Part of being a good steward with church technology is to ensure that you get the best value for your money.
While many churches face the challenge of being underfunded in the technology department, it is important to consider things other than price when shopping for new gear.
The following tips can help churches avoid some of the common problems that can end up costing more money in the long run.
Professional vs. Consumer Quality
There are lots of different technology solutions available from hundreds of manufacturers. Some brands specialize in consumer/retail products, while others may only provide products specifically for the professional/commercial market. And some brands may have two divisions – consumer electronics and professional or enterprise grade.
For example, JBL is a popular loudspeaker manufacturer that makes products for residential, auto, mobile, cinema, DJ, and pro audio markets.
Speakers that may be suitable for the home or a DJ will probably not be ideal for use in the church. This can be for a number of reasons that include product shape, size, color, performance specifications, connection types, and many other variables.
In some cases, the difference between a consumer product and a high priced professional product can be hard to see. However, it is important to know that most professional-rated products are more robust and designed to be used more often.
Many cheaper electronics are OK for occasional or hobby use, but the church technology environment can quickly exceed the demanding limitations some of these devices have.
There are many similar examples that can be cited across a wide range of technology products from lighting to video to networking to sound to climate control systems.
The important thing is to consider the real differences between a consumer electronics product in flashy packaging and a professional product that might not stand out at first. One product will last a year. The other will last 5, 10, 20 years or more.
Value can be used as a rather nebulous term, and it may mean different things for different churches.
For some, value is simply getting something that works right now for the lowest cost. For others, value is investing small amounts over time to build their technology solution. And for others, value is getting the highest performance equipment, even if it comes at a premium price.
Each church has its own priorities, needs, wants, and budget requirements. It will be important to assess these to help make wise decisions when making a new purchase.
Some important questions that can help determine the value might be:
- Does this equipment serve a core purpose for delivering the Word?
- How often will this device be used?
- What is the effective life expectancy of this product?
- When will the device or system need to be repaired/replaced, and at what cost?
- Are there service agreements or other licensing costs that need to be added in?
- Does the technology require professional design or installation at additional cost?
- What are the training requirements for operating and maintaining the equipment?
- Who will support the equipment when there is a question or technical problem?
Answers to these questions can help determine how soon a piece of gear should be purchased, how much you may need to budget for it, and they may reveal other questions or options that had not previously been considered.
Determining value is an important step in getting the right solution at the right price.
DIY or Call a Pro?
There are a lot of talented people in our churches and that means there is opportunity to leverage volunteer or low-cost labor when it comes to the design, installation, and maintenance of some types of technical systems.
However, free labor is sometimes worth the price. And it can even cost more money in the long run if a technology project isn’t managed properly.
Some churches might have a very talented and skilled labor pool, but they can benefit from specific design or engineering advice at the beginning of a technology project. This can be very useful when approaching complex upgrades or expansions for systems like audio, lighting, video, and networks.
Paying for an unbiased professional opinion or consultation can be the best money spent on a technology upgrade. Design professionals and systems engineers spend their time working in a particular technology field. They know the products available, what they can do, what they can’t do, and whether they may be suitable for certain applications or not.
It can certainly be helpful to do plenty of research and put together a list of components that may work for your scenario. Just be sure to run that list by someone who can ask a few detailed questions and provide the extra due diligence that ensures the purchase is truly worthwhile.
The same concept can apply to installation or maintenance for various system components. This really depends on the complexity of the system or components being installed.
Some contractors or service providers will even work with a church to use volunteer labor whenever possible in order to minimize project costs. It’s a good idea to ask if this is a feasible option early on in the process. Be open and honest about your needs and expectations.
The money you spend up front for professional advice and quality service may very well save you twice the price or more in lost time, wasted money on the wrong equipment, or components that need to be replaced on a regular basis.
Establishing a reasonable budget for your technology is an important step to ensure you get the right equipment for the right purpose.
Don’t expect Cadillac performance on a Hyundai budget. In church technology terms, that means that you shouldn’t expect the same performance out of a $3,000 loudspeaker as you would from a $500 speaker. The boxes might look the same, but the performance specifications and system requirements are vastly different.
Take some time to understand the differences among the various products and options available for your project to determine what you really get for the money. Base your budget off of average retail prices, not the discount prices you might find on auction or bargain websites.
If you plan to put your technology project out to bid, be sure to meet with each contractor or company providing bids so that you understand what they are really providing. The lowest bidder is not always the best option.
Don’t be afraid to state your budget when you are shopping for the gear you need. Honest and reputable technical sales representatives, engineers, and contractors will do their best to maximize the performance for the cost.
Having an informed idea of a real-world church tech budget will go a long way in helping you get the system, solution, and quality you expect.
Renting vs Buying
Sometimes it can be more beneficial to rent the special equipment you need instead of purchasing it. This can save money by eliminating the overhead cost required to support a complicated piece of equipment when you only need it once or twice a year.
Special services and events are great examples of this when it comes to church tech. Your church may not need a lot of lighting or audio gear for most of the year, but your Easter or Christmas services may require more equipment to meet your needs.
Renting quality equipment and qualified operators can help you get the professional results you want at a fraction of the cost when compared with purchasing and maintaining that same equipment.
There is no one-size-fits-all solution to church technology.
Being a good steward is not solely a numbers game. Saving money on your church tech might mean saving up and spending more for the right equipment instead of buying cheaper quick fixes that don’t really meet the need or solve the problems your church may have. It can also mean allocating a portion of your budget to training your staff and volunteers to properly operate the equipment.
Carefully considering the specific needs of your church and getting qualified advice will go a long way in helping you save money and avoid over-paying for your church technology solutions.