You may have heard the phrase, “Penny wise and pound foolish.” For it to really make sense, we need to translate it to today’s language. It should read, “Penny wise and dollar foolish,” though it doesn’t illiterate nearly as well that way. Sadly, either translation applies to the majority of churches today. I see it in my travels, read about it in e-mail and talk to TDs who are saddled with A/V/L systems that were done on the cheap. My friend Bob Nahrstadt says that most churches are unwilling to pay for design (or even advice, for that matter). These churches try to save a few pennies (compared to the overall cost of a system) and end up wasting a lot of dollars.
When it comes to the overall vision for an A/V/L system, the design of said system and the choosing of gear, most churches will simply go for the lowest bid. Unfortunately, the lowest bid typically doesn’t include any master plan, and contains precious little design. What happens is that the dealer sells either what he makes the most margin on or what he thinks the church needs, regardless of whether it actually is what the church needs. And that’s a shame because eventually, somebody like me comes along and has to tear it all out and buy new stuff that really does meet the needs of the church. In the process, a lot of dollars are wasted.
At the risk of sounding like a shameless self-promotion, I’d like to tell you a little story. Several years ago I became acquainted with a church in Arizona. They found my blog and had some questions. I did my best to answer them, and over the years, this has turned into a good relationship. Whenever it came time to upgrade a system, they’d shoot me an e-mail or call and ask for advice. They even sent a few bucks my way as a thank you.
A couple of weeks ago, they asked if I would be willing to fly out there for a day to help evaluate several of their systems that are ready for upgrading. I hadn’t been to AZ in a while and readily accepted. That trip was a really fun 6-7 hours. I got the tour of the building, looked over their systems and heard what they were trying to accomplish. I have to say, it was gratifying to walk into video control and see several pieces of gear that I recommended (and that they are very happy with).
We talked a lot about video and I gave them several suggestions to improve their system. We then moved on to audio and I gave them several more suggestions. We even talked about a few special effects they’re looking at for Easter that I happen to have experience with and I was able to offer some advice on dealing with those. It was a blast for me, because I love to talk about this stuff anyway. For them, I think I can be presumptuous enough to say it was more than worthwhile. For example, with their video system, they were headed down one road and I persuaded them to back up and head down another. When it’s all said and done, I believe their system will be vastly improved and they will have saved between $20,000-60,000 (depending on how much of their plan they would have implemented right away).
So while it did cost them a few pennies to fly me out and pay me for my time, they are poised to save a lot of dollars. In fact, the savings are likely to be at least twenty times what it cost to bring me out! And they won’t have to suffer through several years of the wrong equipment while they save up the funds to do it again. The question is, why don’t more churches do this? Honestly, I don’t have a single answer.
I suspect some church leaders really have no clue what goes into a proper A/V/L system design and as such, they totally devalue it. Others think the dealer should do it “for free,” without realizing that if there is any real design happening, the customer is paying for it somewhere. These churches don’t realize that simply selling equipment doesn’t make one an expert in selecting the right systems for a church. What these churches need is somebody like me to come along side and give them some advice.
I’ve been doing this for a long time—20+ years— and I’ve spent all those years in churches ranging from 300-3,000, with most of those years working on shoestring budgets. I’ve learned how to choose the right gear that delivers that absolute best value for the money. This equipment is rarely the cheapest, but over the long run will yield the best results and the lowest total cost of ownership. Almost all of my time in churches has been spent working with volunteer tech teams, so I know how to construct systems that non-professional, volunteer techs can actually use and be successful with. I also know how to train those techs to do their jobs well.
Now that sounds like a shameless plug, but the truth is I don’t care if a church hires me or not. A church considering any kind of significant system upgrade needs to hire someone like me. Yes, it will cost you a little cash up front. But I can almost guarantee you’ll save at least all that cash and then some if you follow our advice. And I’ll let you in on a secret; I get advice like this, too. Whenever I’m facing a significant upgrade, I have people that I call on to make sure I’m not missing anything. It just makes good sense.
I’ll wrap this post up with this: If you’re interested in talking with me about helping guide a system upgrade, contact me through the Hire Me page. I’m available on a limited basis (I still have my day job), and I don’t take every engagement. I do sometimes tell churches I’m not the right person (due to location or area of expertise) and will refer to someone else if I can. If you don’t want to hire me, that’s fine. But please, find someone else with solid credentials to help you through a process, even if you’re working with a dealer or integrator. I’m pretty sure the churches that I’ve worked with would say the money they’ve spent on my time is more than worth it (which is probably why they keep calling me back...). Do you church a favor, please get a second opinion before undergoing a major procedure.