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.
Since we’re close to embarking on a pretty significant renovation of our main sanctuary at Coast Hills, I thought I would kick off a series on successful renovations. This comes not only from my own experience, but from dozens of others. Just about every month I receive at least one e-mail about a church doing a renovation; and often it’s not going well.
The reasons renovations, or new builds for that matter, don’t go well are not really complicated. The problems tend to stem from a fundamental lack of understanding of how complex even simple AVL (audio-video-lighting) systems are. I’ve heard pastors say, “We’ll just hang some speakers in there, don’t worry about it,” without any thought to how incredibly bad that can be. Of course, they’ll complain about how bad it is later, and probably blame the sound guy.
So let me say this right at the beginning of this series, if you’re talking about a renovation or build project, now is the time to bring the AVL guys into the discussion. Pastors tend to say, “We’re not there yet, we’ll engage you when we’re closer.” And that is the problem. The time to start planning a successful AVL system is at the dreaming stage.
Define the ministry objectives, then design the building and AVL system. Those two design processes should go hand-in-hand. As you begin to dream about the kinds of ministry you’d like to see happening in the building, give the AVL guys a chance to dream about the ways technology can be integrated into that plan. Technology can be incredibly powerful, but only when it’s done in a way that supports the mission and vision of the church. Otherwise, it’s in the way.
As you define your mission and vision and figure out how the building will be used, the AVL guys can be designing a system that supports it. Some churches will protest at this point, saying they can’t afford good design. Those are the same churches that can find enough money to do the job two or three times. Doing things right the first time will always cost less than doing it wrong a few times first. Always.
The AVL system integrates with every trade and building practice. This is another reason to get the AVL guys involved early. Even a simple system uses a lot of conduit. Power is needed in very specific places—and it needs to be the right kind of power. Structure must be in place to support rigging the speakers, video walls, screens, projectors and lighting. We have to make sure HVAC ducts are not in the way of lighting instruments, speakers and other stuff we’ll be hanging in the air. Building design elements will either help or hurt sound and sight lines.
It’s a lot easier and cheaper to have the AVL guys in the room early to call out things like that. Otherwise, we come in with a big red marker after most of the plans are drawn and mark up what we need. This adds cost, time and often, a significant amount of stress.
Don’t assume that the architect knows what will be needed in an AVL system. That’s something else I hear often, “Don’t worry about it, the architect will handle that.” Unless the architect has also been designing sound, lighting and video systems for a decade—systems that are really good—you better get an expert in. I have spent the last 20 years tearing out systems that were “designed” by architects, the cheapest contractor and well-meaning but completely uninformed volunteers. I’m begging you, bring in some experts. Early.
I don’t know if it’s pride, arrogance or both that keeps leaders making the same mistakes. I know they don’t teach the building process in pastor school, yet we have a large enough body of knowledge to do this right. For some reason, I watch church after church push the AVL guys out of the way, bully them into silence, then beat them up when the system comes out badly.
In 2014, we know how to do a great job with a building. It takes communication, planning, knowledge, good design and having the right people in the room from day one. I think it’s time we stop wasting our congregations’ money on projects that are not functional.
As we go through this series, I’ll help you define your system objectives, develop an initial budget, choose key technologies, design a system that works for your church, work up reasonable install timelines and commission the final system. That’s a lot; but that’s what a project looks like. A building project is no small undertaking, and it deserves to be handled wisely. My hope is that as we go on this journey together, more projects will go more smoothly. Buckle up—it’s going to be a wild ride!