We spent time with Jeremy Moyers, president of Moyers Group; Houston Clark, principal of Clark; Donnie Haulk, CEO of AE Global Media; Chris Rayburn, founder and CEO of Summit Integrated Systems; and Duke DeJong, director of sales and marketing for CCI Solutions.
All shared candid advice on how to find prospect firms, how to vet those firms, and what the church's project leaders need to bring to the table for a successful partnership and outcome.
What advice can you offer churches for developing a list of potential consultants or integrators?
DeJong: I believe there are fewer than a dozen truly experienced house of worship integrators working in the U.S. Most people know who they are, so if you rely on word of mouth they'll likely be referred.
Rayburn: Look nationwide, too. The market is small, and most integrators work nationwide. Don't settle for an unqualified integrator because they're close. Mobilization costs are a small percentage of the project total and there are major advantages in working with a more experienced integrator.
Clark: Definitely look to other churches. Find a church that has the program and AVL mix you like and then ask who they worked with.
Rayburn: Along those lines, find a church that has gone through the process in the last eighteen months. Ask about the challenges encountered and how the integrator responded to those challenges. Additionally, ask how much the project cost increased from the original contract through the end. If the integrator asked the right questions up front, changes are usually minimal.
Haulk: Also, if your church is in transition due to growth, look for a church that went through that and find out whom they worked with. You're looking for "like" experience, real world experience. Then, ask the firm for success and failure stories. Truly experienced firms will have both.
Moyers: In addition to word-of-mouth referrals, I recommend attending conferences like WFX where you can connect with other churches and learn from their experiences. Conferences are also great places to meet and interview multiple integrators under one roof.
How should a church vet prospects?
Moyers: Request and call references. We partner with churches because we love serving the Church. We take time to learn their "DNA", which is the lens that helps us guide them in making wise decisions. That's great talk, but how do you know it's sincere? Check references!
Haulk: Check out past work by visiting projects in person. It takes time, so select a representative to go and have them report back.
DeJong: While you're visiting projects, talk to the people that were involved and ask about their experience working with that firm.
Clark: You should also speak with other trades and disciplines that have interacted with that firm. [The firm] may have a genius designer, but if that genius can't communicate accurately with others on the project, it can spell disaster.
Rayburn: Spend time learning about the company culture. Ask questions like: Do you subcontract any of your work? Who will be my primary contact? How do you handle support and follow up? Since it's common in our industry to pay for equipment up front, it's incredibly important to work with a reputable, financially stable company.
What criteria should influence the final decision in selection of an AVL consultant?
Moyers: It comes down to relationships. You want a true partner someone to keep your interests and vision at the forefront.
Rayburn: The proper integrator should be a natural fit with your team and values, experienced and knowledgeable in the type and style of system you are looking to install, and 100% invested in designing a system that supports the vision of the church, not their vision for your church.
Clark: Just because someone understands technology, doesn't mean they understand its application for your church. What they plan and install may not be wrong, but it won't support your vision. Achieving that understanding takes conversation, so don't ask generic questions you have to get to know one another, you're not just checking boxes.
Haulk: The decision can't be based on price. Most bids will come in 10-20% within range. Is a 10% savings worth missing the vision and potentially being unable to communicate with your audience effectively?
DeJong: Absolutely don't select based on price. Go with someone who clearly understands the vision and mission. That understanding should drive the technology chosen, instead of backing into decisions based on price.
When a church approaches your firm for a potential project, what information or preparation is often missing or unavailable? How can this affect planning or budgeting?
Rayburn: The most common omission is the ability to speak directly to the visionary, which is usually the senior pastor. Once we have a short meeting with the visionary, we can start the process of guiding the technical decisions to support that vision.
DeJong: Vision. Most churches, not all, come to us with a backward approach. They start with a budget and a "what can we get for this" mindset. We like to walk through vision first, and then figure out what it's going to take to get them there.
Haulk: As well, sometimes the program isn't defined. The church hasn't yet determined what the experience will be. Churches have drastically different focuses, so we can't assume anything and we don't judge churches or their worship styles by their names.
Rayburn: The other item often missing is a rough budget. It does not have to be exact, but a ballpark is helpful. We have worked with budgets from $50 per seat to over $1,000 per seat. The sooner we get the target ballpark, the better.
Moyers: The biggest miss we see is when an AVL integrator isn't brought on early enough. Part of our scope in a project is designing the infrastructure to support the systems necessary for meeting the church's vision. If construction is already planned or underway, the vision or budget will be adversely affected.
Clark: In that same vein, a set of accurate drawings. We have to make project-critical decisions early on, and drawings are imperative to informing them. Also, we need engagement from the church's technical, financial and creative leaders.
How should the system design (AVL) approval process work between the consultant and the church to ensure a quality outcome that's on budget?
Haulk: Don't play poker with the budget. Identifying the budget up front and making sure it was arrived at through due diligence and research will put everyone on the same page more so than almost anything.
Moyers: To effectively serve a church, there are three questions that must be answered: Who is the church? What is the facility? What is the AVL budget? Part of our process is working with churches to find these answers, which then become the guardrails that guide us in marrying their vision and stewardship considerations equally.
Clark:Process and people. It's critical to understand the process of the organization you are working with. It's also wise to look for a company that keeps roles separate. Working with people focused on what they're best at drives everything especially outcome.
Rayburn: Creating a quality experience that fits the given budget takes careful design and a lot of communication. Every church is different and has different technical needs. Your integrator should ask a lot of questions throughout and constantly have the big picture vision in mind.
DeJong: [The approval process] looks different every time. Many churches have in-house staff that's knowledgeable, but aren't designers. For smaller churches without staff, it's more complicated. We've worked with a number of churches that bring in a friend of the ministry as a project manager for that portion of the project and is on-point for approvals.