Equipment Planning and Purchasing
Balancing the desire to make wise decisions with the need to save money.
by Jim Kumorek
Any technical ministry leadership role includes planning for equipment purchases. For the typical church tech, this can be a daunting task—there are so many options, and the desire to make wise decisions can be overwhelming.
Here’s what some of the experts have to say about different aspects of planning your acquisitions.
It’s important to consider the long-range goals of your ministry when adding equipment. Donnie Haulk, President of Audio Ethics in Charlotte, N.C., promotes the Technology Master Plan approach. “We look not only at what the church wants to do for the first service after the technology installation, but what the long
term goals are,” Haulk says. “This allows us to choose technology that not only works for the pressing need but can be a part of the bigger picture. When looking at the whole instead of merely individual components, we can enable a technical ministry to grow through multiple phases, with each phase become easier to manage as the long-term goal starts coming together.”
So, consider the long-term, and let that drive your short-term decisions. If your plan is to add moving lights to your sanctuary in the next year or two, and your current lighting consoles dies, don’t replace it with a new console that can’t handle moving lights. Doing so would force you into buying another console in the near future, wasting what you spend to solve the short-term problem.
Volunteer Skill Level
“The skill level of the operators is always a concern,” adds John Fuqua, vice president/COO of All Pro Sound in Pensacola, Florida. “We make sure that our training sessions are oriented to the abilities of the operators. However, with the ever-growing desire for more complex systems, the operators are typically working with more advanced equipment , requiring dedicated efforts.”
“The skill level of volunteers definitely enters in to the equation,” states Eric Myers, AVL Manager of Colonial Baptist Church in Cary, N.C. “When it came time to put in a new lighting console in our 600- seat student chapel, I went with the exact same piece of equipment that was already installed in our gymnatorium. Our lighting volunteers already knew it well, so there was no learning curve, and we’re training folks for one console.”
Both the track record of a specific product as well as the track record of the company should be considered. Should a church install the latest and greatest, or the tried and true? Fuqua comments, “This is tough territory. Even though we must stay on the cutting edge of technology, sometimes what is considered to be the latest and greatest ends up with some problems that are only realized after it is installed and put in service. As an integrator, we rely on our relationship with manufacturers to stand behind their products and to be there if something does occur. There is a lot to be said for using proven equipment as much as possible. The track record of the manufacturer plays a big role in this process.”
Glenn Peacock, contracting division director at Sound Image in Phoenix, Ariz., adds, “The track record of a product and a company is a very significant concern with Sound Image. We don’t like to experiment on our clients.”
When Myers chose his lighting console for the student chapel, he also considered reputation. “The manufacturer, ETC, is rock solid, and furthermore, that piece of gear has a rock solid reputation. This results in a lot of peace of mind.”
When you need to purchase equipment that is beyond the current skill sets of your team, you need to plan for training sessions and support mechanisms for your volunteers. When specifying equipment that’s beyond the capabilities of the technical team, Haulk sees this as a critical issue. “We see what the various skill sets the ministry team has in place and talk about recruiting new assets if the ministry goals are outside of the existing talent. We can then also set up training sessions to help the team achieve these new skills that are required to operate the various new technologies.”
When you decide to go with new gear that’s going to stretch (or stress!) your team, make sure you can announce an effective training and support plan at the same time you inform them of the decision. For training, provide no-stress times where the volunteers can gain experience and confidence. After formal training, make sure that the first few times they use the equipment in a “live” environment, someone experienced is at their side to support them. No onewants to work “without a net” before they have developed their confidence.
Peacock defines good stewardship in the A/V environment this way. “Always make sure that there is a direct correlation to the church’s mission. Should we upgrade the mixer we purchased last year with the latest and greatest model when the business case or return on investment is not obvious to the church leadership? The answer should be ‘no’.”
JamesWojtowicz, worship leader at Grace Point Church in Las Vegas, adds, “The main thing for me is, how will it benefit us over the long haul? Does it add value to our overall worship environment, or is it just ‘cool’ to have? We avoided getting a digital console this year because of the fact that it really wouldn’t bring a noticeable change in our sound compared to the price. We ended up purchasing a higher-end analog board for half the price instead. I am all for digital consoles, but it made more sense for us both from a technical/functional side and a stewardship side to go analog. In addition, our volunteers didn’t have to learn a whole new way to run a console.”
Myers adds, “It means buying the right tool for the job, so you aren’t buying it three times. It means buying something that saves volunteer man hours. It means buying something that entices volunteers to want to serve because it makes your productions look or sound better. Nothing grows a team and saves you labor hours like doing your job really well. The best way to do your job well is with the right tools.”
Myers comments further on the topic of good stewardship: “Good stewardship also means listening to good tips. Our senior pastor sent me a link about several churches using Ansmann rechargeable batteries. I researched this, and read a Shure report on the use of rechargeable batteries. Then, when I went to the InfoComm show in Las Vegas last year, I found out that all of the Cirque shows were using them. That, combined with the Shure study, was enough of an answer for me. These Ansmann rechargeable batteries will save us almost $1,000 a year. And they work flawlessly. So, that system paid for itself in about a year.”
Another key consideration in equipment selection is the question of how much support you are likely to need, and on the support reputation of the company you are considering purchasing from. Haulk comments, “You want to have the support of a company that is going to be there not only when you buy the equipment, but also three to five years down the road to support it.”
For most churches, their critical time of equipment use is Sunday morning. When you get into the church at 7 AM and the lights don’t come on, will your consultant or the manufacturer’s tech support department answer the phone when you call?
So when does it make sense to go it alone on a purchasing decision, and when should you seek outside help? The first thing to consider is experience—will the selection process benefit from the experience of someone in the industry?
Peacock explains, “It is common for a church to go through two or three system purchases before they begin to benefit from the experience and realize that they needed professional advice. The more experienced churches tend to find and enlist the help of full-time professionals.”