Why Hire an Integrator?

Photo courtesy of NCinDC

Photo courtesy of NCinDC

I was recently asked by a reader for some suggestions on helping his church’s leadership understand the need to hire an integrator for new building project. If you’ve read this blog at all, or listened to ChurchTechWeekly, you know it’s something we talk about a lot. Sadly, most churches don’t do this well. In the case of our reader, his leadership thinks that they can do the job in-house, and things will be just fine. As someone who has been working in churches a long time (20+ years…), I can tell you that in-house jobs rarely end up in the same zip code as fine.

Now, to be sure, there are some churches that can tackle an in-house install. Typically those churches are fairly large and have multiple technical personnel on staff. That technical staff has collectively many years of experience doing design, and installing equipment. They also have a great relationship with an equipment vendor who they can ask advice on things they don’t know about. 

Those churches are rare, however. Most churches are smaller with less experienced (if any) technical staff. Now make no mistake; I think the small-church technical leader or volunteers are real heroes. They get stuff done in the face of non-existent budgets, time and equipment. But there is a vast difference between making things happen on a weekend and designing and installing a full-blown A/V/L system in a new (or renovated) building. 

Designing a full system takes a lot of know-how, and requires an encyclopedic knowledge of equipment. Given the wildly varying standards we’re dealing with right now, it’s far too easy to end up with systems that won’t work together. Designing speaker systems is far more complex than hanging a few boxes in the air (which also needs to be done safely), and typically DIY projects are less than desirable.

As someone who for whatever reason seems to be the Mike Holmes of church tech, I can tell you’ve I’ve pulled out a lot of gear that was installed by well-meaning but terribly uninformed people. It can take years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix mistakes that were done in the name of saving money. Don’t do it! 

Here are the top five reasons you should not do it yourself. Feel free to send this link to your pastor...

You Don’t Know Enough

I don’t mean you’re stupid; I mean designing and installing an A/V/L system requires a specialized skill set and unless you’ve been doing it for a few years, you don’t have it. I have been at this game for 25 years, working with professional AV equipment and systems both inside and outside the church. When it came time to design a PA for my church, I looked to experts at my integrator (and speaker manufacturer). Why? Because I don’t design speaker systems for a living. I have ideas and opinions, but they have the real expertise. When it comes time to do the install, they will install it. Why? Because I don’t routinely hang 1800 pounds of gear over people’s heads. They do. 

Chances are, you simply don’t know enough gear options to make good decisions. I go into so many churches who simply bought was was for sale at Guitar Center, never realizing that for 10% more, they could have bought a far, far better solution. Sometimes, it even costs less. Integrators spend their lives designing and installing systems while constantly keeping up on new equipment and technology. You don’t. It’s far better for you to do what you do and let them do what they do. 

You Don’t Have the Time

Designing and installing a complete system—even a fairly simple one—takes an incredible amount of time. If your church tech team is made up of volunteers, chances are they don’t have a spare 40 hours a week they can give to the project for a month. At least not if you want to keep doing services. 

Last year, we did part of the install in our student wing, working along side our integrator. Even that load just about killed us. It took me 2 full months to recover, and every Sunday during the install and recovery, I debated whether or not I wanted to come in to work or not. It was brutal. And we know what we’re doing and have a staff. Don’t kill your people just to save a few bucks. It’s not worth it.

You’ll Have to Live With the Building a Long Time

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to say no to our leadership on doing something they want to do because we don’t have the infrastructure in our building. Opened in 1993, we’ve been fighting it since day one. Why? Because they cut the AV budget and didn’t use an integrator. There are no conduit runs between the tech booth and the stage, or the amp room. How did that get missed? How impossible is it to fix now? (Answer: Very!)

No building is perfect, even those build with an integrator on board early. However, the worst buildings, the ones that are the hardest to deal with are ones that were DIY projects, especially with architects who haven’t done churches before. Or the churches they have done are very traditional and don’t require any production equipment. If I see another church with a single 3/4” conduit between the booth and the stage, I’m going to be sick. Please, get someone involved who actually knows what they’re doing.

You Will Waste Money On Your Own

Everyone thinks going solo will save money. I have bad news for you: It rarely ever does. Oh sure, maybe in the short run, you might save a few thousand dollars—maybe even $20-30K. But here’s the reality—if what you buy and install turns out to be the wrong stuff installed improperly, how much will you spend tearing out and doing it again? As someone who has been part of multiple churches that are on their second or third PA system, I can tell you it’s a lot. 

A good integrator will make sure you get what you need, and will ensure that it’s installed properly. Moreover, they will consider future needs and be thinking of additional cable and power runs that you’ll miss. Remember, once the building is built, it’s there. Do you want to fight with it every day of the rest of your life, or actually enjoy working there? 

You Are Setting Your Team Up To Fail

Pastors, this one is for you. You may not realize it, but when you ask your volunteer (or one-man) tech team to do the whole design and install themselves to save money, you are setting them up to fail. Why? For all the reasons above. They don’t have the knowledge base, experience or time to do it right. And here’s the kicker. Once it’s installed, and it doesn’t really work they way you wanted it to, you will blame them. 

Instead of equipping them to succeed, you’ve set them up to fail. For the next several years, you will be frustrated with the way the equipment  works (or doesn’t) and you will become bitter toward the team that installed it. Eventually, they will get tired of feeling your disappointment (or wrath) and they will leave. Some will leave the Church for good. You will then go out and hire an integrator to “fix what those knuckleheads screwed up.” Don’t do it!

Think you’re above all that? Trust me, you’re not. I’ve been in their shoes and have experienced it first-hand. I also talk with tech leaders all over the country and hear the same story over and over again. 

Do yourself, your church and your tech team a favor and hire the right people for the job. Don’t cut your tech team out of the loop, either. The best church buildings are built by a partnership between leadership, the builder, the tech team and the integrator. Work hard to foster that team approach. Everyone will be happier in the end, I promise you.

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