Children, Go Where I Send Thee!

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A Simple Guide to Portable Sound Systems

Your sanctuary’s sound system may be awesome. But there are things it can never do, namely reach those who never step inside a church. We know it’s vital to maximize our presence in the communities we serve. That means getting out there. But lugging around a huge sound system would be exhausting, not to mention impractical and expensive. Fortunately, great sound (and lots of it) can come in very small packages these days

We interviewed ministries who use a portable sound system. There were several common features they all liked about theirs. Obviously, the first is portability!

Tony Lamanstra (Children of Joy Ministry, PA) said, “We travel a 25-mile radius. We were carrying several amps, a mixer and all kinds of other gear. Now we’ve cut way down on the equipment we need.” Dan Bellamy (Greenview Calvary Tabernacle, OH) used theirs at a Christian music festival last year, and recalls that “everything instruments, microphones, cables, the portable PA it all fit in the back seat of our truck.”

Bellamy and Lamanstra both use the Fender Passport, one of today’s popular portable sound systems. At 55 pounds the larger 250-watt version travels easily, especially compared to hundreds of pounds of mixers, amplifiers and loudspeakers.

Any good portable system is also self-contained. Look for one which houses everything you need. That means a mixer with one or more inputs (preferably more), a built-in power amplifier, and at least one built-in loudspeaker. If the whole thing has a protective cover and integrated handle, even better!

Benjamin Franklin estimated that 18th century preacher George Whitfield could be heard by up to 30,000 people. The rest of us need help

Portable sound systems range in total output from less than 10 watts up to 500 watts or more! “They heard us several blocks away crystal clear,” said Bellamy, who added an optional speaker expansion pack to his system for a total of 500 watts.

How much power you need depends mostly on audience size: a common rule of thumb is 1-2 watts per person indoors, 2-3 watts per person outdoors. Of course, if you can afford a more powerful system, get it. They are much more efficient and often cost less per watt.

From the smallest system to the largest, none can work without power. Virtually all portable systems can plug into a standard 110-volt outlet. But if you plan to use yours in a park, missionary field, or other place where AC power is scarce, make sure the model you select has a battery. Some are built in, while others keep costs down by offering theirs as an optional accessory.

“I’m not a street preacher,” you say. Same here. But more and more ministries are discovering ways that a portable sound system can multiply the impact of their efforts. “We just move ours all around the church, to rooms that don’t have a sound system,” said Pastor Roger Ferguson (Clifton Christian Church, OH). “The Seniors meet in the fellowship hall, youth have activities in the gym. And it’s so easy to use, almost anyone can run it. It’s a real blessing.”

Youth groups, puppet ministries, and Christian artists are effectively using portable sound systems (I know a juggler who uses one to give his testimony while he performs). What about ministering at local malls, nursing homes, prisons or sporting events? Laypeople borrow them to play Christian music at block parties. Get creative!

Besides the bare necessities (inputs, power, and outputs), many portable sound systems add great features to let you do more. Some have built-in tape decks; others offer dedicated stereo in/out jacks so you can use your favorite deck. Most will include at least one wired handheld microphone, while a few even give you a wireless mic! Whatever your ministry, there are people out there who need you. Don’t wait for them to come find a portable sound system that fits your needs, and go meet them!