Evaluate Your Options
The best way to decide between different choices is to try them out. Ideally, you can narrow the choice down to two or three then rent them for a weekend to see how they go.
If that isn’t an option, go to a trade show and get your hands on them. Failing that, try to find a church in town that has the equipment you’re considering and go try it out. Most tech folks I know love to talk about gear, and will happily show you their system and tell you what they like and don’t like about it.
Don’t expect your dealer or the manufacturer to give you free demos of your equipment, especially if it’s a smaller piece of gear. They may help you out with it to close the sale, but don’t expect it. Just don’t skip this step.
Mixers, lighting consoles, video switchers, video walls, projectors, cameras—these are all expensive pieces of gear. Make sure you know what you’re getting before you spend your church’s money.
Pick The Building Blocks
After doign the homework and research, you should be able to pick out the big building blocks of the system. With those in place (on paper anyway), make sure they all work together. For example, this is the time to make sure the personal mixing system will interface with the console of choice. Most cameras work with most video mixers, but be sure.
Often, different pieces need to work with each other. For example, you might want to get your center screen graphics into the video switcher. There are many ways to do that, but it’s good to know how easy or hard (ie. expensive) it will be.
It might be good at this phase to simply pick out what types of equipment you’re going to use. For example, a digital audio mixer, a stand-alone, professional-grade lighting console, computer-based center screen graphics, a video system for streaming/recording only and a video wall. Or it may be an analog audio console, a conventional lighting board, no video and a projector for song words. Exact equipment choices can come later.
Sometimes your choices will be motivated by preference. Just be careful to be sure your preference doesn’t put the church in a tough spot when you leave (and you will leave—someday). These can be hard decisions sometimes, so take the time to think them through. Consider every angle and talk to other users of the equipment.
Once you settle on the key technologies, it’s time to start designing the system.
I’m going to start off by saying something that may be controversial and may offend some people. But I really believe this is the best advice: You probably shouldn’t design the system yourself.
There are some churches that are blessed with someone on staff who can design systems. But that’s a different skill set than operating those systems.
Most churches have operators and team leaders. I’ve seen quite a few systems that were “designed” by people who really didn’t have that skill set. Most of those systems need to come out. You and your church will be much better off if you bring in a professional for the design. And this is for several reasons.
First, you will get a good design. A good design will have the components you need and omit ones you don’t. Everything will work together, will be easy to use and will meet the system objectives.
Second, you will have someone to throw under the bus if things go wrong. If you as a volunteer or staff TD design the system yourself and anything goes wrong, it will be your fault. When a third party is involved, you can blame them. That might save your job. (This is assuming you hire a good design firm to do the design and not the guys at the local music store.)