In my mid-twenties, my wife and I attended a Baptist church in a small town near where we still live today. This church was almost one hundred years old at that time and had dwindled down to an elderly congregation of around one hundred and fifty or so. The denomination had installed a young Pastor and many of the long time parishioners didn’t really like him. Oddly though, this church also became a refuge for a small band of Christian musicians and since I mixed for some of these bands, my wife and I became a part as well. One summer, we decided to start a Sunday night service called “Nite Life” for our generation. It would be for people who didn’t like church and for those of us who wanted to do modern music in church. We even advertised on local rock stations. The first night was packed with a younger crowd, many of whom were smoking on the front steps before they came in. We had hit our target and we were all pretty excited. Down on the front row walked Myron Lilly.
Easter week is one of the toughest weeks of the year for most church techs. Typically, we’re gearing up for a bigger than normal service on Easter (and typically more of them). Many of us also have a Good Friday service or three to produce. And for some reason, it seems that the rest of the church staff has no idea that our workload goes up by 50% this week and so all kinds of other stuff gets scheduled between Palm Sunday and Easter just for fun.
I have had a hard time with Easter (and Christmas, for that matter) week for quite a while. For a long time, I looked at it as just another super-busy week that was going to keep me at work for 12-14 hours a day for a week. In the last few years however, I’ve come to see it differently. I’ve said before that it’s struck me recently that we get to do this. By that I mean, we have such a unique opportunity to share the gospel with hundreds or thousands of people this week in a very creative and compelling manner.
We get to do that!
Moreover, this is a week that we celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. We mourn his death on Good Friday. And we celebrate his resurrection on Easter.
Go back and read that again. It’s quite a week! Easter week is the culmination of what Jesus came to do on this earth. He came for this very specific purpose, to die in our place and pay the debt for our sin.
For my sin.
For your sin.
That’s significant. In fact, it’s everything. It’s why we do what we do. It’s why we work late, prepare, rehearse and plan. It’s why we have extra services. It’s why we settle in to the tech booth for hours on end.
Don’t miss that!
Don’t miss what we’re celebrating.
When Jesus entered Jerusalem, his disciples asked him to quiet the crowds. He told them,
"I tell you," he replied, "if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out."
It has occurred to me that every week, our job as the Church is keep the stones from crying out. Jesus will be praised; the question is, will it be by His people or by the rocks and stones? We get to be part of keeping the stones quiet.
Don’t miss that!
Finally, remember the words of Jesus,
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
For me, this has already been a long week. But it will be an amazing weekend. If we truly understand the truth of what we’re celebrating, we can’t help but be changed by it.
What else would you rather be doing this weekend?
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Develop an Initial Budget
Audio-Video-Lighting systems are expensive. There is just no getting around it. Even small systems can run into the tens of thousands of dollars, while large systems for rooms seating 2,000-3,000+ can easily run into the millions.
One of the biggest mistakes I see churches making when embarking on a remodel or building project is not setting realistic budgets. I think this is due to a general lack of understanding of what the technology costs, and how many little—and often expensive—pieces need to be added to make everything work. As a quick example, in our little project to install a new PA, add a video wall, some lobby TVs and move our tech booth, I have to order over $1,300 in cable connectors alone!
So many churches go into a building project with what I call the Best Buy budget. Someone from the church (usually not the tech guy) wandered through Best Buy and saw some amplifiers, TVs and speakers and came up with a “budget.” Or perhaps they just pull a number out of the air. Most times, those are woefully inadequate to do a good job, and everyone will be frustrated by the results.
Count the Cost
Luke 14:28 reminds us, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it?” We might get bids from builders, electricians, architects for the “big” pieces of the job, but fail to take into account the AVL. Perhaps the architect will add a standard percentage of the job for AVL, which may or may not be enough (it’s probably not).
Now, I understand the problem. Most pastors, and probably most tech guys, don’t spend their days looking at spec and price sheets for all manner of AVL gear. And most have no idea how much stuff it takes to make an entire system work. This is where having a relationship with an integrator comes in.
It’s All About Relationships
Remember how I’m always talking about building relationships? Having an integrator or dealer that you work with regularly is invaluable when it comes to working up a budget. Because they spend their days designing, pricing and installing systems in churches, they can give you a rough idea of how much it will cost.
Now, it’s important that I take a moment and remind you of something here. Integrators are in business to make a profit. If we expect to get good service, we need good integrators to stay in business. They are worth their time, and they should be paid for it.
Don’t go to an integrator and ask them to design and cost out a system, the parcel out the buying of the gear to the cheapest vendor you can find online. In fact, the good integrators won’t even do a design until they’re under contract to do the job. And that’s a great business model. They may be able to give you a ballpark budget off the top of their heads for free, but if you want detailed analysis and design, expect to pay for it.
Getting Into the Ballpark
As you start a project, it is important to have a ballpark idea of the cost for the AVL system. You can arrive at this a few different ways. The way I usually do it is to start by talking with my integrator and get rough numbers for big items—speaker systems, video walls, consoles, lighting rigs, etc. Then, I’ll spend a little time online getting pricing ideas for smaller items. I add in some padding for labor (which is usually a lot more than you think it is), cables, connectors, and glue (pieces that connect one big item to another). Finally, I’ll add 10-25% depending on the size of the job.
That should get you in the ballpark. Start with that number to present to leadership. It’s always better to go in a little high because it will likely be cut down. If you go in too high, you’ll get shot down, but if you go in too low, you’ll get hung. To hedge my bets, I prefer to give a range. It’s easier to go a little over if your rough range is $150,000-175,000. You can probably get $185K if you need it. But if you say $130, you’ll never get $180 if you need it.
Alternately, you can ask your integrator to give you a ballpark range. Just be sure to tell them all you are trying to do. Telling them you need a new PA and some projectors for the sanctuary is different one thing. Adding in full AVL in three smaller kids rooms, plus a lobby and overflow room is another. And be sure to tell leadership they can’t hold the integrator to the ballpark budget until a site visit has been completed and a full design worked up. This is just an idea here.
Hopefully that helps you get started. Next time, we’ll talk more about design.
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We’re continuing on in our series of AVL renovation. I should point out that almost all of this applies to new builds as well—though I hear from more churches who are upgrading and remodeling than building. Last time we talked about design, or more accurately, where in the design process the AVL guys should be brought in (answer: early!).
Today, we’re going to talk about one of the most oft forgotten aspects of an AVL system renovation: Defining the system objectives. Put another way, what do you want the system to do?
Don’t Ask the Wrong Questions
I hear from churches all the time asking for advice. I love to give advice, so I’m happy to oblige. However, sometimes, it’s really hard. I get questions like, “We want to upgrade our sound mixer to a digital mixer. Which one do you recommend?” Or, “Which projector do you recommend for a center screen?” Or even, “We have a 300 seat room, which speakers should we install?”
Those are all questions that are all but impossible to answer. The reason is, they are asking the wrong question. There are usually several options that I could recommend. But without knowing what they want the system to do, I can’t do anything but give you brands and products I like.
The Right Questions
Before you ask for specific equipment suggestions, ask yourself some questions first.
- What benefit to we expect to see from this new technology? How does it advance the mission of our church?
- How will this improve our services? Will this lead more people into worship or will it be distracting?
- What do we want this new gear to do for us? How should it be better than what we have now?
- Who will be running it? What is their skill level, and how quickly do they learn new things?
- Are we getting into this because it’s cool? Or are there really good reasons for this new technology?
- What specific capacities do we need? If it’s an audio console, think inputs, outputs, mix buses, FX, remote mixing, digital snakes, personal mixers, etc. For a projector it might be how bright do we need, screen size, resolution, inputs, ease of mounting and servicing, or even should we consider a video wall?
- Do you have a budget? Is that budget realistic?
There are plenty more questions we could delve into, but most get pretty specific pretty quickly. That should get you started.
Develop Your Objectives
Armed with the answers to those questions, you should be able to come up with a pretty clear set of objectives for this technology purchase or upgrade. With that in mind, you can start looking at options. The field will narrow quickly when you have a good idea of what you want a piece of gear to do.
You will often find several options that will suit your needs. At that point, it comes down to what brands the dealer you’re working with carries, or which ones may have better service options. Consider which one will work with your existing equipment and even which one you like more.
Most of the equipment I’ve purchased over the years has been chosen specifically because it meets my design objectives. Sometimes it comes down to two products and I choose based on the one I like better. Maybe it’s their software, the interface, or that I have a better relationship with the rep. Those aren’t top line criteria, but they do help you decide at the end.
Above all, know why you want to upgrade or purchase. When you know why, it makes it a lot easier to come up with the what. Next time, we’ll talk budgets.