Navigating A Technical System Upgrade

In Uncategorizedby tfwm

Churches are constantly faced with having to expend money in a variety of areas. One of the largest expenses ends up being overall upgrades to technical systems.

Today’s equipment allows for some incredible capabilities. Although, it’s very easy to get carried away with your research by looking at equipment that doesn’t truly fit your current or future needs.

The first thing you should do before heading out on this journey is to pray. Pray for yourself, your church leadership, for the church itself and for the project. A technical system upgrade is too important to not let God be an ongoing part of the process.

Questions to Ask

Question #1: “What don’t I know?” It’s important to establish at the very beginning what you do and do not know. Determine what your strengths and weaknesses are. Ask yourself how much you’re willing to learn, and who you can contact to support you in areas where you are not strong. Even if you are well-versed in a technical system, it’s still a good idea to run your thoughts by a professional system designer/integrator as a way to check yourself. This has the secondary benefit of ensuring that there will be fewer surprises along the road.

Sometimes the church leadership is given a more comprehensive and complete view of the overall project by bringing someone in from the outside, and by doing so, you will potentially be more confident that you haven’t left anything out.

Other advantages in developing relationships with systems integrators are: they can offer you competitive pricing on equipment, local support and representation to equipment manufacturers, and they often know more particulars about certain manufacturers and equipment than you can glean from magazines and forums. If you don’t know who to contact in your area, contact the manufacturer of the equipment you’re interested in; they will likely be able to tell you who to contact. Remember, they have a vested interest in helping you. While you have them on the phone, ask questions about their equipment and support. Make sure you know everything you can about a product that you’re interested in; what can it do versus other competing products, what are its limitations, what kind of support options does it have, and what processes (if any) does the manufacturer have in place in case of an emergency? Knowing the answers to these questions will help you narrow down companies that you want to work with.

Question #2: “What’s your master plan?” It’s an all-encompassing question- facility, property, expansion, security, technical systems, et al.

If your facility is going to expand, then that directly affects your tech needs. You will want to create a list of current needs as well as any future capabilities you would like built into your system(s). Make sure you are covering your needs for now, but plan on spending a little bit more to “future-proof” your systems as much as possible.

If your video system is currently standard-definition, look at the likelihood for going to high-definition in the next 5-10 years. Is there a reason to do it? If not, then you may be able to stick with SD equipment for the time being. One important area to consider in that decision is support and parts.

With HD equipment becoming the norm, SD equipment is going to stop being supported at some point, as will the manufacture of replacement parts for that equipment. Make sure you factor that into your decision making process.

Another area to consider is integration; what other systems does your video system integrate with? Will you be making changes to your projection system in the next 5-10 years?

Suggestions to Consider

Suggestion #1: track any complaints you have about your technical systems over a given time period. Perhaps you can think of a long list of items off the top of your head, but take your time and think this out. Also, get feedback from your general congregation. They will have a different perspective than your tech team, and they are your primary audience so it’s important to listen to their feedback. This has the fringe benefits of identifying problem areas that will need to be resolved in your upgrade in order to satisfy your membership. It will also show that you are taking their feedback seriously. This will pay long dividends in the amount of support you receive, both emotionally and financially.

Anecdotally, in preparing for a speaker system demonstration earlier this year, two individuals from the congregation were invited to attend. These people had virtually stopped coming to church, because they could not understand what was being said from the pulpit with the current sound system.

The demonstration had been initially set up only for the technical crew, but the crew felt that it was important to have these other individuals present. The goal was to hear their feedback on the newer speaker system, because if they liked it, that would clearly indicate whether this was the right choice.

Their input ended up being crucial to helping evaluate whether or not to pursue this system in the upgrade.

Suggestion #2: Don’t get “married” to a particular piece of equipment or a certain manufacturer. There are many companies that offer competing products and it’s up to you (or your system integrator) to filter out the ones that won’t be a good fit for you.

That being said, the costs for quality technical equipment can be high, and when you look at the cost of upgrading an entire system, the funds are usually not there to purchase everything immediately. By the time you are in a position to purchase the equipment, it’s very likely the technology will have changed, and a newer piece of equipment will be available offering the same functionality for less money. Periodically check your proposal, line by line, to see if the equipment that has been specified is still the best option for your church. This represents a significant investment of time, but remember that the definition of good stewardship is not about how much money you save, but how much money you don’t waste.

Your project proposal should have static categories, but fluid line items. If you specify equipment once, and don’t revisit that proposal for two years while you fundraise, it’s likely that most of that original equipment will no longer be available, and you’ll have to start over. It’s much easier to keep track of changing equipment on a quarterly basis than to start all over from the beginning.

Suggestion #3: Don’t be afraid to ask equipment vendors to demo their equipment, particularly projectors. Projection is a difficult area to specify equipment because there are so many variables involved. What is your throw distance? What are the screen dimensions? What is your projection surface? Are you projecting in 4:3 or 16:9? How much ambient light is in the space? How much control of ambient light do you have?

Remember, just like televisions, manufacturers of projectors can alter their contrast ratio and brightness data to seem very appealing. However, what standard are they using? Are they measuring in a room that has no other light in it? How are they achieving their listed ANSI rating? This is why it’s important to demo different units so you can see how they work in your space.

You don’t have to be a professional to know what will work in your facility if you can ‘try before you buy’. Exercise some forethought when deciding what equipment to try out; not every piece of equipment will lend itself to a demo.

Suggestion #4: Do not be afraid of the costs associated with upgrading your technical systems. Sticker shock can debilitate an upgrade before it even gets going, and serves to be the main cause of why churches choose to go the cheap route when upgrading their systems.

The problem with this reaction is that in the long run, the church will spend more money and have more stress than doing it the right way. Sure, the initial cost can be quite shocking, but if the proposed equipment package will fulfill the needs of the church, then do what we as individuals have to do when we want something that costs a lot of money- save for it! It’s important to not let the total cost of the project outweigh the benefits that will be gained; instead, plan to save up-it will be worth it. After all, it’s an investment into the Kingdom, and what better investment is there to make in this world than to reach others with the love of Jesus Christ?