| PA for Places of
On this page we are considering primarily
PA systems in regular
use in a particular worship venue, rather
than temporary systems set up for specific events or
by visiting bands.
By "places of worship" here we primarily
mean meeting places for Christian gatherings (of any
denomination) − though some of the information
given may equally be applicable to gatherings of other
The technical principles and many of the operational aspects
of PA systems are similar no matter what the context of use.
So please don't look only at this page − all the
other pages of this site are
equally relevant to PA in places of worship, and may be of
some assistance to you.
If you are a technical operator who is fairly
new to the subject then a useful introduction
is provided by the 'Getting Started' pages for
and system assemblers.
Worship band members getting used to using a PA
may find the performers'
page useful. If however you have a specific PA-related
problem or query, it is probably best to first check the
This page is written primarily to provide guidance to
small finance-limited churches whose systems are inadequate
for their present needs, or are suspected of being
inadequate. If your system is a large or fairly-modern one
that is being
effectively utilised and is meeting your main requirements,
then most of this page is unlikely to be of much interest
From a PA perspective, we need
to remember that the circumstances of different congregations
vary widely, so there is no possibility of a "one
solution fits all" approach. For example, we could
contrast the case of elderly congregations meeting in
traditional church buildings (a gradually declining scenario
in the UK and Europe) with the case of younger and
mixed-age gatherings using alternative accommodation such
as schools or other rented halls or rooms (which is on the
Congregations vary greatly in their average size:
in the type and size of their accommodation:
- Small − 20 to 150 (the most common scenario in the UK)
- Medium-sized − 125 to 275
- Large − 250 to 500
- Very large − significantly exceeding 500
(fairly unusual in the UK)
in their mix of ages:
- Small traditional churches and chapels
- Large traditional churches and cathedrals
- Small and medium-sized modern churches and halls
- Large and very large halls and
and in their musical worship styles:
- Predominantly under-25's
- Predominantly 20-40 with young families
- Very mixed
- Predominantly 55+
These factors, all of which are relevant to PA requirements
and design, may combine in a multitude of ways. However, the
following scenarios are the most common:
- Predominantly traditional hymns; organ and/or piano
- Predominantly traditional but some keyboard or
acoustic guitar based early-modern worship (often
using songs and arrangements from the 1980's)
- Transitional between traditional/early-modern
and modern styles; smallish band (often varying
in make-up from week to week) with or without amplified
- Predominantly recent worship songs; full band
with amplified lead vocals, electric
drums and bass
- Small congregations, often mostly elderly, in small
and large traditional churches using a traditional
- Small congregations, aged 20-40 with young families,
in small or medium-sized accommodation using transitional
and/or modern worship styles.
- Small and medium-sized mixed-age congregations in
medium-sized accommodation using transitional worship
- Large and very large young congregations in large
modern accommodation using modern worship styles.
There are a number of likely PA arrangements, which
may or may not be appropriately tailored to the actual
requirements of the particular worship scenario:
PA used only for speech.
Worship band (if any) use
(no amplified vocalists).
PA used for speech and vocals only. Worship band instruments
use backline only.
Limited PA used for vocals and for all instrumentation (often
with the exception of drums and bass).
No (or very limited) monitoring.
Frequently a small
powered mixer is used
− often located next to the band and set-up by
them (i.e. no dedicated operator). This is sometimes
a completely separate system from the one that is used
for speech during other parts of the service
(notices, prayers, sermon, etc).
Full PA used for vocals and for all instrumentation (sometimes
with the exception of drums − and maybe bass) −
full monitoring provided. Adequately-sized
mixer, with competent
The provision and operation of PA systems for such gatherings
poses some particular challenges. Why should these be any
different to other contexts of PA use? Mostly because the
context is not a professional one − nor even a
semi-professional one −
in the sense that a church is a non-profit-making organisation.
When not well-endowed financially (as is sadly often the case),
the provision of adequate PA equipment and competent operators
frequently falls low in the list of priorities for expenditure
A persistent shortage of funds available for use in this
area is likely to mean:
A lack of investment over a long period, resulting in
some or all of the equipment being near the end of its life,
and/or lacking in the quality or facilities commonly
provided by more modern equipment.
Heavy compromise in the choice of new items of equipment,
resulting in the use of mediocre-quality equipment and/or
a lack of highly desirable features.
Piecemeal replacement of equipment when it becomes uneconomic
to repair, resulting in a mixture of equipment
interfaces and styles.
A lack (or complete absence) of equipment considered
'non-essential', such as
balanced line cabling,
DI boxes, and suitable
types and/or a sufficient number of
A lack of adequate training provision for musicians,
The space used for the worship meetings may be
challenging − e.g. with long
echoes or resonances. (See the
absorbent walls project information.)
The space used for the worship meetings may be small in
relation to the direct
produced by the band,
giving the sound engineer little scope for controlling the
sound mix heard by the
congregation (without creating an excessive overall
The space available for the band may be very
restricted, which may result in musicians and vocalists
having difficulty in hearing their own sound above
that of other band members in close proximity,
and causing sound leakage
Musical instruments may be of poor or mediocre quality.
Changes in the style of worship music (for example, from
pipe organ to keyboard and guitars) may mean that
existing PA equipment
is used far outside of its design parameters. In extreme
cases, equipment designed only for the reproduction of
speech may now be being used for music at relatively
The size of the congregation may vary widely between
'regular' services and 'special' ones such as for
Easter, Christmas and other occasional events
(large weddings, funerals, etc.).
Architectural and/or aesthetic considerations may place
restrictions on the type and location of speakers, and/or
on the location of the mixing position.
Sound engineers are likely to be volunteers with no
formal training and a less than complete understanding
of how to achieve the best results possible in all the
Musicians and vocalists are likely to be volunteers with no
formal training and unskilled in matters relating to
PA systems − e.g. in
They may also be naiive of the constraints of the
particular system available. These factors may lead
to frustrations regarding their on-stage sound, and to
other problems such as acoustic
Other microphone-users, such as readers, preachers, and
congregation members giving ad-hoc announcements, may
adopt poor microphone technique and/or use inadequate
voice levels, resulting in the system operating close
to the point of feedback. This may be a cause of an
Depending on the type of congregation, its members may differ
widely as regards their tastes and preferences for mixes and
sound level. (This may be a particular problem when the
average age of the worship band members differs widely
from the average age of the congregation.)
These lists demonstrate just some of the very difficult
challenges often faced by the
sound engineer in places of worship. Thankfully, not all of
the above will apply to every worship situation, but if none
of the factors listed applies to yours then you are very blessed
indeed − Praise the Lord! Frequently, when funds are simply
not available to address even the most pressing of the above
issues, the engineer has to operate in the knowledge that
the achievable results fall far short of his or her ideal.
In some cases the only solution for improvement may involve
significant expenditure − on equipment, training,
and/or controlling the room acoustics.
However, in addition to the basic advice on mixing given
on the Mixing Engineers page,
here are some specific tips that may be of assistance:
- If equipment is known to be inadequate, carry out research
to determine the most cost-effective way to resolve the most
serious issue(s), and make
proposals to those in charge.
If funds are limited, it is usually best to concentrate in the
first instance on ensuring that the fundamental parts of
the system (in particular, speakers and microphones) are of
adequate quality. For example, there is probably no merit in
upgrading the mixer or adding an
effects unit if the speakers are
To avoid wasting money on frequent replacements,
always ensure that any equipment purchased will meet
forseeable future needs
− not just solve the immediate
problem(s). The more money is
spent on a particular item, the longer its anticipated
useful lifetime in the system (as it evolves over time)
If you have insufficient skill or experience to assess
the existing equipment, or are unable to carry out the
necessary research effectively, obtain skilled advice and/or
You may find it helpful to refer to the notes on
choosing a mixer
If the equipment is known to be adequate, or if funds to
make improvements are not available, then changes
may need to be made to the way the equipment is used,
in order to get the best possible results from it.
Are the available microphones being used correctly?
- Best available type of microphone used for each
- All microphones correctly placed (usually as close
as possible to their respective sound sources, to help
avoid feedback and
- Best microphone
technique used by vocalists and by persons speaking.
- Lavalier microphones
worn correctly, and large head movements avoided (or
consider using a headset
- Adequate voice levels used for speech and singing.
- Unused microphones kept muted
(e.g. worship band microphones muted during the
Are the front-of-house
speakers correctly located in the room, at an adequate
height to cover the whole congregration without being too
loud for people at the front, and correctly angled?
Are graphic equalisers (if present) correctly adjusted?
Are the available channel
being used to best advantage?
('Low cut' switches should
always be activated on speech and vocal mic channels.)
If compressors are used, are they optimally set for
their respective sound sources?
If the on-stage level is too high to enable the engineer
to create a good overall mix for the congregation, without
exceeding acceptable overall sound levels,
then investigate the source(s)
of the high stage levels and
consider how they may be reduced. For example:
- If drums are being played too loudly, can this be
resolved by changes to the playing style? Sometimes loud
drumming is encouraged by excessively loud
monitors (see the next
bullet). Also consider the
use of fabric to dampen
drums (e.g. a blanket in the kick drum or a
tea-towel on the snare),
use of a drum screen,
or use of electronic drums.
- Where backline is not amplified via the PA,
ensure that the relevant
musician(s) understands that
the sound engineer has no direct control over the
level of their sound in the overall mix heard by the
congregation, and that they need to manage their
level accordingly. (This is a less than ideal situation
for keeping stage levels acceptably low,
as it means that other band members may find that
the necessary backline level masks their own sound,
or masks other instruments/vocals that they need to hear,
necessitating those levels to be higher than they
- Where amplified backline and/or monitors are in
use, ensure that each one is
set at the minimum level necessary for the
relevant band member(s),
and that each one is pointing
in the optimal direction (tricky when you don't
have enough monitors). Can they be located closer to
the performers, to allow their level to be reduced?
(Often a significant advantage can be obtained by
increasing their height.) If possible, arrange for each
monitor to be supplied with a mix of just the
sources needed by the person(s)
Is the sound level from the front-of-house speakers
appropriate for the size of the congregation and for the
distance between the speakers and the congregation?
Avoid the use of sound levels greater than necessary,
considering the comfort and safety of all ages present
within the congregation.
When the room acoustics are difficult, investigate the
possibility of improving them, for example by the
installation of carpeting, curtains, false ceilings or
drapes. (Sometimes these kinds of improvements, although
often expensive, are funded more readily than changes to the
PA equipment, because of the other benefits they bring.)
In the meantime, apply effects sparingly; avoid the use of
echo effects when there is
already too much natural reverb and echo!
- If engineering skills are inadequate or in need of
appropriate training. There are many options available,
including one-day on-site training sessions using your
own equipment, weekend workshops away, and comprehensive
full-time courses. For example, a Christian-based full-time
live sound course is run by Nexus Institute of Creative Arts
(external link, opens in a new window), formerly Nexus Trust.
For information on what kind of things might be covered
in training, see the Training page.
"Nobody made a greater mistake than he*
who did nothing because he could only do a little."
− Edmund Burke.
[* or she − Editor]
Other Audio Equipment
This section includes lists of some manufacturers of other
audio equipment that you may need in a worship context.
(For general PA equipment suppliers see the
Suppliers page and
for manufacturers see the
These lists are not exhaustive, and no
recommendation is implied. For further information on the
equipment from these manufacturers follow
the links, which take you to their websites.
These links open in a new window of your browser.
Please contact me
if any of the links don't work, or if you would like
to suggest other manufacturers to be added. Thank you.
Induction Loop Amplifiers /
(For information on what this is about, see
Audio Recording Equipment
There are a number of possible approaches to producing
audio recordings of services, each of which have their own
merits and possible problems. Some common methods are listed
below − the first two being the methods most often
Direct recording to CD, using a dedicated CD recorder.
If more than one copy of the CD is required, a PC or a
dedicated CD duplicator can subsequently be used to make
Recording using a solid-state digital recording device. These
generally record to a flash-memory based device such as a
removable memory card or a USB drive.
Many such recorders offer a choice of recording
formats, such as
linear PCM or
MP3 at various
The recorded sound file is subsequently transferred to a PC,
either by physically transferring the memory card/drive
or by using a USB cable. It may then be uploaded to the
Internet and/or used to write one or more CDs.
Recording using a mini disc
recorder or a DAT recorder, with
subsequent audio transfer to a PC or to a CD recorder.
Recording using a PC, either directly to a CD or (preferably)
in the first instance to the PC's hard drive, with CDs being
Recording using a dedicated hard-disk recording unit, with
subsequent transfer to a PC or CD-writer that is then used to
write one or more CDs.
Video Projection for Song Words etc.
Some churches, especially those that prefer a more traditional
or personal worship style, are content with using hymn books or other
song books for their congregations. However, video projection
of song words from a computer can offer substantial benefits.
Additional songs can easily be added to the system as required.
Song words, the layout of song sections, and presentation
styles can all be tailored to match the church's preferences.
No need to maintain an up-to-date stock of song books in
The congregation worship in a heads-up stance, which can
promote a more corporate feel to the worship time as people
are more aware of others around them and their response to
The hands of congregation members are freed-up, e.g.
assisting expressive worship (lifted hands, banner waving,
dance, etc.) and practicalities such as caring for
young children in the service.
The projection system can also be used for other purposes
such as displaying sermon outlines (e.g. using
PowerPoint™), video clips, notices, alert messages,
etc. Some presentation software allows
the use of a live video background (e.g. of the
worship leader) while displaying the song words.
A licence may be required for the projection of song words.
Licensing for Christian churches in the
UK is provided by
Outside the UK, try
(External links, open in a new window.)
Be sure to have sufficient people trained to use the projection
system. Yet another rota!
Some members of the congregation, e.g. some older members,
may have difficulties with distance vision (even if the song words
are large) or with a prolonged
head-up stance. Such members may feel excluded if there is no
alternative available to the projected song words.
If you use a projection system but also issue the congregation
with song books, be sure that the words on your projection
system exactly match those in the song books.
As the information on these systems is usually readily editable,
beware alterations being made to lyrics, or to the sequence of
the song sections, that are made for a specific occasion and
then remain to cause problems later. It can be useful in such
cases to make a suitably-renamed copy of the song on the
system and make the specific changes to that, leaving the
There are many available sources of song words projection
software. Here are some suggestions:
Some tips on creating PowerPoint™ presentations:
In general, many slides with a limited amount of information
or detail on each one will work better than a smaller number
of densely-packed slides.
If the presentation is being prepared for use on just one
projection system, find out the
aspect ratio of the screen
and set up the page format of your presentation accordingly,
otherwise your slides may not fully fill the screen.
Set this up before you design your slides, so that
you can make best use of the available slide area.
Select your text colour and its background so as to give
a good contrast between the two. However, avoid very bright
background colours such as bright yellow or 100% white
(especially for backgrounds that occupy a large area
of the screen, e.g. behind
substantial areas of text), as this can be dazzling −
especially when the projected image is bright in comparison
with the room's ambient lighting levels.
Lightly textured backgrounds in pastel shades often
Avoid using a large border for your slides, as large borders
reduce the area available for your content, which is likely
to reduce overall legibility.
Be sure to use a large enough point-size for your text to
allow good legibility for people seated at the furthest
distance from the screen. The minimum usable size will
depend mostly on the size of the screen in comparison with the
furthest seating distance from it, but will also be affected
by factors such as the screen quality, the projected contrast
ratio of your text on its background, the ambient light levels
falling on the screen, dazzle from other sources of light,
etc. If possible, carry out
a test using the projection system you will be using for
the presentation, and check
legibility at the furthest seating distance (remembering
that not everyone's eyesight may be as good as your own!).
If using images on your slides, where you want the detail
of the images to be clearly seen (e.g. maps, people's
faces, etc.) make the images as large as you can on
the slide (taking into account any areas that are needed around the
image for essential associated text). Don't leave unnecessary large
borders of unused space around your images. (An unavoidably
large border may be needed either at the sides or above and below
− but not both − because of a mismatch between
the shape (aspect ratio) of an image and the shape of
the space available for it on the slide. It's usually best
not to distort an image's shape to make it fit.)
Some video / multimedia projector manufacturers:
All the usual PA-related safety considerations apply in
places of worship − see the
Special attention must
be given to situations of increased
risk, such as the
greatly increased risk of electric shock in the presence
of water. This applies not only to outdoor events, but also
in other situations involving water, such as baptism services.
Even the presence of damp surfaces can increase the shock risk,
but risks are greatest when significant amounts of water
are present − particularly
when persons are substantially immersed or drenched, or when
pools or baths are used into which equipment might fall.
Fatalities have occurred in these and other similar
As the layout and circumstances vary from location to location,
it is impossible for this website to give categoric or specific
safety advice. You must
ensure that you have safety measures and procedures in place
that are appropriate for your specific circumstances. If in any
doubt, seek suitable professional advice. However, the
following brief guidelines may give a useful starting point:
- Carry out regular
to enable your specific hazards
to be determined, and to
evaluate whether steps should be taken to eliminate or to
reduce the level of risk associated with each hazard.
Record your risk assessments and details of any actions
taken or planned.
- Do not allow electrical equipment of any kind (including
mains cables) into the vicinity
of a wet area − for example
where it might fall into a pool, be splashed by persons using
a pool, or be encountered by wet persons leaving or
(re-)entering a pool. The only exception is waterproof
- Do not allow cabled microphones to be used by wet persons,
whether in a pool or otherwise (this includes stand-mounted
- Preferably do not suspend a cabled microphone above a pool.
If this is unavoidable, it must be sufficiently high
(for example, at least 2.5 metres
above the highest point of the pool edge that can be
stood on) and the cable must be secured in such a way that
it is impossible for any part to drop to a lower height
while still connected to the system.
- Do not allow wet persons to use or approach electrical
equipment of any kind (including mains cables, socket outlets
and switches), other than waterproof battery-powered
radio microphone transmitters.
- Do not use any socket outlets that are in the vicinity
of a filled or partially-filled pool (unless inaccessible
− e.g. all covers in place).
- Ensure that any nearby socket outlets, or socket outlets
close to where wet persons may stand or walk, are adequately protected
from splashes, e.g. by suitable polythene sheeting or
other suitable waterproof insulating
- Ensure that all socket outlets are protected by
RCDs having a trip current
of 30 mA or less.
- Check all RCDs
regularly, by using their integral TEST button.
- Ensure that the fixed electrical installation is
regularly inspected and tested, and that condition reports
are properly acted upon.
- Ensure that all electrical equipment is properly
used and maintained, and is regularly inspected and tested.
If you would like to reproduce any of the information
from this website for use by your church, please refer to
of Information from PAforMusic on the
There is considerable scope for expanding this section
of the PAforMusic website. If you have particular questions,
comments or suggestions relating to the use of PA systems
in worship contexts, please do not hesitate to
Go to the top of this page.
This page last updated 03-Feb-2016.