How to Budget for Your A/V/L NeedsThe modern church is becoming increasingly more dependent upon technology. This can be good or bad, depending on what God has called you to do in your ministry. Whether it’s just a simple analog mixer for a children’s area or a full-blown computer-controlled audio, video and lighting system, one thing is for sure: Knowing WHAT you need is not nearly as important as knowing WHY you need it. Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven philosophy is a powerful reminder that if we’re not careful, we’ll allow the tyranny of the urgent to drive all of our purchases. Ultimately, A/V/L gear is only a means to an end; it is a tool to help us accomplish our ministry’s vision. Here are some suggested guidelines that will help you determine how to accurately budget for current and future needs:

  1. Have a clear and concise understanding of your ministry’s vision. I like to ask the question “if we don’t do anything else, what must we do?” Pastors and elders usually have a clear direction of what they want the church to accomplish in your particular culture and geographical location. Knowing that vision will be a tremendous help to seeing it realized through the tech ministry.
  2. Match equipment choices with your specific needs. If your ministry doesn’t require all the features of a particular piece of equipment, weigh the options. Don’t get captured by “it will do this, and this, and this!” from a salesperson. Features are great, but it’s best to only get the features you need. For example, line array loudspeakers are all the rage in sound systems right now. Line arrays are great for the right room, but if your room doesn’t need them, then the rage might come from your congregation – mismatching a line array speaker system to a room can cause echoes, phase cancellation, comb filtering, decreased speech intelligibility and other unpleasant effects. Another popular trend is digital consoles. They, too, are great tools, but only if you need their flexibility and have the budget for one.
  3. Consider a full-systems approach. As excited as techs can get about a particular piece of equipment, piece-mealing a system can cost way more time, money, and effort that it should. Make sure you know what tools are needed to get the job done, both now and in the future. Assess where you are and where you’re going, because being a good steward of your church’s resources may require a complete system upgrade or overhaul.
  4. Get some help if you need it. Don’t be afraid to consult with someone who is qualified to help you make good decisions. There are several ways to get the info you need. Talk with your friends who are techs or worship pastors; they usually have valuable experiences to share. Secondly, do your research. Read trade magazines like Church Production and Technologies for Worship, and use online resources like ProSoundWeb, which offers excellent forums where you can get useful advice from your peers. Attend trade shows, like the hugely popular WFX Conference (coming to Dallas this November), which is a nuts-and-bolts event that provides a wealth of information through seminars, hands-on workshops and exhibits. In addition, we can work with you on-site and over the phone to assist you during any phase of the decision-making process.
  5. Be realistic with your expectations. Too often, a budget figure is just pulled out of the clear blue sky without any real basis. There are three important components of a A/V/L system budget you need to consider: 1) the actual “street price” of your equipment (this might be different when you buy a single piece of gear outside of a complete system); 2) shipping costs that can impact the bottom line, particularly on heavy items like loudspeakers, amplifiers, or a large mixing console; and 3) the technical assistance that is needed to install it. If you can do it yourself, then you’re golden. If your installation requires the help of an on-site integrator, you should find out how much it will cost ahead of time.
  6. Use percentages and projections. If you’re in the planning stages of building a new facility, you can usually use a 10%-15% figure to estimate what your complete audio, video and lighting system will cost. For example, if you’re building a million-dollar building, then you can expect to pay between $100K and $150K to do it right. If you’re remodeling an existing facility and you have some gear that you can re-purpose, this percentage might be too high. If you’re building more than a year down the road, then take into account that equipment prices might increase as much as 10% in that time based on global market fluctuations and the rising costs of raw materials.
  7. Remember WHO you’re ultimately serving. We have a favorite saying about God’s provision: “If it’s God’s will, then it’s God’s bill.” That’s more than just a cliché; the truth is that if the Lord has directed you to do something, then He will make provisions to see it accomplished. When you do a good job of consulting with others, researching your needs and understanding your goals, then you can trust Him to bring the funds that will see your vision realized.