Thinking Ahead

I was reading Tony Morgan’s blog the other day as he was reviewing Andy Stanley’s new book, The Principle of the Path. One phrase in particular caught my mind, and it’s stuck with me ever since. It’s good advice for life to be sure; and it has particular importance for those of us charged with maintaining the technical ministry in our churches.

“Prudent people look as far down the road as possible when making decisions.”

When it comes to the technical challenges we face with our systems, I propose that many of them are caused by someone before us not abiding by that principle--or perhaps even we are guilty.

How many times have you dug around under FOH and found an expensive piece of gear powered by a cheap extension cord because it was installed in haste and no one ever went back to fix it? Or some audio cables are strung down the wall because it was faster at the time. I’m sure all of us know of a church (or work in one) that is on it’s third PA because the first two were the wrong ones.

None of this would be a problem if the Church was sitting on an inexhaustible supply of cash. We’re not, however. The money that we spend so quickly was given in faith by the people who darken our doors each week. Often times, that giving represents a significant sacrifice for that family. We are obligated to use it wisely.

This does not mean that we always need to go with the cheapest option. Quite the contrary, in fact. Often times, the cheapest option is the most expensive in the long run. Think you can save money by putting in architectural dimmers instead of theatrical ones? Think again. Architectural dimmers aren’t designed to be used the way theatrical dimmers are and you’ll be replacing the entire system in a few years. And it will be far more expensive than if you just did it right the first time.

It’s true; sometimes the least expensive option in the long run is the most expensive up front. We’re a culture that doesn’t get that by and large, and we have to be counter-cultural in that regard. It’s important that we can advocate to church leadership the importance of doing things the right way the first time, so we don’t have to do it over (and over, and over...) again. We need to educate ourselves and become adept at convincing church leadership to spend money wisely.

Here’s a practical example. The dimming system at Coast Hills is in tough shape. It was the wrong system when it was put in, and it was installed poorly. We’ve just spec’d a new system to replace it. We’ll be going with ETC Sensor racks for dimming. Though we don’t have 96 individual fixtures right now, we’re putting in that many dimming circuits because it’s cheaper and easier to add them now rather than later.

In addition to pulling dimming circuits, we’re also having the electricians pull DMX-relay controlled 208v outlets and DMX to all dimming drop points. Why? Because we rent movers a few times a year, and it’s a lot easier to hang them if the 208 is right there. Same for the DMX. It doesn’t cost that much more right now--but it’s a lot harder in the future. We’ve tried to consider everything that we might need to do in that room in the next 10 years and put the infrastructure in place to handle it.

And, if moving lights become LED powered (Vari-Lite already has one out) and only require 110v, it’s a simple matter of swapping the socket on the drop, and changing the breaker in the box. If DMX goes away and a new protocol comes out, we have the CAT-5 pulled all over the place--change the ends and we’re good to go.

You can never perfectly predict the future. However, we owe it to the people in our congregations (and the next TD after us) to think things through. It doesn’t take that much more time, and it’s always less expensive in the long run.