Presenting Upgrade Projects

I had lunch with my boss (Pastor of Weekends) and Sr. Pastor this week. The purpose of the lunch was two-fold. First, I wanted to inform him of my findings as I've spent the last few months looking over our systems. Second, I wanted to get his feedback on which updates need to take priority over which other ones. Our church is probably in the same situation as yours--offerings are down. And we have some significant needs in the technical department. So while it would be easy to place an order for a half-million dollars on Monday, we can't. Some things need to be done, others can wait.

The outcome of the meeting was very good. However, it started off just as many meetings of this nature start off. Right up front he said, "I want to ask you a question and I don't want you to take it personally. Every tech director before you (and every other one I know) has always come in and said, 'The last guy didn't know what he was doing! It's all got to go.' Why should I listen to you?" Show of hands--anyone else ever heard that? I think my answer surprised him, and it bought me a lot of trust. Here's a summary of what I said (and this concept did not originate with me, so don't go thinking I'm a genius or anything).

Step One: Determine Ministry Philosophy

I started with this. We need to first define what it is we're trying to accomplish on a weekend. We need to establish our overall ministry philosophy. Are we going for stripped-down, acoustic worship that's coffee house style? Or are we going for a bigger rock and roll show look? Do we value volunteers in production positions or do we want paid staff people behind the board? Those and a few other questions need to be defined first.

Step Two: Philosophy Drives Programming

Once we have our Philosophy down, we can start developing our programming to support that. Again, how do we use the weekend to drive our ministry down the field (to use a butchered football analogy). All the programming decisions we make on a weekly basis will determine the next step.

Step Three: Programming Drives Technology

This should be obvious, but it's not. Too often, we tech geeks have done things that lead to my pastor's question. We buy technology just because it's cool and exciting. We spend our budget because it's there. We replace equipment because we didn't buy it in the first place. However, none of this makes any sense. What drives the need for technology is programming.

For example, if programming is stripped-down acoustic worship designed to feel interactive and coffee-house like, you probably don't need 72 moving lights. Or even 6. A 96 channel digital console is overkill. Twelve dual-eighteen subs is a waste of money (unless your coffee house happens to seat 4500 people). On the other hand, if you're going for a live-concert experience, you need all of those things. In fact, it's hard to pull that off without a pretty massive rig. Most of us probably land in the middle, but you get the point.

I think we've entered a new era in church technology. For the time being, I don't think we'll be at liberty to buy new stuff just because it's there and it's cool. We have to really pay attention to our expenses and make sure our large projects reap tangible benefits. Which finally brings me to point four.

Step Four: Technology Drives Budget

To me, it's never made sense to arbitrarily assign a budget number to technology every year. We know some things such as consumables and maintenance are  pretty predictable. On the other hand, just putting in a line item of $10,000 or $20,000 or $50,000 for "New Equipment" is a bit nutty. It makes far more sense to define the ministry philosophy, determine the programming needs to support that, figure out what equipment we need to pull off that programming, and shop for the best price on that equipment. It's easy, really.

When we present things in that light, it's a lot easier for the pastor or board or congregation to say, "OK. I get why we need to spend $60K on lights." When we walk in and say, "We need a digital console," resistance will be a little higher.

Bonus Round: Ask for Input

Right now, we're facing a situation where every single major system (and a few minor ones) need to be upgraded, updated or torn out and replaced. Obviously, we can't do it all at once. So I asked our pastor which ones are a priority for him. And as much as I'd like a new PA before year's end, really what we need to work on is getting our lighting and video systems upgraded. I'll get a new PA eventually, but for now, it can wait.

This is not a fool-proof process, and I offer it up with no guarantees of success. However, I've talked to a bunch of tech directors who do this same process every time, and it just seems to work. It buys us a lot of trust so that when we do walk in say, "We need thus and so..." our leaders know we're thinking it through.