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Finding Balance in a Technical Upgrade

Finding Balance in a Technical Upgrade

Planning an upgrade should start well before you purchase any equipment and having a clear goal will help ensure that the process is a smooth one.

As a pastor it may seem like your worship, sound, and technical teams are constantly looking to replace equipment and upgrade to the latest and greatest gear.

Guiding them through an upgrade process can seem daunting, especially given all of your other responsibilities. Planning an upgrade should start well before you purchase any equipment and having a clear goal will help ensure that the process is a smooth one.

The first critical step in doing a technical upgrade is making sure you have a clear goal. If you don't have a clear goal, then there probably isn't a good reason for upgrading. The goal may simply be to replace equipment that is nearing its end of life and pro-actively replacing it before it dies on a Sunday morning 5 minutes before service starts.

Along with, and part of, the goal is the "why". Some questions to ask around this are:

  • What is the benefit to the congregation?
  • What is the benefit to the tech team?
  • What is the benefit to the overall body of Christ?
  • Is there a benefit to the pastoral staff?

Technical upgrades should not detract or distract people from the message.

Lights, big screens, and high definition cameras are fantastic, but if you're not leading people to Christ, or people are growing deeper in their relationship with God, why are you doing it.

This is not to say that these things are excessive, but if people focus on your technology and not the message, your changes have gone too far.

Once you have identified the goal of your project, you need to determine the right ministry areas to bring in. When you're doing a sound upgrade it won't just be your sound technician, but your worship leader, your video director, presentation director and possibly your lighting director. The communication between these areas will determine the success or failure of a project.

These may all be one person depending on the size of your church, which can make things simpler, but it also means connections that exist between disciplines can be easily overlooked.

Each technical area in a church often spans multiple disciplines so knowing what interacts with what is critical during an upgrade. Take the time to list out every piece of equipment that will be added or replaced during your upgrade. If you're having a contractor do your upgrades, get a list from them.

It may sound mundane, but when you know what's changing, you will begin to get a clearer picture of the impact of your upgrade. Go a step further and have your head technical director create a diagram of the different pieces of equipment of your church. How do they interact with each other? What are the types of connections between devices? When they have this, they'll be able to more clearly articulate what is needed so that the new equipment will go in seamlessly.

Knowing how your upgrade will progress is the next step in your process. Who will be doing the work? Where will the funds for the upgrade come from? What if there are unforeseen expenses?

These are all things to work out before getting started.  Overlooking prayer is a critical mistake during the process. Gather your leaders together and pray about your upgrade. How will God be glorified? If God isn't behind your technical upgrade, then moving forward isn't the best idea. Seeking Him and having plans is scriptural, so don't skip it! "Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?" - Luke 14:28 NIV

Make sure your plans have some very clear timelines. As a pastor, think about who will be preaching the first time all of your equipment is in use. If you have a great relationship with your technical teams, you'll be able to get through minor hiccups in a new system the first time through. Take a look at your sermon calendar and make sure the timing is right.

One good thing to plan on is that your upgrade may take 25-50% longer than what you think. If that happens, do you have to use an alternate worship space during the upgrade? Having a plan for what to do if things take longer will save you the stress for when things DO take longer and cost more money.

That leads into how to approach your upgrade. Will you tackle it all at once or do parts and pieces over an extended period? Doing it all at once means it can all be completed with no interruptions. It also means you need to come up with the all of the funds for the project at once. With this "big bang" approach, coordination is critical. Delays can quickly compound upon each other, but on the contrary, when you're done, it is finished.

Stretching it out over time in a phased approach means that things are always changing and your project can start to expand as you see additional opportunities to make things better. There are some advantages to a phased approach. It allows for spreading out the cost and problems can be more easily dealt with as they arise.

No matter what approach you choose, communication throughout the project is critical. Make sure as a leader you have communicated your vision to your technical team. Gather input from your technical team and ask some difficult but necessary questions. Is there a cheaper way? Will any of the technology we use limit us in future upgrades? The cheaper way may limit future growth so look carefully at the technologies you chose.

Encourage and drive your technical team to be in a continual process of improving equipment over time. All of your teams should constantly be training, always researching and just as importantly taking the time to refresh, relax and renew. This cycle over time will keep your teams stronger and change hearts and lives as people come to know God in new ways.

Todd is the Director of Media Arts at Hillside Community Church in Bristol, CT and the social media coordinator for Racing with Jesus Ministries.  He holds a bachelor's degree in Computer Science from ECSU and a Master's degree in Computer Information Management from CCSU. Todd also has a full time position at ESPN as a systems administrator. He enjoys spending time camping with his wife and their 4 children.

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