Though recently the economy has been getting more attention than usual, it’s really nothing new. There are always going to be basic principles of budgeting to keep in mind, regardless of the temperament of the global financial system.
Maintain Your Tech
Some foundational things need to be considered when exploring your technology budget. First off is maintenance. You have to think about the products in the sanctuary or on the campus that need to be maintained. The first things that come to mind there are the basics: lamps, light bulbs, wireless mics, etc.
A cautionary measure to consider is when a product like a wireless mic gets up to seven years old or so, it’s time to think about replacing it.
Additionally, consider that video projector lamps last about 1400 to 1800 hours, so every 18 months or so given average church usage they’ll have to be replaced. That can be several thousand dollars, depending on what type of projector or projectors that you have.
Then of course, consider your lights. Depending on the color temperature of the fixtures you are using, and whether you have lights for TV, broadcast and theatrical lighting, those lamps start to go after about 1200-1800 hours. So, you’re looking at every 12 – 18 months to replace TV and production lights. You just might want to look at re-lamping everything at once, especially if you have to bring in lifts or scaffolding to do it.
Having consumable spare parts on the shelf, being ready to repair and fix your gear is another step to ensuring your products reach their target life expectancy. Schedule quarterly or semi-annual systems checks to assure that your equipment is operating correctly. Preventive maintenance will save thousands of dollars and embarrassing presentation issues. You’d hate to have a system go down during a service because you neglected to test it and check it regularly. Some freak events are of course unavoidable, but you can improve your chances of successful product performance by doing routine checks.
Planning a solid technology budget starts with building in a maintenance plan for your systems- lamps, fixtures, projectors etc. As a general rule, seven years is usually the life cycle of technology. That doesn’t mean that after seven years the product will suddenly stop working, but that’s generally the time it takes for a product to be considered “obsolete”. Some will even say that seven years is far too long a cycle, but it will vary depending on how your budget is allotted.
Think about the future
As for your projected technology budget, you need to think about the additions you want to make; take time to create a “Master Plan” of your technology systems and project out over five to ten years. Where do you want to go? Do you want to add more drama, or eventually get into broadcast? How about webcasting and streaming? How often do you want to upgrade your computers? Setting a few goals for the ministry is a good way to forecast your budgets.
Things are perhaps a little more difficult to predict given the current economic downturn. Some churches are experiencing decreases in tithes and offerings, and of course if the membership is affected, your church is affected. However, (and your experience may be different) banks have traditionally been rough on churches under normal circumstances. So, the economic downturn may not really be affecting a church’s ability to get money, the way it has with businesses for example. Banks have seldom loaned 100% to churches; it has commonly been 75-80% cash-value-to-loan ratio.
The economic downturn may not effect lending from banks, but even so, you still need to be mindful of planning effective ways you can raise funds for technology and other areas. As we know, anytime you bring more people in, then the giving base is larger.
There’s always been the question of which technology, when. There’s audio, video, lighting, and then there’s presentation video and video capture, camera systems, webcasting… For most churches, audio is the number one priority, because everyone needs to hear the word of God. And then usually right behind that is presentation video, because everyone needs to see the word of God. And then you have churches that reach out into the state, the community and the country with webcasting and broadcasting, so some of the video capture side is the priority. You will have to prioritize what’s most important to you and your particular ministry, and then if necessary, scale back funding on the things that are a lesser priority. However cutting technology budgets altogether is a bad idea.
Using today’s technology is one of the things that causes a ministry to continue growing. That’s what makes the difference many times. At churches like Saddleback, Rick Warren’s advice is to get the best systems you can possibly afford, because that’s how you’re going to communicate the word of God, and that’s how you’ll achieve growth, by being able to effectively communicate. When you reach out through the internet and other technology-based avenues, you potentially bring more people in, and that helps the cash flow. On the other hand, when you cut your technology budgets, it can limit your growth. If you are in a position where you are forced to scale back, one of the last places you should cut is your communication and or technology budgets.
Keep in mind also that sometimes a well-trained person can get around a lesser budget. If you’ve got training and skills and expertise, you tend to work with the tools at your disposal, instead of needing to have the newest gear. If you have the proper training, skills and expertise, not only does your system work better because you know how to operate it and maintain it better, but you can also apply those tools creatively to achieve different outcomes. You can be more flexible with the technology at your disposal, instead of having to add or replace gear.
In the end it comes down to paying close attention to the areas that are bringing money in. We are all reluctant in a sense to think of a church as a business, but the reality is that it needs to be operated like one to survive and be organized. We may have only seen the tip of the iceberg at this point as far as making necessary preparations to keep on top of our budgets, but we can be sure that by factoring in a few fundamental principles, we can continue to responsibly manage our funds and our membership.