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Breaking the Church Upgrade Cycle

Gears graphic
The following is a 2009 post from reprinted here with the author’s permission.

During my time working in the church broadcast market, I have seen the best and worst when it comes to designing a Church’s audio/visual systems, but I usually see a media/tech director or pastor enter into a typical pattern in terms of the “buying cycle” which is extraordinarily dangerous and expensive. I actually just got off the phone with a media director for a medium sized church and after talking with him, realized he is knee deep in “the cycle.” My heart breaks for him. So, in my frustration, I figured I’d join the forum and share some of my limited perspective.

“The Cycle” begins when a media director or pastor realizes the importance and benefit of technology, which I absolutely think is awesome! In my experience, 90% of the time, the cycle begins with…

Stage 1: This is when the media director or pastor recruits someone who is a novice in technology, usually from the congregation, to attempt to bring media to the church. Typically, the end result of this is a Best Buy type system; something that is relatively inexpensive but completely misses the point. Most of the time the stage 1 system is so poorly designed that it actually alienates the congregation. (think Charlie Brown’s teacher blasting audio and dim, unwatchable video) Unfortunately, this type of system is the most common and usually remains in service for entirely too long.

Stage 2: Once the realization has been made that the stage 1 system is delivering the opposite of the intended results, stage 2 typically begins. In my experience, the realization of the failure of stage 1 happens when a church hires a media director or a pastor makes a visit to a professionally engineered church. Stage 2 involves replacing the stage 1 system by bringing in a professional team.

At this point, most of stage 2 is mimicking what other churches have done. Very little due-diligence is performed here, most churches simply copy what a successful church has done without any regard to the unique requirements of their own staff’s abilities and what best fits the congregation- present and future.

The result of stage 2 is generally an impressive looking system, but one that is massively over engineered and unusable. Shooting from the hip here, I’d say that most stage 2 systems only use 30% of their potential. As a result, the stage 2 system is entirely too expensive, and because it is not engineered for the unique requirements of the individual church, has the same effect as stage 1 in that it often alienates the congregation and does little to bring younger generations to the church.

Stage 3: I’d say that 50% of the customers that call us fall into stage 3. This is the church that understands that, at best, they just installed a massive, multi-million dollar system that they have no idea how to use or worse, a system that is irrelevant to their goals.

These churches are often shopping for a redesign. The pitfall here is going with an integrator that does “free” design quotes- I’ve been in this business for a long time and I assure you nothing is free – the cost is rolled in somewhere. (Side note: We never do free design, we charge for engineering and building the blueprints for a system and if the client doesn’t like our final drawings, they are free to shop the market with the blueprints- this has never happened though- we have built the system for every client that has purchased our design work)

...those Churches entering “the cycle” spend upwards of 4x’s the amount they would have if they approached an expert from the beginning.

Anyway, at this point the church’s pastor or media director has done surface due-diligence and, as cliche’d as this sounds, thinks they are experts in broadcast engineering. (I wouldn’t tell my doctor how to operate because I watched “House”)

This is a critical moment where stage 3 can easily revert back to stage 2 because a Pastor or Tech Director refuses to alter their vision for their technology based on a broadcast engineer’s input. Often times, cool new technology that has been introduced to the market is totally ignored because it isn’t understood and the builder’s input is absolutely ignored. The resulting system is built exactly as the pastor’s limited perspective dictated, leaving the church with an unusable system that has the same limitations of stage 2.

Breaking the Cycle:I absolutely love getting the phone call where a pastor or media director says, “We know this system (stage 2) isn’t working, but we don’t know how to fix this”. This isn’t an arrogance thing here. Like I said before, I couldn’t lead a Church – my gifts are in technology. At this point, the cycle is broken due to humility. We work with the media directors, creating a two way dialog, learning everything we can from them about their church and either modify the existing technologies or start from scratch. The end result is that 100% of the time we leave a job site, that Church is using technology properly.

I say all this to say that those Churches stuck in the upgrade cycle spend upwards of 4x’s the amount they would have if they approached an expert from the beginning. In my honest opinion, not delegating a weakness could be construed as being a poor steward of money. As believers, we are called to be smarter and achieve excellence in all that we do.


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