How To Ask For New Gear

Does this make you want to entrust the tech team with more dollars?

Does this make you want to entrust the tech team with more dollars?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about developing upgrade proposals. Today’s post will be similar but different. This post was inspired by a photo I received from a friend at a church where I was once on staff. I immediately started thinking about all the churches I’ve been in where the tech booth is just a disaster. Or maybe you can barely walk on stage due to the rats nest of cables and junk that is all over. Or perhaps it’s the pile of broken and haphazardly placed junk all over their storage room. It might even be all of these (it usually is…). 

Now, keep in mind, the reason I’m typically there is because the tech guys are wanting to upgrade their equipment. I have to think to myself, “Why on earth would leadership give them any money?” 

Why You Can’t Have Nice Things

You’ve heard the expression, “And this is why you can’t have nice things.” It’s usually said after you’ve broken something, or it’s pointed out that your room is a mess. Basically, it means if you don’t take care of the things you have—which are likely not as nice—you won’t be entrusted with nice things. The Bible even talks about this. Those who are faithful in the small things are entrusted with larger things. Look it up. I don’t just make these concepts up, folks. 

If your pastor walks into your tech booth every week and has to subsequently pick the Tootsie Rolls off his shoes, you’re not likely to get more money to buy a new board. Or gaff tape. Clean the booth, organize your systems and make what you have immaculate. Wring every last ounce of performance out of it and maybe even do the impossible once or twice. Then you can start talking about upgrades. 

You’re Thinking Backwards

Many tech guys come to me with tails of woe about how their church doesn’t support them in their production efforts. Their thinking is, “If the church would just spend $XX,XXX on new gear for us, we would take care of it.” The reality is, if you’re not taking care of what you have, you won’t take care of new stuff. And your pastor knows that. Especially if he has kids. 

Now before you tell me I don’t know the struggles of working in a small church that doesn’t have a big tech budget, let me remind you that I spent almost 15 years working in small (ie. sub-500 people per weekend) churches. My first church was really strapped for cash. Once we built our new building, we were having trouble paying our pastor what he was worth, let alone buying a new console (which we needed). I kept the booth immaculate, and did everything I could with what we had.

One day, one of our members came back to the booth and told me that a music store near his office was going out of business and they had some killer, fire sale deals. He said he knew how hard we worked back there and thought there might be some things that we could use. He wanted to take me shopping, and use his credit card! We met up a few days later at the store and within an hour, we had a new mixer, some band monitors and two new effects units. God provided for us, and I’m pretty sure part of the reason was that my team and I worked really hard with what we had and didn’t complain. 

Maybe You Have Another Problem

As I was thinking about this post, it occurred to me that perhaps part of the reason you can’t get your upgrades funded is that what you want to do doesn’t line up with the vision of the church. I’ve talked with tech guys at small, country churches who can’t get the church to buy moving lights, personal mixers or a new PA. I understand the frustration, but consider this: What if the church wants to stay a small country church? What if they don’t want to be North Point? Now, there’s nothing wrong with North Point, but not every church needs or wants to do production on that level—or anywhere near it? That might just be OK. 

And if you find yourself constantly frustrated by that fact, you might need to consider if you are the one that needs to change. Churches. It might be that you need to find a church that does production on a larger scale where you can contribute. I had to do this about 12 years ago. I was attending a church that had really great teaching and solid worship, but it became clear after about 6 months that there was no place for me on the tech team. That led me to another church where I was able to make a much bigger impact. 

Might be something to think about.

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Total Cost of Ownership

Image courtesy of  Chris Potter

Image courtesy of Chris Potter

Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) sounds like a highly abstract concept. But it’s really not. It’s also something that churches—sadly—tend to miss out on. TCO is simply a calculation of what a particular product or service is going to cost you during its life. TCO has become popular in automotive circles, with some manufacturers boasting about the fact that while their car might cost a little more to buy, it will cost less to own. At least in theory.

Missing TCO Calculations

TCO can be missed in several ways. Sometimes, a church will buy a particular piece of gear—sometimes a very expensive piece—that will dig into their cash reserves pretty significantly. Projectors are a great example of this. A really bright, say 15K, projector can cost well over $20,000-50,000. That’s a lot of money. However, it will also cost somewhere between $2,000 and $6,000 to re-lamp it. And at that brightness level, re-lamping is going to happen every 500-800 hours of use, which is right around a year (at least for many churches).

So not only did you spend, let’s call it $30K, on a projector, you can figure on another $20K in lamps over the next 5-7 years of life. And we haven’t even talked about filter replacements, electricity costs or service. Costs on this imaginary projector (that’s not that imaginary) will easily exceed $60K over the life of the unit. Did anyone think about that or did the initial purchase price double as a complete surprise?

Other times, a church will buy the cheapest piece of gear they can find, thinking they are saving money. However, what they find out is that the consumables cost of that gear is far more expensive than a slightly more expensive piece of gear. Ink jet printers are a classic example here. I’ve seen churches replace older, heavy duty color laser printers with newer “cheaper” ones because the toner cartridges are 1/2 the cost of the old ones. What no one noticed was that the new cartridges print about 1/8 as many pages, which quadruples the per page costs and irritates the users who find the printers always out of toner.

Do Your Homework

Sometimes, it’s hard to choose between two seemingly comparable pieces of equipment. What you need to look at, besides initial cost, is total operating costs. I’ve compared projectors based on bulb and filter life plus electricity and found brand A to be almost 50% less expensive over a 5 year period than brand B. And these are two projectors with output and picture quality close enough to be called “the same.”

Rechargeable batteries are another great example. Yes, it might cost you a few hundred dollars to get into the game once you purchase chargers and the initial stock of batteries. But from that point on, your annual battery costs could drop to under $100 to handle replacements. At my last church, we went from spending over $1500/year to about $200; and the only reason I spent that much is because we had 5 rooms using rechargeable cells, and the ones in the student rooms go missing more regularly. 

It’s Real Stewardship

If you want to win friends and influence people—especially your senior leadership—continually present them with plans that demonstrate you know how to make purchases that represent an excellent value over time. Showing them that you’ve done TCO calculations, and have chosen equipment with that in mind will show them you’re serious about leading your department well. 

Of course, TCO doesn’t tell the whole story; it’s just one data point. But it’s an important one. You still have to consider usability, whether the product fits your needs and if the volunteers can use it. Still, TCO can often be the tipping point between brand A and brand B. Choosing the one with the lower overall lifetime cost will pay off in more ways that one. Trust me.

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