Technology In The Margins

This is the third in a series of posts on the changing face of production technology in the church. In this post, I'll delve into some of the reasons why I think the role of technology is changing. If you missed the first two posts, you can read them here, and here.

Church production technology operates in the margins; and that is an intended double entendre. 

On the one hand, those of us in the technology field are often “one step above the janitor” when it comes to performing our job. What I mean by that is this; if we do our job well, no one knows we’re there, much like no one ever notices the janitor—until the toilet is overflowing in the women’s room. This is not to minimize what we do in the technical world (or the world of the janitorial services, for that matter), but it is a realization that most of the time, we slip in and out unnoticed; we operate in the margins. At least until something goes wrong.

The other side of the margins equation is financial. Live production technology, when done well, is expensive. There is just no getting around it. Audio consoles, projectors, cameras, moving lights, infrastructure, it’s all really expensive. And the bigger the church, the bigger the price tag for the tech.

When times are good and the church has financial margin, it’s easy to spend money on tech. However, when the belt has to tighten, the margin starts to go away. As the margin disappears, so does our tech budget. Why? Simple; when faced with choosing between staff and a new camera, the church will (and probably should) always choose staff.

If the church has to choose between spending $90,000 to send meals to Haiti or buying a new PA (especially if the current PA is still making noise), the choice should be obvious. As much as we techs all like to get new gear, more and more, that is not a realistic option. At least not at the scale we’ve become accustomed to.

Those of us in existing large churches are now in a difficult position; we have an expensive infrastructure to maintain (and eventually replace), as well as a certain implied level of production value to provide each week. Yet we’re given fewer resources—both in staff and budget—to get the job done. 

And with more and more people in our congregation ambivalent about sound, lights and video, it’s harder to justify big buys in equipment. Moreover, we might even start to get pushback as we suggest large ticket items; not only from church leadership, but from the congregation wondering why we’re spending all that money on tech.

To be sure, this is not happening in all churches. I know several off the top of my head who are putting in new Pa’s, video systems and lighting rigs. As I said last time, I don’t think we’re going to see an overnight change, nor will it affect every church equally. But I do think we need to be prepared to think more creatively about how we do our jobs. We’re also going to have to do a better job tying our technology needs to the mission and purpose of the church. “Because the big church down the street has it,” will no longer give us much traction. 

I don’t want anyone to think this is a doomsday message, or that I’m condemning the use of technology in a church service. Instead, I think we need to consider why it is we’re doing what we’re doing. Is the model working at our church? Are we really meeting the needs of the congregation? Are we speaking the right language? Is that new tech we want justified because it will help us better communicate the truth of the Gospel or is the money better spent elsewhere?

These are questions we need to wrestle with. There is no right answer, either. There are certainly times when spending $60,000 or even $100,000 on a digital console is justified; and others where it is a gross misuse of Kingdom funds. My purpose in writing this series is not to condemn or condone big production, but to generate a discussion that gets us thinking about why we do what we do, and if our current model (at least at our/your local church) is as effective as it could be. 

What say you? How have you seen the need for production increase or decrease in your congregation? 

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