The Man with the Plan

Most of the churches I visit or work in suffer from a common problem. It's something that just seems to happen. I completely understand the circumstances that lead to this problem, and am very sympathetic to those it affects. The problem is a lack of a plan. Not just any plan, but a complete, holistic plan of how technology works together. What I normally see (and I'm sure you've experienced this, too) is a patchwork quilt of disparate stuff tied together with duct tape and chewing gum. Okay, it may not be that bad, but you know what I mean.

The reason this happens is easy to understand. Most churches' tech people are hard-working volunteers who were tasked with a job that they do with great enthusiasm. They may or may not have the experience, know-how or authority to really analyze the needs and put together a complete system that really works well. The leadership of the church may not get it, or there may be insufficient resources.

Sometimes it's the result of a variety of people working on the system and just trying to get something to work this weekend. Other times, the fault lies with outside contractors who didn't take the time to learn the true needs of the church. Too often, this happens more than once.

Any way you look at it, it's a recipe for frustration, not to mention less than ideal results each weekend. Again, this is not a dig at the volunteers who serve so faithfully year after year. Having been in that position myself for many years, I understand exactly what is going on. What I'd like to do, is to offer some suggestions to getting out of this dilemma, improving your production value and making volunteers happier and less stressed.

It all starts with a plan. Now, even if you don't have a background in system design and engineering, you can still do a thorough needs analysis and begin sketching out what you need to accomplish.

For example, let's say the pastor often requests a DVD of the services to evaluate how various elements came together. Do you have a camera in place to do that? What will you record on, and does the audio system have the capability to send a usable mix to the recorder? You could piecemeal this together each week, or you could incorporate the needed elements into a system so that all you need to do is drop in a blank DVD-R and hit record.

Or let's say you have multiple types of services each weekend; each with varying musical, drama and video needs. Does your system accommodate all the needs without significant re-patching and changeover? If not, you need to think through what you need to accomplish and design a system big enough to handle it.

Now, keep in mind, I'm not advocating spending huge sums of money to put in a large system that no one can figure out how to use. What I am for is Optimum Value Engineering (to borrow a term from the construction trade...). OVE looks at each piece of the puzzle and tries to make it just the right size. Not too bit, not too small. In our examples, with three types of services a digital audio board would really be a nice element. But this is not to say that you need a Midas XL-8 (at the cost of a quarter million dollars!). A Yamaha LS-9 might be just perfect.

I've tried to think of ways to help you think through your needs and design a good system. Because each church is unique, it's hard to develop a one-size-fits-all approach. My next post will give you some ideas to consider.