Over the last two years, our church has remodeled our auditorium. The project was driven by the need to upgrade and modernize the audio, video, and theatrical lighting (AVL) systems. But there really wasn’t a surface in the entire building that wasn’t touched in some way.
We had a great team that worked very hard to value engineer every aspect of the project. We had a tight budget and we had to stick to it. Every area was scrutinized for bang-for-the-buck. This was especially true with the AVL and main room design. Even though our room is just under 700 seats, we hired an acoustician, AVL project consultant, and a trusted AVL integrator to complete the job. I was also brought on to be the church’s first full-time technical director. We planned for not just where the church was, but where the pastoral and lay-leadership saw the church going in the next five to ten years, designing the systems to best serve those needs both technically and artistically. All this while making sure that a volunteer team could operate the systems each week with excellence. All this was a painstaking process, but, in the end, it was well worth it.
While doing our research on the right technology, we looked at what other churches were doing as well as trends in the industry, and how both could help us in our project.
I love looking at what other churches are doing, not just their gear, but how they use it. I spend at least a couple of hours a month watching other church’s worship sets online. I also try to go to other churches and see the systems first-hand and how they’re implemented. This passion is always intensified when I am in a project.
I would like to say that I have never had gear envy. I would like to say that I have never sat in the dark in another church and metaphorically wept over how awesome their gear is and how we will never have that console or those speakers. I would like to say those things, but I can’t. After nearly 30 years of doing tech, it is still very easy to get caught up in the “bigger is better” or “if we only had this or that” type of thinking.
The ability to see and experience what the big or influential churches are doing has never been easier. In times past, you would only be able to read about it in a magazine or maybe see it in person if you went to that church. With the advent of the inter-webs, social media, YouTube, and Vimeo, seeing what others are doing is only a click away.
While I am obviously a huge advocate (for the most part) of the digital mediums and how they help us connect to the world, our congregations, and others in our industry, it can be a slippery trip down the rabbit hole of envy and trying to keep up with the Joneses. I have had many conversations about what the larger churches are doing.
- “That seems excessive.”
- “I can’t believe they spent all that money.”
- “Is that really the best use of ‘God’s’ money?”
It is human nature to armchair quarterback someone else’s decision on anything. While it is easy to say a large organization with lots of money does something just because they can, talk like this is either sin or at least just plain unproductive. Unless we were sitting in the meetings where those decisions were made, we have little basis for that kind of criticism. I have sat in meetings for hours on paint, signage, carpet, seating, and the like. Painstakingly trying to do what is best only to have a drive by “that was stupid” or “whose dumb idea was that?” comment given after the installation. Those without sin may cast the first stone. But I digress.
So let’s be constructive. What do we do to avoid the trap of envy or the snare of buying gear just because this or that church did it?
Ask what, where, why and how much.
Having a clear understanding on why the project needs to be done is vital.
- What is the end game?
- What are the current and future needs this project will have to meet?
- What is the perceived budget for the project? This may not be the final budget, but you must have a rough idea of what you are going to need to and get to spend.
Have an All Swim
Get everyone in the same room and find out their take on the project. Especially if this is a major remodel or new building. Find out what the “powers that be” are thinking. I’m not talking about doing this if you’re installing a new amplifier, but if you are upgrading your speaker system, you should know what the team’s general vision is.
Big Picture Breakdown
Like writing a movie script or a book, it is not a bad idea to start with a “treatment”.
That is, a summary of big picture items that you know up front you will need: speakers, amps, console, projectors, etc. No minutia here, just an overview.
Focus on what is the best for your situation, not other churches.
Time to Start the Search
This is the time most techs start to nerd out (I know I tend to). It’s time for research. How to research is an entire post in itself, but I would always talk to someone smarter than yourself. Be humble and realistic. Remember, smart people have even smarter people helping them; you can’t know it all. Get wise council even if you have to pay for it. Talk to others who you trust and learn from their mistakes. Bathe the matter in prayer. Seriously, pray for wisdom. I’m not kidding.
Three is the Magic Number
I always have three options. This shows that you have done your research and are willing to be flexible as needed and as budgets demand. So choose wisely.
Every project comes down to budget versus needs. Just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you should do it. Remember to always put the needs and vision of the church first. In the end, you will have to live with the choices you make. So make sure that even the minimum system will not be one that you secretly curse for the duration of your time with it. If your church has the need and budget for the top of the line, that is what you should design. Be appropriate to your situation.
Whether you’ve got a Bugatti Veyron or a Toyota Corolla, finish the project well. Be grateful that you were able to move the ball down the field.
Do your best for your church in all things. Envy will always be a temptation, so always focus on meeting the true needs of your situation. Remember that God is more concerned with your character than your need to drive the fastest car or the most expensive audio console.
Remember above all else: We get to do this. It is a privilege and an honor.