Building and/or upgrading can be one of the most stressful times for churches. From deciding on the layout and square footage, the appearance of the sanctuary, and the color of carpet and furniture, to creating committees, constantly reworking the budget, and holding services in the midst of all of this, you can see why some things may get overlooked.
In days of old, the audio visual systems took a back seat. As times are changing in the design/installation industry for houses of worship, AV companies are being more readily used than in the past.
It seems as though we are at that awkward stage of transition, where houses of worship understand that AV systems are taking their place much higher on the list. Even so, they are getting left until last on the budget. You may be asking yourself: “How do we plan and budget for our new AV systems? Who should we include, and when should we start planning our audio, lighting, projection, and/or projection systems for our new building? “Don’t panic… we have some answers that just may help! Let’s start with how to plan for your systems.
When it comes to preliminary work, you can’t go wrong. There are some things which can be done to create smooth sailing AV projects.
We suggest the first thing you do is make decisions and stick to them. Decide who is going to make the final decisions regarding the AV systems. It is much easier to go through one person for final answers. This does not mean you do not put it to a vote, etc., it simply means once the final answer has been reached, the same person reports the results each time. Ask yourself questions such as whether or not you want to use any of your existing equipment or purchase all new. Are there certain manufactures you prefer over another? Are you looking to add a new technical facet? ie: You may only be using audio at this time and want to add in lighting or projection.
Continuing on with how to plan, regular meetings are a tremendous plus. Meeting once a week early on helps to develop a strong team. It also allows for many creative ideas… some helpful, some not… to be presented from the onset. Once a plan has been put into place, meeting every other week or once a month should be sufficient during the building process. Remember, it is not unlawful to call extra meetings when needed.
The third thing to consider regarding how to plan for your AV systems, is to consult with a professional. Calling on a professional can save you time and money down the road. Their insight is valuable, and may not be understood on the front side of building, yet will come to fruition on the finished performance.
Next up, who should be included? There are several people from whom you will want to receive information to assist in creating the right systems for your new facility. Keep in mind, not all of these will serve on your committee, yet you will want their ideas.
The pastor, technicians, musicians, music and other ministry leaders, and even the congregation are all good sources of input.
Pastors use the system to speak and often times sing along. You will want to find out from them as to what their likes and dislikes are regarding microphone style. Technicians have to operate these systems and can provide information regarding ease of operation and quality performances. Music leaders, musicians, and other ministry leaders may be in charge of larger productions as well as music every service. Stage layout, microphone styles, and monitors will be of utmost importance to these groups.
When it comes to the congregation, take a survey early on. You can provide small survey sheets with questions such as:
• Where do you normally sit?
• From where you like to sit, is the audio too loud, too soft, garbled etc.?
• Does the lighting shine in your eyes?
• Can you see the projection? Why or why not?
Have them take some time to fill out the surveys and place them in a suggestion box labeled something as such: Great Technical Suggestions or Technical Difficulties Unveiled. The congregation does not operate the system every service, they are the ones who have to listen and watch every service. This makes their input on a survey very valuable.
Moving on, how to budget for new or upgraded AV systems. Budget plays a major roll in any building project. The worst thing you can do is to plan everything else first, then plan your audio, projection, lighting, and/or special effects with what is left over. Especially the audio. Why? Let’s take a look.
Your audio system ranks right up there with pews and carpeting as far as being used every time you hold a service. Feedback and other common problems can be alleviated by designing certain pieces of equipment into the overall audio system. When the AV company presents their proposal and you want to cut costs, these extra pieces of equipment are usually the first ones dropped from the initial proposal. The system will function without them, yet quality performance will suffer somewhat. Once the selected extra pieces have been taken out of the picture, the next step is to change brand names or models to lower the cost. In some cases, quality changes drastically with brand or model.
As you can see, simple audio problems can be solved when the correct decisions are made early on, and budget is planned accordingly.
Lighting and projection are no different. Projection must work in conjunction with the lighting. House lights, ambient light, and stage lighting are all factors your AV company should consider prior to designing when projection comes into play. The driving costs for projection are lumens and scan rate. Meaning how bright and how, shall we say clear, the picture will appear.
Lighting costs fluctuate amongst fixture style, wattage, dimming, and control. Just a small word of warning: If you are looking at theatrical style lighting, not only will the cost of the lighting package increase; the cost of your building electrics will climb the scale right with it.
Portable system prices will be drastically different from permanently installed systems. Using a portable system in your permanent facility every service can be asking for trouble. Think of portable as temporary – you set it up and take it down each use. There are normally cables and cords strung throughout the sanctuary and/or doorways trailing to the operation stations.
Permanent systems require permanent electrical wiring, conduit, codes to be followed, rigging points, professional installation, etc. These things are not normally a concern when using portable systems.
The mistake is often made in gathering price information of portable systems unknowingly when wanting to have permanent systems installed. You must take into consideration that the speakers you are looking at may seem the same as those specified for your permanent system. However the added costs of permanent wiring, permanent installation labor, and pre-installed regulation rigging gear are not included in most retail store prices. The same speakers containing pre-installed regulation fly gear will obviously be higher in price.
Then how do you budget for such an animal as these technical systems with so much diversity?First, without asking or shopping around, have the people on the committee tell what they think it is going to cost. This will reveal the often times shocking and wide range of value for technical gear amongst committee members. Knowing what people are thinking let’s you know if further explanation is needed before moving on. If people do not understand what they are purchasing, they will always go for the cheapest… we are all guilty of this!
Next, find out what you have to spend. Knowing what you have to spend will assist the AV company early on. Once you have discussed your budget with the AV company, have them create a reality price for what you need.
Many times the reality price is right in line with your budget. If it is not – and is either higher or lower – listen to the AV company regarding their reasoning for the package they have chosen.
If the reality price is higher, you will want to consider the pros and cons of cutting costs we discussed earlier.
When do you need to start thinking about your AV systems for your new building? ASAP! The sooner you begin to think and plan, the better the end results. Because AV systems are so diverse, it takes much planning and preparation before the permanent system is up and ready to perform.
Other things to keep on the back burner regarding your permanent AV systems installation process include timing. Wiring needs to be completed before drywall goes up and/or ceilings are put into place. Equipment such as consoles, microphones, amps, and outboard racks will not be installed until the building is secure and/or climate controlled. Putting down the carpet and installing seating before the lighting is hung can lead to hassles. Opening days sometimes have to be changed from the original plan.
You will soon learn just how flexible you are when it comes time to build or upgrade. Remain calm and don’t let frustrations get the best of you. Opening day will happen – perhaps not in your timing, but it will happen. Ask yourself this: Is it really worth the hurry worry headaches to open on a pre-determined date and risk sloppy performances, or postpone a few Sundays to assure the best job will be done?
OK, let’s recap the highlights – How to plan: Make decisions and stick to them, hold regular meetings, talk with professionals. Who to include: pastors, technicians, musicians, ministry leaders, committee members, and the congregation. Budgeting: What do you want to spend, what you have to spend, what is the reality cost, and what are the pros and cons of cutting cost. When to start thinking about all of this: ASAP! Most importantly, remain flexible – it will happen.
Here’s hoping these few tips will help get you on the right track for obtaining the best AV systems for your facility. Stop, think it out, and you will do just fine.