Church AV Solutions: The Complete Guide
Here at Aspen Custom Electronics, we’re experts in designing and building high-performing AV solutions for churches. A big part of the process revolves around equipment selection—we’re constantly evaluating and inspecting tech products (including their reputations, warranties, values, and features) to ensure each client gets exactly what they need for church AV. Quality, reliability, and ease of use are all key factors in making the right choice.
But equipment is only one piece of the AV puzzle—the type of project and your budget will influence the technology you use. In this guide, we’ll walk through everything you need to know about church audio visual equipment, including the stages of an AV installation or upgrade and a detailed overview of each individual aspect of your AV setup: speakers, microphones, mixers, live streaming devices, broadcast production systems, video distribution, video displays, and lighting.
Table Of Contents
Stages Of An Installation Or Upgrade Church Audio Visual Equipment: Technology Categories Speakers Microphones Mixers Live Streaming Devices Production Systems Video Distribution Video Displays Lighting
Important Design Factors For Church AV
Over the years, we’ve put together some requirements for church AV that we feel are unique to these religious spaces. When designing your new or improved AV system, consider the following recommendations:
Design with plentiful and good-quality lighting to ensure congregants and readers can read their scriptures or hymnals.
Ensure your sound system projects high-quality, natural sound, so the sermon is easily intelligible every week.
Prioritize audio quality over video quality.
Consider the aesthetics and architecture of your sanctuary. (The outward appearance of your AV equipment should not be an afterthought; it should be virtually invisible amid the surrounding religious iconography or flourishes.)
Mistakes To Avoid In Building Church AV Systems
Regardless of whether you’re creating a new AV system from the ground up or revamping an existing one, you’ll want to steer clear of certain mistakes that are unique to church AV. Below are some tips to be mindful of as you explore different equipment options and plan your installation:
Don’t buy cheap equipment to hit a budget. Cheap equipment simply doesn’t last as long as higher-quality, more expensive components. The nature of church AV equipment is that it’ll be used regularly (at least weekly) and given a workout each time, and you don’t want to be constantly troubleshooting. With this in mind, shop for value more than price; consider purchasing equipment that provides the highest bracket of quality you’re willing to pay for. It could well save you time and money in the long run.
NOTE: If budget remains a top concern for you and key decision makers, compromise on features before you compromise on quality. It’s always better to purchase a bare-bones piece of equipment from a reputable brand than to pay for glitzy extra features from a less trusted budget brand.
Ensure your technical director understands your new technology. When you order a new AV system (or new equipment for an existing system), coordinate with your technical director/AV director to make sure they’re familiar with the brands and equipment being installed. If they need extra training, obtain it from your installer. Your technical director will need to be intimately familiar with the final system in order to smoothly operate it and be its first-line troubleshooter.
Plan for what your church needs if it grows. Instead of ordering an AV system based solely on your current needs, try to anticipate future needs as well. Installing a system that can handle 15–20% growth, for example, will insure against needing a system revamp anytime soon. Typically, such adaptation can include installing:
A newer soundboard/mixing console with more inputs and outputs.
Gear that can handle live streaming (more below on the equipment for this).
A larger speaker or screen setup.
Avoid purchasing equipment from a “resi-mercial” brand. A resi-mercial AV brand—or a brand that’s designed to address the needs of both residential and commercial users—likely won’t serve a church’s purposes well. Instead, look for tried and true commercial AV brands whose equipment is designed and built to withstand the demands of a packed church service every week.
Ensure that the AV integrator you choose prioritizes equipment servicing. If you’re considering hiring an AV integrator (such as Aspen) to plan and install your system, make sure service is covered. Ask the question in your initial conversations with the integrator. A service agreement is important because for most mortals, fixing an AV system that’s on the fritz is not a do-it-yourself-friendly situation; if a problem should arise, it’s best not to be caught short, especially in a heavy-use setting like a house of worship.
A Note On Servicing
An important gauge of good service by an AV integrator is what level of service you get once the system is installed and running. In every AV project we complete, Aspen Custom Electronics guarantees that we will be able to provide servicing for all installed equipment.
In fact, we’re so dedicated to customer success that we often service AV systems we didn’t install—customers come to us with systems installed by companies who don’t respond to service inquiries, or who are geographically out of range for service calls. Instead of leaving you in the lurch, Aspen is willing to work with you to find the best plan for troubleshooting. We’ll work to get you up and running in time for your next church service.
Church AV Solutions: Stages Of An Installation Or Upgrade
Stage 1: Set your goals.
Aside from improving your production quality, you likely have additional goals you’re trying to achieve with your AV installation. Some of these might include:
Being able to live stream (increasingly important post COVID-19)
Broadcasting to an overflow room
Broadcasting video and audio throughout a large room
Improving the acoustics for your band or choir
The amount of money you could spend on church audio visual equipment varies greatly depending on your goals, which is why stage one is so important.
Stage 2: Set your budget.
Next, set a budget that can effectively serve your goals. To keep your decisions realistic, consider the following typical expense ranges:
A small- to medium-size church (one with up to 400 congregants) looking to replace their entire system could reasonably expect to spend anywhere from $50,000 to $250,000.
A medium- to large-size church (one with around 400–900 congregants) looking to replace their entire system will probably spend anywhere from $250,000 to $500,000.
An extra-large church that needs live streaming, streaming to multiple campuses, elaborate stage lighting, or other advanced systems will probably spend anywhere from $1 million to $2 million.
At this stage, you also must consider: 1. the square footage of the space you are equipping; 2. the height of its ceiling; and, 3. its layout. An increase in either of the first two factors will require a corresponding increase in your AV system budget. All three factors are key elements that determine how much power and projection your equipment will need to deliver, and whether your AV integrator will be able to implement the features you want.
Stage 3: Select an integrator.
After determining your budget and goals, look for an AV integrator—a company that designs and installs church AV solutions—to build your system.
When choosing an AV integrator consider the following:
Proof of past work with churches of your size
Good manufacturing partnerships
It’s important to define your goals and budget (Stages 1 and 2) before hiring an integrator, because you’ll want to have a detailed discussion with the integrator about what they can accomplish within your budget. An experienced AV company will be able to view your plans, alert you to any budget shortcomings, and offer workarounds if your goals are not squaring with your budget. Workarounds might include reducing desired features, reducing output power, or completing your project incrementally as funds become available.
Need some guidance on your church AV installation? Bring your questions to the experts at Aspen Custom Electronics.
Stage 4: Select equipment and execute.
Once you’ve selected your AV integrator, you’ll dive into designing your AV installation and selecting your equipment:
Live streaming devices
Video production systems
Throughout the rest of this guide, we’ll take a deep dive into each equipment category to help you determine the best course of action for your next AV installation.
Church Audio Visual Equipment: Technology Categories
Church speakers are used to distribute audio from a stage throughout the main room or overflow rooms.
Speaker Equipment Options
These are the two most common speaker types to choose from:
Point source speakers: These are clusters of speakers aimed at different points throughout the room, or staggered for full facility coverage.
Line array speakers: These are placed in a vertical column on the side of the room in order to send sound waves uniformly so audio sounds like it’s coming from a single speaker.
Speaker Power Source
While some of your church speakers will be self-powered (which means they’ll need to be plugged into an electrical outlet close to wherever they’re placed), others will need to be wired differently. To prepare:
Make sure you have an appropriate amount of power plugs available.
Involve an electrician when needed to wire multiple circuits for large speakers.
Place speakers, amplifiers, lights, and other equipment on adequately sized circuits.
Speaker Control System
Use a Digital Signal Processor (DSP) to control your speakers. A DSP allows operators to tune equipment or analyze audio in real time to improve sound in the room.
Speaker placement depends on room size and acoustics and is critical to provide a good listening experience. Your integrator will be able to offer advice on speaker selection and quantities based on sound mapping software, or EASE plots, and experience. Most speakers are usually suspended from the ceiling, but they can also be ground stacked on the stage in certain situations.
Speaker systems may also require the following equipment:
Floor wedges: These are placed on-stage to reflect sound back to the pastor/band so they can hear themselves. Wedges are prone to feedback, so in-ear monitors are more popular today.
In-ear monitors: These earbuds allow speakers/band members to hear themselves without the possibility of feedback and often provide the performer with individualized control of their audio mix.
Microphones are used by those speaking or singing on stage to send audio to speakers.
Microphone Equipment Options
There are two main styles of microphones to choose from, either of which can be wired or wireless:
Condenser microphone: These mics offer a bright and crisp sound, but can be more prone to feedback. A good singer will typically sound better on a condenser microphone.
Dynamic microphone: These are capable of withstanding high sound pressure levels, and are better for general use.
Nowadays, it’s more popular to use a head-worn microphone than to hold one in your hand and offer more consistency as the microphone is always in the same location relative to the presenter’s mouth. Double ear headsets are preferable to single ear headsets as they offer the user more confidence that the microphone will stay in place. Lapel microphones are worn on your clothing, They are better suited to broadcast applications than live sound.
Before making your final choice, consider a microphone’s pickup pattern. Some reject surrounding noise, which can help out in a live setting.
Microphone Best Practices
Some best practices to keep in mind for the highest quality sound are:
If you have a beard, keep the microphone as close to your mouth as you can without touching it.
Be mindful of where speakers and floor monitors are located on the stage. If you come too close to them, feedback can occur.
If there are many wireless microphones and in-ear monitors, make sure that the system has enough available frequencies to accomodate your needs.
Mixers can change the tone and volume of your audio signals, and are sometimes also referred to as a mixing console, audio mixer, or soundboard. They allow you to route and adjust multiple audio signals at once.
Mixer Equipment Options
The first step is determining whether or not you want an analog or digital mixer. From there, you'll need to count how many audio devices will be connected to the system, and make sure the board offers enough capacity:
Channel count: How many sources of audio need to be mixed? Consider the number of performers and musical instruments. Most digital mixers will provide you with the ability to add more channels in the future, but analog consoles have a fixed number of ins and outs.
Operator expertise: Someone will be operating your mixer live, so keep in mind their level of comfort and expertise. Digital mixers are more complex, but might be a better option if your system is being operated by a volunteer with a technical background. Digital mixers also offer scene recall which can put the system into a known default state with the press of a button.
Your mixer should be located in a place where its operator can directly hear the performance. Here are some basic best practices for placement:
Don’t put it backstage or in a corner.
Do put it in a place where you can see and hear clearly
Do ensure the location has a wiring path to mics and speakers that is out of the way of foot traffic.
Live Streaming Devices
The equipment you use to live stream your performance is completely different from the equipment you use to project sound and video in the room. Sound mixed for the room itself will not sound the same online.
Live Streaming Services
The first step is to choose your live streaming platform. Social media networks like Facebook Live, YouTube, and Instagram.
Live Streaming Appliance
Your live streaming appliances need to be capable of talking to the live streaming service of choice. The following are popular equipment choices that can connect to Facebook Live and many other popular streaming platforms:
AJA HELO: This is a single input device that can be plugged into your camera of choice via HDMI. You can customize your streaming settings and stop and start your live stream directly from its interface.
Epiphan: This is a multiple camera option equipped with an LCD screen to preview and switch back and forth between cameras.
Tricaster: These systems provide broadcast level capabilities that allow for multiple cameras, multiple feeds, image and text overlays as well as remote camera control.
Pan Tilt Zoom (PTZ) cameras: This is a more advanced setup with multiple cameras controlled by a remote control joystick.
Live Streaming Audio Mix
Due to room acoustics, the audio mixed for the room will sound vastly different than it will on-line. To fix this, you’ll need a separate audio feed for your live stream versus your in-person audio. A dedicated live stream mix will offer the best results.
Adequate internet bandwidth for a Facebook Live 1080p live stream is 4 MB at minimum, but we recommend 5–10 MB to be safe.
Your live stream setup may also require the following equipment:
Mixer: This is a dedicated audio console. You’d need one person to work the mixer for the in-person production, and one for the live stream.
Headphones: This is for the person working the live stream mixer, because they’ll need to block out noise in the room when mixing.
Production systems are your all-in-one solutions, including a live stream switch, titler, media streamer, recorder, and storage device. As more churches look for solutions to live stream post COVID-19, we consider this a good investment.
We recommend NewTek TriCaster. This system allows you to decide which camera or image is sent at which time, the ability to preview what’s coming next, a view for the operator to see all cameras at once, and much more.
It can also mix audio and video so that you can display different audio and video on your live stream than what you might want to display in an overflow room or on screens on the walls. On the livestream you might want to see the preacher, whereas in the room, you might want to display lyrics, the band, or something else entirely.
It also provides the capability to control images from a remote location, such as a production suite elsewhere in the building.
Video production systems allow you to create graphic overlays, such as displaying the name and title of your speaker, your logo or church’s name, lyrics to songs, and much more.
Video distribution equipment allows you to send video signals from a centralized location to all of the displays throughout your facility.
Video Distribution Equipment
The following types of video distribution equipment are most commonly used by churches with AV systems in place:
HDbaseT: This extends an HDMI signal from a video camera over a CAT-5 or CAT-6 cable.
HDMI Matrix Switch: These switches allow you to display different video feeds on different displays. An HDMI matrix switch can come in multiples of four (4, 8, 16, 32, 64, etc.) however, after 16 inputs or outputs, it might be best to consider an AV-Over-IP solution.
AV over IP: This allows you to encode video onto a data network, use the network to transport it, and then decode it on the display using standard ethernet cable in most cases. Using AV over IP, you can send as many video inputs to as many video outputs as you want. For example, you might need to send video from multiple sources to six displays. Using AV over IP, you can do that.
We recommend EvertzAV. Their AV over IP video routing system allows you to transmit video over copper or fiber, which provides flexibility for larger systems.
Video displays are television screens, video walls, monitors, projectors, or any other type of technology that allows your audience to view the video you're producing.
Video Display Size
Choose a projector, flat screen TV, or video wall that will suit the space. 75-85-inch flat screen displays offer a good value for their size. If you’re looking for a solution for a very large space, a video projector or video wall might be a better option.
Video Display Equipment
The following types of equipment are commonly used by churches to display video:
Commercial Displays: This is a traditional TV seen in most commercial environments. Look for a brightness warranty.
Projector and screen: This is a basic setup using a projector and a large empty space on the wall covered by a projector screen to project a video feed.
LCD Video wall: This is typically a group of LCD televisions in a 2x2 or 3x3 grid. In this case, you’d mount the TVs next to each other, making one image out of four or nine TVs.
Direct View LED Video Wall: These are typically made of large, direct-view LED screens that can be custom purchased in any size, configuration, or shape you want. This is a more expensive option. Direct View LED walls offer larger screen sizes with no gap at the seams. If people will be located close to the screen, look for video walls TVs with a less than a 3mm pixel pitch.
Lighting sets the mood for your production, and can make or break your production quality. Front and back lighting for your stage helps speakers look their best. Proper stage lighting is also important for broadcasted video to look professional.
The following types of lighting are common in churches with AV systems in place:
LED PAR Can lights: Otherwise known as flood lights, these are available in up to three shades of white or RGBs that can mix red, green, and blue light to make whatever color you want.
Fresnel lights: These can be custom aimed, focused, and adjusted for beam size. These stage lights have trap doors to direct how the light is shaped.
Intelligent lights: These are lights with motors that can be adjusted remotely, and can include custom shapes, like logos, to be projected within the lightbeam.
House lights: These are the lights that are typically already in place, and should be considered when purchasing the rest of your lighting. Make sure they are bright enough for your congregation to be able to read without straining their eyes.
To enhance your lighting, consider a hazer machine. Hazer machines put a thin level of fog in the air, to make it easier to view lasers or the path of light in the air.
Final Thoughts On Equipment
If budget is an issue, audio should be prioritized over video. You can always address video upgrades in a later stage. Though video you communicate, audio is where the fundamental transmission of information occurs.
Imagine watching a video podcast with bad audio, or more commonly, a YouTube livestream with fancy video and a muted mic. Without good audio, you aren’t effectively communicating. Check out this video for a good demonstration of audio versus video quality.
Case Studies Of Church AV Projects
The case studies below are real-life examples of how Aspen has helped churches create or revamp their AV systems.
First Christian Church
This church in Perry, Oklahoma, was struck by lightning, and the electrical surge took out nearly every piece of AV equipment in the building. Fortunately, their insurance covered the loss, and they hired Aspen for a near-total redo of their system. We designed a setup with new speakers, a digital sound mixer, and a TriCaster broadcast system. Aspen technicians were even able to reduce costs by reusing a few undamaged components.
Countryside Baptist Church
This small, architecturally noted church needed an acoustic treatment to muffle distracting environmental noise coming from outside the sanctuary. It posed a unique challenge: the solution had to blend well with the building’s architecture. Aspen technicians found and installed harmoniously styled acoustic paneling, handily meeting both the practical and aesthetic goals.
First Baptist Church of Perkins
This church needed a completely new AV system in a multipurpose room. The project presented a special challenge for Aspen’s technicians, because the space wasn’t only used for worship; it also housed a basketball court and other sports facilities. Aspen met this need with ideally suited equipment, including:
JBL Line Array speakers
A Soundcraft digital console
85-inch Sony displays
A Note On Special Requirements And Protective Measures
Aspen’s systems and capabilities can meet a wide range of special needs. For example, we routinely outfit mixed-use spaces with robust speakers and protective gear like projector cages and protective mesh around exposed lighting. Mixed-use spaces and youth rooms also present unique wire running challenges, which our experienced integrators meet with ingenuity and meticulous craft.
Work with Aspen Custom Electronics to high-quality sound and picture
Achieving high production quality while staying within your budget isn't always an easy task—even with the help of a written guide like this one!
Aspen Custom Electronics has extensive experience in church AV solutions, and has worked with churches like Ponca City First United Methodist Church and Countryside Church to help bring their visions to life. (Check out our projects page to see more of what we do!)
Enhancing connections between people is always at the forefront of our work, so we make sure every sermon—whether in-person or online—is just as impactful as you intended it to be. Contact us for more information.