As technology advances, the Audio/Video/Lighting landscape is only becoming more diverse and customized. Whether your church has the same gear list as (insert big name artist here), or speakers bought at a former DJ's garage sale, you DO have a system. That system needs to be maintained, improved upon, and could possibly need to be replaced entirely in the not-too-distant future. It is equally important to have a plan in place and the ability to properly support a team to run that system each weekend.
When developing an annual budget, it is important to begin with the end in mind. The first step should be to ensure your pastoral leadership has defined the vision for your church so that you can ensure your system is, or eventually will be in harmony with that vision. It is helpful that the person responsible for approving your budget have a general understanding of technology. They should be at least open to input regarding a relationship between technology improvements and necessary budgeting.
A good place to start the conversation is to establish how your main space will be used in the upcoming year. Discussing whether your space needs to accommodate multiple worship styles, youth meetings or special events will help you establish how important an adaptable space needs to be. The frequency that your space is utilized will be a major factor in establishing a budget for consumable items—such as projector lamps, stage light bulbs, color gels, batteries, etc.
As our team integrates a new Audio/Video/Lighting systems, we recommend an additional 10 percent to 15 percent of what is invested in the original system cost be allocated for annual maintenance. This includes hardware upgrades, software updates, consumables, and general preventative maintenance.
An exercise that might prove helpful is to research the lifespan of your consumables in order to establish an annual cost. For example, let's say that the bulbs in your stage lights have a life expectancy of 300 hours. Between all of the events in your main space that use stage lights, you determine the bulb is on 12 hours per week. You can safely assume that you will be replacing that one bulb around twice per year.
This same calculation can be done for each piece of hardware that requires consumable items in order to determine what portion of the budget needs to be allocated to each respective item.
It is highly advisable to initiate regular service of your system. This would include cleaning filters, testing the audio system, replacing lamps, testing cables, etc. While this can certainly be done by a staff member, it often requires an outside service provider. Rates for this type of service vary greatly throughout each region of the country especially with how in depth of a service program is required. While this may a non-essential cost, proper service can drastically increase the life of your most expensive gear.
In order to move beyond simply maintaining your system and reacting to system failures as they arise, a portion of your budget needs to be allocated to planned obsolescence. The gear you are using today will eventually be irrelevant, incompatible or no longer functioning. While certain portions of your system can still be effective after decades of use, such as a properly designed audio system, other parts of that system can prove to be obsolete after only a few years as technology advances.
Regular system training is a key to taking your weekend services to the next level. This is especially important if you do not have a designated tech director on staff. This is an often overlooked and neglected area of the Audio/Video/Lighting system, but can be as vital as any single piece of hardware. Teams can feel ill equipped, as often times information has been passed down the line from well intentioned volunteer to the next, inadvertently changing and at times omitting key information. Bringing in a local manufacturer's representative to train on an audio or lighting console can breathe new life into your team, as they learn all that the current system is capable of, but was previously lost in translation.
With much forethought and planning an appropriate annual budget can serve to foster positive communication, line up the church's mission and vision with the capabilities of the team and equipment, as well as alleviate unnecessary stress.
Mike is the Worship and Creative Arts Director for Frontline Community Church in Grand Rapids, MI. He is also the Project Development Manager at LiveSpace (but is speaking at REACH on behalf of the church).