide a fluid flow to the service so the sound system operation goes unnoticed. They need predictability.
4.) SET EXPECTATIONS
Don't let ANYONE, at the last minute, hand the engineer an accompanyment track and say "just play cut #2." Engineers need to play the media before the service for setting sound levels and balancing. They also need to ensure the media plays properly. What is the worst that can happen? I've seen a choir director turn around to the sound booth and say "start over and start it a lot louder." You never want to break the mood of a worship experience.
5.) USE THE RIGHT GEAR
If you have a DVD/CD combo, spend a few bucks and buy a separate CD player. DVD players can be tempermental with CD's and the time between pressing the play button and when the sound comes out can be 20-25 seconds. That's a lot of time of silence if you are standing on the stage all alone with a mass of people looking at you. Also make sure the CD and DVD players you use have a clear display on the unit that shows what track number is being played. This is one of those things that makes a $29.99 CD player end up not being such a great deal after all. I've seen a sound engineer have to scroll through all of the tracks on a CD 2 or 3 times to get to the right accompanyment track for the special music during communion. Talk about disrupting worship.
6.) IF IT'S BROKEN, FIX IT
An engineer shouldn't spend an entire sermon praying the lapel mic doesn't short out again. Have a good system of communication in place so that problematic equipment is taken out of service. Promptly fix or replace equipment as necessary. One engineer shouldn't struggle with a piece of equipment that another engineer found was problematic the week before.
These last two are specifically for church leaders / worship leaders:
7.) ACCIDENTS HAPPEN
If an audio/visual mishap occurs in the middle of the service, politely say an unexpected problem has occured and it will be fixed as quickly as possible. Even go so far as ask if there is anything you can do – maybe you accidently kicked a wire or need to turn something on.
8.) SAY THANKS
Thank the sound engineers from time to time. Sound engineers are the first to get bad feedback and the last to get a pat on the back.
The sound engineer performs an important ministry in the church. Good planning and preparation is really the key to keeping stress levels low behind the mixer. Sound system operation is always going to demand some focus, but hopefully by applying some of these ideas the sound engineer will be experiencing the same calm and readiness for worship as the congregation when the service starts.