Field Guide to Renovations: System Design

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This is our fifth installment in our series on renovations. Last time, we talked about selecting key technologies. If you missed the previous posts, go back to that one and you can get the list. Today we’re talking about design. Now, I’m going to start off by saying something that may be controversial and may offend some people. But I really believe this is the best advice. 

You probably shouldn’t design the system yourself. 

There are some churches that are blessed with someone on staff who can design systems. But that’s a different skill set than operating those systems. Most churches have operators and team leaders. I’ve seen quite a few systems that were “designed” by people who really didn’t have that skill set. Most of those systems need to come out. You and your church will be much better off if you bring in a professional for the design. And this is for several reasons. 

First, you will get a good design. A good design will have the components you need and omit ones you don’t. Everything will work together, will be easy to use and will meet the system objectives. Second, you will have someone to throw under the bus if things go wrong. If you as a volunteer or staff TD design the system yourself and anything goes wrong, it will be your fault. When a third party is involved, you can blame them. That might save your job. This is assuming you hire a good design firm to do the design and not the guys at the local music store. 

You Can’t Afford To Not Pay For Design

I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s true. I have been in dozens of churches and talk to people in hundreds who decided to “save money” and figure it out on their own. Almost universally, the church leadership is unhappy with the results, the tech team is frustrated and the congregation is missing out. 

There is a misconception that design is super-expensive and only the big churches can afford it. The reality is, a well-designed system will likely cost less in the long run than a poorly designed system. That’s because the church won’t be doing it 2-3 times. Moreover, the experience from day one will be better. When you bring in people who know what they are doing, they can work within your budget. Unless your budget is completely unrealistic, in which case go back and read the budget post. 

A good designer will help you make hard decisions and keep the project on track. Most churches can’t get everything they want in a system, at least at first. A designer will help you prioritize so you get the right equipment first, with a path to add later. 

Everything Else is Designed

Your HVAC system is designed; your electrical system is designed; your plumbing system is designed; heck, even the parking lot is designed. Why would you not want to design the AVL system? The sound system is at least as critical as the bathrooms when it comes to hearing the message from the pastor. Why would a pastor leave that task in the hands of a volunteer with no design experience? This is not to disparage volunteers, but again, I want to point out that operating is a lot different from designing. Pastors, don’t set your team up to fail. Get this done right. 

You Still Have a Voice

Good designers listen to their clients. As a TD or volunteer tech, you should have some say into how the system goes together and how it works. When you define your system objectives and identify key technologies, you get to speak into the process. When the design comes back, if you have ideas, be sure to voice them. Sometimes designers choose equipment based on preference or which manufacturers they work with. If you have a particular piece of gear in mind for a task, bring it up. Unless there is a good reason not to go with it, the change is easy in the design phase.

If you have specific ideas of how you’d like a system to lay out, or where to locate snakes, mixers, cameras and the like, by all means speak up. The designer needs as much information as possible. You are the one who works in your church and you know better than the designer does what the needs are. Make sure to let them know your thoughts. With good information, a good designer will give you a great system. And, more than likely, it will come in on budget. When that happens, everyone wins!

Roland

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