Defining Good Stewardship

Before I go any further, I have to give credit where credit is due. This post was inspired by a conversation I had with Anthony Coppedge on the way back home from WFX. We were sitting at the airport discussing the messes churches often find themselves in with regard to their AV installs. He said something that I have believed for a long time, but never put it so eloquently. “Good Stewardship is not how much money you don’t spend--it’s how much you don’t waste.” Read that again and let it sink in a little bit. Most churches want to be good stewards of offering dollars. However, not many are when it comes to AV systems. The old saying, “Most churches are on their third PA” is sad because it’s so often true--and not normally because the first two wore out.

Everybody likes a bargain, especially me. I’m a shopper; I love using the internet and my contacts to find the best price on everything. Normally, when I need something new, I spend a few minutes with Google and I typically save 10-40% off the first price I found. That’s good stewardship. However, I don’t always buy the cheapest item in a given category. For example, we needed some new vocal mics a few months ago. While leafing through a national catalog, I saw a sale for “Three Vocal Mics for $19.” Now, that sounds like a good deal. But if you know anything at all about mics, you know that is not a wise purchase. Had I bought them, I would have just wasted $20 plus shipping. And whatever I did buy would end up costing more.

Now scale that example up to something larger...say a PA. I’ve been in churches that initially spent as little as they could on their PA. And it sounded like it. No one was happy; coverage was uneven, frequency response was erratic and feedback was prevalent. So they changed it out, again going with a low bid on the job. This time...no one was happy. It was a little better, but not much. A few years later, it was changed again. This time...a few people were happy. Namely, the contractor that got paid to install it. The last I heard, they are looking at their fourth system. I don’t have exact figures, but I understand the total installed cost is approaching $1 million. Which is about 3x what it would have cost had they done it right the first time. Was that initial $100K system good stewardship? Not hardly. Sure, they saved a few hundred thousand up front, but it’s cost them dearly in the end. Can God be pleased with this? Really?

At WFX last week I was having a conversation with two people who were part of a church build. They asked about the right time to bring in an AV consultant. I asked if they already had architects drawings. When they said yes, I said they were already late. As we talked, the absolute imperative nature of getting the right company to take a look at the room from an acoustical perspective (not to mention overall A/V/L systems topology) didn’t seem to be settling in. Then this illustration came to me.

I said this: Getting the room modeled will cost you $10-20K right now. Developing a good long-term strategy will cost you about as much (it was a pretty good sized room). However, if you don’t spend that money right now, before you commit the plans to a builder, you may as well start a fundraising campaign to generate $300-400K. Then gather everyone in the parking lot, unveil that huge pile of cash and set fire to it. Because that’s what will happen. If you don’t spend a little money up front right now to get the room and systems right, you will burn through hundreds of thousands of dollars down the road trying to fix it.

Fellow TDs, we need to become more vocal about this. Executive pastors, finance committees and accountants don’t like to hear that we need to spend money on AV. However, they really don’t like it when we need to keep coming to them over and over to fix the stuff we did wrong the first time (or the stuff the previous guy did wrong). We need to be the ones championing the cause of good stewardship. Not finding ways to spend the least amount of money today, but delivering the lowest cost of ownership with the greatest value to our programming.

Anthony has said it before and I’ll quote him again, “Good Stewardship is not how much money you don’t spend--it’s how much you don’t waste.” Thanks for summing that up so clearly!