by Mike Sessler,

A few months ago, Outreach Magazine asked me to come up with a few questions they could pose in a short article called, Should We Go For It?. Being the over-achiever that I am, I wrote 850 words. When the article came out, they published about 60 of them. Since I thought this was actually a pretty good article, I'm publishing it here, with the lesson learned (when someone asks for a few questions, write a few questions). The good news is that you—the reader of this blog—get the whole article...

Whenever making new technology purchases or technology upgrades, it's important to think through the reasoning behind them as well as the actual purchase/upgrade process. Here are five things to think about when evaluating technology.

Does the technology further or enhance our mission as a church?
In other words, what do you feel you can't do now (or aren't doing well) that is critical to your churches specific mission? Of course, this presupposes you are really clear on the mission of your church, but that's another article. Too many churches want a piece of technology because...

...the church down the street does or the church that hosted the last conference has it. But that's not enough of a reason. Every church is unique and it's incumbent upon the leadership to make sure any technology system will enhance and advance the mission. If it doesn't, the dollars are better spent elsewhere.

Do we have, or can we recruit and train, the people necessary to run this system?
New technology rarely requires fewer people. Depending on the system in question, the learning curve can be quite steep and will require a significant investment on the part of the volunteers to learn how to run the equipment well. Finding, training and retaining technical volunteers is one of the hardest jobs in the church; it's not at all like training ushers. If you are currently having a hard time finding people to run the equipment you currently have, think long and hard before adding more positions to the weekend tech team.

Can we really afford this?
There are three ways most Audio/Video/Lighting systems are designed and installed; the right way, the ridiculously over-engineered way and the church way. The ridiculously over-engineered way is typically an obvious waste of money. Those systems are designed by people who don't understand the church, what we do and what we need. Those systems are crazy-expensive and typically can't be run by volunteers. They are super-cool, however.

The church way is to take the lowest bid one can find, then cut some stuff out to make it cheaper. This typically results in an inadequate system that won't really do what is needed, will frustrate the volunteers and leadership alike and will be replaced in 3-4 years at a total cost that ends up at least 2-3 times the cost of doing it the right way in the first place.

Doing it the right way will cost more than the church way, at least initially. However, a properly designed system will perform better, be easier to use and will last far, far longer than the budget bid, value engineered system. Trust me on this; I've spend my career tearing out and re-doing systems built the church way. It's never cheaper.

The point is, make sure you have realistic goals in mind, then be prepared to pay what it takes for a well-designed and installed system. Don't skimp, but don't go overboard as well.

Has my contractor/installer/system integrator worked with a large number of churches in the past?
This relates to the last question; it's important to work with a company that understands the church setting. What we do every weekend is vastly different from a TV station, a theater or a high school. Don't make the mistake of hiring a company only to find out yours is their first church. It's not the same, and it will cost you.

Also, unless you have highly qualified technical people on staff, don't even think about doing a major system design/install by yourself. I've ripped out many such systems put in by well-meaning but very ill-informed and unskilled volunteers. What works in your living room won't work every weekend in a church production setting. Yes, you can buy a video camera at BestBuy for $300. No, it won't work to do IMAG in your church. Don't waste your money; hire someone who knows what they're doing.

Do you have a realistic timetable?
I hear from churches all the time who want to install a brand new lighting system, or new cameras, or a new PA—and it's three weeks before Easter. This is a recipe for disaster. Major system upgrades should take a month or more to design and spec out. Installation could take several weeks depending on the scope of work. And this is assuming you really know what you want and need. Add time if you're figuring it out as you go.

A good integrator will work with you, ask lots of questions and present several options for you to consider. That takes time. Getting the equipment shipped in (sometimes it has to be built first), running wire, even modifying steel structure in the case of a large PA takes time. Let the integrator set the timeline and give them the time they need to do it right. Trying to rush a major system wastes money, you'll miss things that should have been caught and you will not likely end up with the best system for you.

What is your process for thinking through and evaluating upgrade options?


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