SMALL CHURCH GUIDE TO RECORDING SERMON AUDIO
by Tom Perconti
Every church regardless of size should make the audio of their sermons available to others. The teaching and preaching of God’s Word is a vital ministry to the local body of believers as well as the larger Christian community. We won’t know this side of Heaven the extent that our messages reach people and the impact these messages have. If we’re being faithful to teach the Word, then we should also be faithful to preserve those teachings.
But with all of the tasks and responsibilities competing for the time and energy of the ministry team (which can sometimes be the pastor only) it might feel like creating and publishing sermon audio is a luxury the ministry can’t afford. In this article we’ll take a look at the importance of recording sermons, the difficulties we face in doing that, and a solution that can work for everyone regardless of time and finances.
Our intent is that if you’re not currently recording and preserving your sermon audio, then you’ll be encouraged and motivated to do so.
Why is it important to record sermon audio?
This is not an exhaustive list, but it should create a compelling argument to convince you that it is important. (in order of importance)
- Ministering to the absent. As much as we pastors would like, not every member of our congregation will be able to attend every service. Some may have work schedule conflicts. Others may be out of town. Some may be ill and/or bedridden. The availability of the sermon audio allows those who are absent to listen and receive.
- Week-long reinforcement. If you follow the typical sermon style of “three points repeated three times” then your congregation will generally only remember one of those points. If your messages are richer and deeper, then their ability to retain the important points is even less. Having the sermon audio available provides additional opportunities for the congregation to listen one or more times during the week to help reinforce those teaching points.Since our church didn’t have any mid-week services or Bible studies, the Sunday message served to minister to the congregation on Sunday mornings but also to provide a platform for further personal study during the week. Most of the congregation listened to the Sunday message at least once during the week. Quite a few listened more than once.
- Ministering to the visitor. There will be those who stumble across your church’s website. Having the sermon audio easily and readily available is a way to share the truth of God’s Word with them. They might be shut-ins without a home church. They might be in between church homes and are seeking. Perhaps the Spirit directed them to your church’s website so that they could be ministered to by a sermon in the archive.
- Track record of faithfulness. Pastors are commissioned to faithfully handle God’s Word. As weeks turn into months that turn into years, having an archive of sermon audio preserves the track record of faithfully teaching the Bible. This is helpful for new members who want to catch up on the current sermon series, or who want to go through a previous series that they missed.
- Pragmatism of appearance. Last and least on this list, is what the existence of a sermon archive tells others. There are certain elements, certain traditions, that most churches possess and that churchgoers expect. An archive of sermon audio is one of them. For a small and/or unknown church, having a sermon archive demonstrates a “seriousness” about teaching Scripture. Although our church was smaller than most in the area, having 100’s of sermons in the archive covering verse by verse teachings on books of the Bible showed others of our serious commitment to teaching God’s Word.
What are the challenges to recording sermons using traditional recording methods?
When I say, “traditional recording methods” I’m referring to the typical audiovisual setup found in most churches, including mobile churches. Sound amplification, an audio mixing board, microphones connected to the board (wired or wireless), and a separate device used to capture the audio.
If your church currently has these items and using them during service, then obviously you’ve already overcome those hurdles. For the rest, here are some of those hurdles that need to be addressed when using traditional recording methods:
(and maybe for a rare few, this might offer some incentive to simplify)
- Venue requirements. This type of recording setup requires certain things to be available. Electricity is needed to power the soundboard, speakers, and recording equipment. For most churches, this won’t be an issue, but for smaller churches, having the flexibility to have “church in the park” means that electricity won’t always be available. Small churches may not need a sound amplification system. They may do fine with the worship team and pastor projecting their instruments and voices without amplification. If a church is currently doing well without sound amplification, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to add it simply to record sermon audio.Our church met in a large room at the local adult community center. We used a powered audio speaker for worship, but I simply projected my voice during the sermon.There might not be sufficient space in the meeting place to contain the speakers, soundboard, and recording equipment. If there is space to spare, we should want that space to be used for more chairs for those who want to attend, not feel like they’re crammed into an electronics store showroom.
- Expensive equipment. A small church that doesn’t currently have an audio system set up for service would need to buy that equipment. Equipment that is sufficient for the current needs and ability to handle growth can be costly. Saving money by buying used equipment may result in spending money on repairs or experience technical difficulties during service.
- Tech support. These systems need people with the expertise to configure and use them properly. These components are complex and without the proper people using them, the results will be unusable. Small churches probably don’t have those people.
- Post-recording processing. Once the audio is recorded, it then needs to be processed. The basic editing acts of trimming, adjusting, equalizing, re-encoding to a format usable by the general public can be time-consuming.
What is the solution?
The solution to the problem is actually pretty simple. Here’s what is needed:
- A personal digital recorder. I recommend the Olympus WS-822 ($144. For a less expensive model, the WS-852, $51). It has a retractable USB jack that extends from the recorder to allow for easy charging and can connect directly to a computer’s USB port for easy file transfer. The quality of the recording is very good using the built-in stereo mics and of exceptional quality when using the lapel mic.
- Lapel mic. I recommend the Olympus ME-15 lapel mic. It plugs into the digital recorder and has a cable long enough to put the recorder in a pants pocket, or shirt pocket.
- Any computer. (for uploading the mp3) Any computer with a USB port and access to the internet will work with this setup. Any post-recording processing that might be needed can be done on virtually any computer with these two requirements.
What are the benefits of this solution?
For the church planter or pastor of a small or mobile church, there are some unique benefits to using this approach.
- Self-contained. (no need for electricity during the service) The digital recorder uses a built-in rechargeable battery that is able to record for at least 2 hours.
- Extremely portable. The recorder and lapel mic are so small they can fit in a shirt pocket, small gear bag, or practically anywhere.
- (recorder + lapel mic = $170, or $73 for the less expensive model) For those with a higher budget, there are more expensive, higher quality models.
- Simple to operate. (turn on, press record, press stop) Using this digital recorder (in a shirt pocket) and lapel mic draped under the shirt collar around the back of the neck and into the shirt pocket makes it easy to take out the recorder to start/stop the recording. This eliminates the need for another person to control the recording. Not only is it simple to operate, but it is also highly reliable. In the over 250 sermons and seminars recorded with this digital recorder, it has never failed to record clean and clear audio. This is important when there is only one service on a Sunday because there is no second chance to make a recording.
- Generates MP3 files. These MP3 files are upload-ready (no post-recording work necessary). The recorder has a variety of digital settings that allow you to control the quality and format of the MP3 that is produced. Recording to MP3 is direct, so when “STOP” is pressed, the MP3 is ready. Built-in noise reduction and a quality digital processor ensures that the resulting audio file contains no hiss.My regular post-service routine on a Sunday (after arriving home and unloading bins of equipment and supplies used during service) included attaching the digital recorder to my computer, copying the latest sermon audio to the computer’s internal drive and a backup drive, and then uploading the audio to the church website.The entire process took 10 minutes and allowed church members to listen to the audio that afternoon. This is a blessing for those who were unable to attend service.
What will you do?
One of the challenges we pastors of small congregations face is how to do what we believe the Lord is leading us to do with the resources He has given us. We might think that if we don’t have the resources to do something in the way we envision it then we shouldn’t do it at all.
But it is true, “where God guides, He provides“. His provision reveals to us what and how He would have us do that thing. If we have a larger ministry team, the finances and facilities to have a traditional audio recording setup, then maybe that is what we should do.
If we have a small ministry team (or no team) but sufficient finances to afford a simple digital recorder, then maybe THAT is what He’d have us use.