First-Hand Experience

When you oversee the technical operations in your own church every week, you have little trouble relating to the needs and desires of your counterparts in other houses of worship.

It's for this reason that Phil Jenkins, co-founder of the Milan, TN-based Internally Sound, has seen success over the last 10 years in building a systems contracting firm rooted in the religious market. Alongside his family (the company was co-founded with his brother, Mark Jenkins), this audiophile-turned-businessman approaches Internally Sound not only as a business, but a ministry as well.

For the Jenkinses, the formation of Internally Sound was natural: as the technical director at his own church, First Baptist Church of Milan, Phil Jenkins is often called upon for advice from surrounding worship facilities. What started out as the delivering of friendly advice transformed into a full-fledged business. "Initially, we didn't do installations; instead, we went into churches and trained them on how to use their systems," Jenkins explained. "Then we began receiving calls when churches needed to upgrade their systems. I was also doing the same thing at my own church. As that grew and more people began hearing about us, churches that were building new facilities began calling us."

Today, Internally Sound offers live audio services, in addition to the design and installation of sound, video and lighting systems to churches and schools. While that in itself may be no different from the hundreds of other companies that serve the house of worship market, Jenkins believes that his family's experience serving their own church is a main factor in Internally Sound's longevity. "We actually operate systems in our own churches every week, so we come to the installation process with a church mentality," he said. "We know what the church's needs are, when it comes to delivering a service."

As a result, Jenkins and company view their profession as more than just a business. "Some companies approach this as a job; we approach this as a ministry," he said. "We offer more than just equipment and installation services. We try to work directly with the churches to find out what they need and what they want versus trying to tell them what they need. Then we integrate that into their particular style of worship."

This philosophy comes in handy, considering the unique challenges that churches face in managing their technical operations, Jenkins points out. "Many of the churches use volunteers. We need to install systems of high quality that are also user-friendly. When churches have trouble with their systems, it's because they have different operators each week. The systems need to be consistent, because the services vary. Many churches may have a traditional service-with a piano or an organ, along with a pulpit mic and some choir mikes-followed by a contemporary service where there is a whole band playing. The system needs to be able to run both types of services."

This market has developed into one that not only employs technology, but views it as a necessary component in delivering its message. As such, systems contractors working in this arena are continually educating their client base. "One of our biggest challenges is convincing the churches to keep the latest technology in mind," Jenkins said. "If you don't, every year or every couple of years, you get too far behind. So many churches try to install something that will last for 20 years. It will work for 20 years, but will it work at the level you want it to?"

Especially, Jenkins observed, when most members of the church congregations out there have access to high technology at home. "In the past, it was a big deal for a church to have a cassette player," he pointed out. "Now, so many church members not only have CD players in their home, they have 5.1 surround sound. The technology that they have in their cars is often far more advanced than what they get when they come to church on Sunday. They see the need for better technology-not because it's a toy, but because it gives the ability to hear and see the Word."

Carolyn Heinze has covered everything from AV/IT and business to cowboys and cowgirls ... and the horses they love. She was the Paris contributing editor for the pan-European site Running in Heels, providing news and views on fashion, culture, and the arts for her column, “France in Your Pants.” She has also contributed critiques of foreign cinema and French politics for the politico-literary site, The New Vulgate.