A few years ago, Tim Cool from Visioneering posted a thought-provoking post of the same name (The Cost Of Getting It Wrong).
It’s very good, and I suggest you go read the whole thing. He asks several questions related to staffing, building and designing.
As I thought about what he wrote, one particular question resonated with me:
What will it cost to have the wrong audio and acoustics in your worship center? Again, this is not just the cost to fix the issue, but the frustration quotient and emotional capital. What are they worth?
This is one of the things I see churches missing regularly. How many churches have to build multi-million dollar buildings that sound terrible because they didn’t want to spend $20,000 on an acoustician? How many churches have installed hundreds of thousands of dollars of AVL gear that doesn’t work properly because they didn’t want to spend any money on design?
As someone who’s mission in life seems to be helping churches undo the bad tech decisions they’ve made (I’m sort of like a Mike Holmes of the church world), I can tell you the cost of getting it wrong is pretty high.
In my current church, for example, I’ve spent the last three years pulling out tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment that wasn’t thought through, and thus didn’t work. And of course, in addition to shelving all that old gear, we’ve had to spend money to buy new stuff.
It’s easy to see how churches fall into this trap. Most times, senior leadership has no idea how any of that AVL technology works, so they rely on either their staff—if they have them—or well-meaning volunteers when they have needs in the tech department. One of three things usually happen at this point.
First Possibility: The staff or volunteers don’t know what they’re doing and ask for the budget to hire someone who does. Money is tight, so that request is denied, with the comment, “Just find a good deal and make it work.”
Second Possibility: The staff or volunteers don’t know what they are doing but don’t want anyone to know that, so they just try to figure it out. With the knowledge that money is tight, they look for a great deal and try to make it work.
Third Possibility: The staff or volunteers don’t know what they’re doing and ask for the budget to hire someone who does.
That request is approved, a knowledgeable consultant or integrator is brought in, and a well-designed system is implemented correctly.
Sadly, this seems rare.
I supposed there is a fourth possibility: The staff members or volunteers actually know what they are doing and put together a great system.
That does happen, though it’s mostly in larger churches with highly qualified technical staff. But as more churches are jettisoning their tech staff, this will happen less and less.
In the first two scenarios, you can guess that the results are not going to be good. Those are the “systems” (and I use that term loosely) that I end up tearing out.
Those systems are very expensive because they are paid for twice; once for the first attempt, and once again for the proper fix. Of course that assumes it only gets “fixed” once.
We Have To Fix This
Look, the resistance churches have to paying for good design has to end. We’ve all seen it, and we all know it’s a big problem. There is no savings to paying for something twice. It’s just math; and while I don’t expect senior leadership of the average church to be math wizards, it should be pretty easy to explain that 2x is more than 1x.
This also means we as technical artists—both paid and volunteer—have to take the lead here. I’m not saying you need to bring in a specialist every time you want to buy a vocal mic; but if you’re looking to install an IMAG system, know your limits. If you haven’t designed a well-functioning system or three, bring in someone who has. We have to stop just connecting a bunch of equipment together, hoping it will work.
For us in the technical world, this means holding our ground when we say we need design help. We simply must be willing to say, “I don’t know enough about this to be confident in designing a system. I need to bring in some help.” And we must hold to that position even when they say no. If you don’t think you can properly do the project, don’t do the project. Stop wasting your churches money.
Those in senior leadership have to get over wanting everything for free. Because guess, what, it’s not free. When you try to pinch every penny in the design process, you cost yourself and your church thousands, tens of thousands or maybe hundreds of thousands of dollars. Don’t be that leader.
Get it done right, not cheap. Believe me, it actually will be less expensive in the long run.
Mike Sessler has been involved with church sound and live production for than 25 years, and is the author of the Church Tech Arts blog. Based in Nashville, he serves as project lead for CCI Solutions, which provides design-build production solutions for churches and other facilities.