Upgrade Planning: Research, Homework and (Of Course) Planning All In the Mix

Have realistic expectations of what needs to be improved, purchased, or replaced. Ask yourself, does this piece of equipment help us better achieve our church's vision?

While growing up, my grandfather would often quote Benjamin Franklin, saying, "If you fail to plan, then you're planning to fail." To this day, those words still hold true and should be a constant reminder to those of us in the church.

AVL equipment is not the mission, but a tool to be used to fulfill the mission of our church.

Unfortunately, often churches are reactionary to AVL upgrades, and the replacement of any such gear. Often that is a result of waiting too long and failing to plan for upgrades adequately, which in the end will cost you more time, money, and other resources in the long run.

Choosing instead to be proactive in preparing for upgrades, you can build healthy financial planning, ease financial burdens, and better fulfill the mission of your church.

Here are a few ideas to get you started on creating a successful plan to upgrade your AVL systems.

Check Your Motives

Andy Stanley often says, "Awareness drives desire." What he means is that when we become aware of something, this is what we as beings do to drive our desire. One such example is that if we didn't know a new technology has become available, then our passion for it wouldn't push us to acquire such things so intently. This is so applicable to us who are in the tech world. As we learn of a new audio console, video camera, or light fixture, it's easy to let our desire for something new, drive us to make unwise decisions.

Being aware of new and emerging technology is part of our job, right? Yes, it is. But that's not the problem. The problem comes when we lose perspective of the role that gear and technology serve in our ministry.

AVL equipment is not the mission, but a tool to be used to fulfill the mission of our church.

Have realistic expectations of what needs to be improved, purchased, or replaced. Ask yourself, does this piece of equipment help us better achieve our church's vision? Because many times purchasing equipment in one area, means you are sacrificing funding for other areas of ministry.

Do Your Homework

When I first started in production, it was much harder to research new products. I used to have to sort through stacks of printed spec sheets, magazines, and other literature to find out about new and emerging technology.

These days much has changed, beginning with a quick Google search, where you can find much of what you need to know within minutes. In other words, there's no reason not to know what's out there.

Sometimes, though, you need to head to a product show to learn about what's new. Shows such as NAB, InfoComm, WFX, and LDI are great places to check out new gear, meet manufacturers, and learn about new technology. If you're seriously looking to work with a specific manufacturer for an upcoming project, they'll often provide you with passes to attend the show. Having show passes offered to you is a kind gesture by the manufacturer that can help to offset the cost of the trip.

To be honest, by going to a couple of product shows this past year, it made it much easier to narrow down our choices for a few of our recent and upcoming upgrades. I attended WFX in 2016 when I was on the search for new audio consoles, and it was there that I met the team from Lawo. This meeting would lead us to purchase two of their consoles the following year.

In April of this year, I attended NAB in Las Vegas in search of an LED wall solution for Granger Community Church, one that would replace our current projection system. After meeting with several manufacturers at the show, we were able to narrow down our choices quickly. That would lead us to visit a few churches to see those LED wall products installed, and get their feedback on their experience. Soon after our visits to those churches, we made a decision and recently decided on Absen for that LED wall solution.

Talking to other churches about what gear they are using is a great way to research for upgrade, but know that systems and equipment do not always translate from one venue to the next. You really should understand your needs and expectations.

Also, try not to get narrow-minded minded in your research. Just because your favorite church that you follow on social media has a specific system or piece of gear, doesn't mean that's the right gear for you.

Find the RIGHT Integrator

I could write a whole article on this point alone.

I do need to confess something, though, that this is a hard one for me as well.

I don't play well with integrators for two reasons. First, I'm very protective of my budget, as well as my ministry. Second, I was an integrator for a good while, so I know their schemes. For these reasons, I do not often hire integrators here at Granger. And when I do, I want to feel completely comfortable with who I'm working with.

Here are a few things I do when I am considering an integrator.

First off, ask for client references. When you call or visit their recommended client, ask that client to give you another reference that the integrator hasn't already given you. Integrators will often show you their flagship install, but won't tell you about their installs that didn't go so well. Every integrator has a few installs that didn't go as planned, but you can learn a lot by how they handled those challenges.

Then if you are ready to have them do some work at your church, bring them in for a small project first. Luke 16:10 says, "One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much." I find this is true when finding an integrator. If they can't handle a small project with excellence, then you can't trust them with a more significant project.

Also, trust your gut. And I'm not talking about trusting your stomach after an integrator has taken you out to a nice steak dinner as you are considering working with their company. How do you feel after your conversations? Do you feel like they understand your needs and mission? Are they timely? Do you feel like you're getting into a worthwhile partnership?

Planning Ahead

We all know that gear will eventually reach the end of life, and need to be replaced. This is obvious, right? What usually gets overlooked is planning for when this time comes.

So what often happens, churches hobble along with equipment and software that's no longer in working order whether it's a computer that's unreliable and glitchy, or an audio console that cuts in and out. Because they can get by, they sink a lot of time into making do with a defective tool.

Stewardship is about much more than saving money or avoiding purchases. It's about placing an appropriate value on every element that exists in your organization. The money you save by not upgrading might not outweigh the cost of maintaining old technology.

We realized this when we evaluated how much we were spending to service and maintain our current projection system. When we considered the ongoing cost of ownership, it made it much easier to pull the trigger on replacing that system with an LED wall, rather than continue to service the existing system.

So how do you plan? You start planning before you ever make a purchase. With the understanding that all gear will fail, make a plan from day one on how you will maintain and eventually replace it. A way to do this is to create an ongoing equipment list and a maintenance schedule. This document should list when you purchased the equipment, how much you paid for it, notes on what has been done and spent to maintain each current piece of equipment, and the expected lifespan for each piece.

Quality AVL equipment, if maintained properly, should last you on average seven to 10 years. I also recommend that you budget one percent within the warranty period, 5 percent after, for ongoing cost of ownership. This isn't a hard and fast rule but is a great place to start. Note that purchasing lesser quality equipment will have a much shorter lifespan and cost more in percentage to maintain.

In the end, you should have ongoing and healthy communication with leadership about upgrades. Also know that communication is much smoother when backed up by prayer, planning, and exceptional stewardship.

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