Pastor-Friendly Sound Systems: Consider your style

By Daniel Keller


An upgraded, more intelligent sound system “steers” Ohio’s Grove City Church — The Naz — in the right direction


Grove City Church of the Nazarene — known to congregants and locals as “The Naz” — has built a large and diverse congregation in the Columbus, OH area. It offers a mix of contemporary and classic worship services, as well as hosts many conferences and concerts from national touring Christian artists.

The Naz’s 2,800-seat sanctuary has long struggled with sonic issues, including poor intelligibility and uneven coverage. As Technical Director Matt Groves explains, part of the problem is the space’s wide, cavernous, fan-shaped orientation.

GroveCity7“Because of that, we have extreme angles,” Groves says. “With our previous system, we were basically just ‘praying and spraying’ — putting the cabinets up there and hoping for the best.”

As the church’s sound equipment (which wasn’t ideal to begin with) started to age and need repair, it became clear to Groves and his team that an upgrade was in order. “We were putting money into a system that really wasn’t doing what we needed it to,” he recalls. “So, we had GroveCity5to take a step back and say, ‘OK, let’s put good money after good and reevaluate the system.’”

The evolution of the church’s worship style further dictated this upgrade. “Our church was 51 years old this past July. A few years ago, we decided to transition to an edgier type of worship, while also keeping the classic form for people who prefer that. So now, we run two different types of services — a classic service and a more contemporary one.

While The Naz’s old point-source system was adequate for the classic service, according to Groves, the church needed something more powerful for the contemporary service. “That point-source system basically just provided sound reinforcement,” he says. “So, it was very hard to differentiate voices versus instruments.”

Groves and front-of-house sound engineer Doug McLaughlin undertook the job of researching possible solutions.

“Across the board, every pastor I’ve ever talked to has told me pretty much the same thing: they want to hear the voices.” — Matt Groves

“We looked at several major loudspeaker brands and invited several in to do demos for us,” he recalls. “They all sounded fine, but the Renkus-Heinz IC2 really stood out. They demonstrated the beam steering by putting us up in the balcony with the IC2 cabinet on stage. We could hear it just fine. Then he opens his laptop and says, ‘Watch this,’ and steers the speaker digitally so it’s hitting us directly upstairs. All of a sudden, boom, there it was, with unbelievable clarity. I looked at my front of house engineer and we both said, ‘That’s the one.’ It was the coolest thing.”

GroveCity3The system, installed by Tech Art Production of Columbus, comprises a left-center-right, dead-hung configuration, with three IC2-FR modules in the center flanked by five more on either side. Each full-range IC2-FR module contains four 8-inch speakers and four vertically aligned 1-inch high-frequency drivers. To deliver the bass needed for the church’s powerful contemporary presentation, the arrays are supplemented by six DR18-2R powered subwoofers, hung in two groups of three between the main IC2 arrays.

“With this system, because of the 120-degree angle of each beam, we can actually steer sound digitally in to certain places in the room,” Groves explains. “So, if we wanted to go 10 degrees up and 5 degrees over, we can tell it to do that. Now, everywhere you sit in the sanctuary, you get good sound. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the far right or up in the balcony or down in the front; it’s all the same.”

Even laymen who know nothing about sound can hear everything very clearly — and they comment on that. “People nowadays are so used to listening to good sound systems in their cars and so on,” Groves says. “So, whenever they walk into a room with an old system — like the one we had — it’s jarring. They think, I don’t know why I’m not hearing what I’m used to hearing, but I know it doesn’t sound good. Now it’s more like, I don’t know why this sounds fantastic — but it sounds fantastic.”

GroveCity2The Word must be heard

Like most contemporary houses of worship, musicality and intelligibility were both primary concerns for The Naz in selecting a sound system — full-spectrum fidelity for powerful musical performance and the clarity in spoken word that’s so critical in delivering the message. Groves says the IC2 system delivers on both counts.

“Across the board, every pastor I’ve ever talked to has told me pretty much the same thing: they want to hear the voices,” Groves explains. In his experience, this isn’t so critical in a concert setting where, if someone’s voice gets somewhat eclipsed by an electric guitar, it’s not a big deal. In the church world, however, every single word — spoken or sung — is a priority.

“Intelligibility was probably our pastor’s biggest request,” Groves recalls. “We didn’t really sit down and talk about specific system components.
“The senior pastor is immensely pleased with it,” he adds. “It’s easy to differentiate everything in the mix, the sermon is perfectly clear, and we have plenty of power to get that rock concert feel when we need it. We couldn’t be more pleased with the system.”

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Indeed, by all accounts, the difference between the new system’s performance and the old one’s is night and day. “The music sounds amazing, and the spoken word is crystal clear in every seat, even under the balcony,” Groves says. “The IC2’s digital steering enabled us to aim a beam down to hit the front rows and another to cover beneath the balcony. And we have totally eliminated the slap-back echo from sound bouncing off the balcony facing.”

Worship style matters

The early Sunday service is the classic presentation, with an 80-voice choir, 20-piece orchestra, plus a rhythm section. Thirty minutes after that service ends, the room is reset for the contemporary service, with the choir loft walled off and the stage reconfigured. There is also a hybrid service on Saturday. The system’s advanced RHAON control software can instantly recall multiple configurations for each service’s different demands.

“The contemporary service is a pretty high-octane and an edgier presentation that includes a rhythm section, six vocalists, a whole lot of bass, and is very guitar-driven,” Groves says. “The traditional service needs less bass reinforcement, which we have set up in the RHAON software as a preset. Both sound fantastic from every seat in the house.”

The Renkus-Heinz IC2 has proven to be a perfect fit for the Grove City Church of the Nazarene. “From the first service onward, we’ve gotten nothing but compliments on the system,” says Groves. “The worship team hears great feedback from attendees.”

Moreover, The Naz is host to quite a few national musical acts, including Michael W. Smith and Chris Tomlin. “We’ve had a lot of artists come in and use the system, and they all just love it,” Groves says.

Rik Kirby is Vice President, Sales & Marketing at Renkus-Heinz, Inc. Located in Southern California for more than 35 years, Renkus-Heinz is a manufacturer of high-end professional loudspeaker systems.

Daniel Keller is CEO of Get It In Writing, Inc.® 


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