Most technical directors know that the AV system in a house of worship won’t always be used by professionals. And whether they admit this last bit or not, the honest truth is when a non-professional meddles with the house AV, bad things can happen. The thought of one of the assistant pastors fiddling with random knobs on the soundboard makes every audio engineer cringe almost as much as the feedback that is near-guaranteed to squeal at some point. However, there will always be events at churches that don’t really require an AV guy to be there, and in an ideal world, the AV system should still work well in these situations.
There are a lot of different ways you can ensure these non-Sunday events go smoothly. Some things, such as feedback loops, can be avoided by a short, one-time conversation between the technical director and any church leader who regularly uses the system. A quick run-through of where to stand with microphones, how to turn the system on (including the order of powering on/off), how to recall a basic scene and which faders to use can be a great way of alleviating the stress you both might otherwise feel.
In addition, some confusion can be eased by simply setting up the soundboard in the right way. Provide some basic scenes to cover non-Sunday events, such as “one-speaker event,” “wedding,” “funeral,” etc., and label them well. If you are in the habit of creating a new scene for every Sunday service, you should also get in the habit of cleaning up the scene list every so often. Otherwise, it will be difficult for anyone to find the scenes you’ve created for other types of events.
Voltage-controlled amplifiers (VCAs) are another way of making things easier for an untrained person to use a soundboard. Routing the appropriate channels through the VCA to group-control multiple faders can be a great way to simplify things for someone who may be intimidated by the rest of the board. However, it’s also important to ensure the person using the board is aware of how VCAs work. VCAs act as “group remote controls” for multiple faders, adjusting volume for all of the faders simultaneously. While this is extremely handy, it’s also very easy for even seasoned sound engineers to get confused by turning up the channel only to find the fader for the VCA turned down (or vice versa). So, when dealing with someone who normally doesn’t touch the AV equipment, it’s good to tell them to recall the relevant scene and then touch nothing else besides the relevant VCA.
Finally, there are some ways to simplify things that can only be done at the system design stage. For example, you can create a redundant audio system that uses something like a BSS digital signal processor (DSP) for automatic mic mixing when the main soundboard isn’t turned on. This allows the pastor or event lead to simply walk in, turn on the system and relevant mic, and then not worry about anything.
For more complex environments or situations, where these casual events are more common, you can implement an automation system. By integrating all of the AV into a single, controlled system, you can press a single button to initiate the power sequencer, set the lights the way they need to be, and turn on the projectors and switch them to the correct inputs. Of course, there are a lot of other benefits of automation as well, from simplified show production to network management of all the AV gear.
The complexity of a Church AV system really gets down to the needs of the staff and their desire to have easy access to basic functions—without having to worry about finding the right knob or pressing a lot of buttons in the correct order. The best system is one that offers basic functionality for novices, but great flexibility for skilled AV operators.