Why Most Churches....

By Anthony D. Coppedge
Contributing Writer
May 31, 2023

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buy the same thing three times

There is a saying that churches buy a sound system three times. The first is the one the building “comes with” that was most likely designed by the general contractor or a local music store. A well-meaning but ill-experienced volunteer who adds some new Radio Shack equipment that has pretty lights typically installs the second system. The third system is usually the result of the church leadership (and members) being tired of the problems. A consultant or design/build A/V firm normally designs this third system and does it right.

Now, given the fact that most churches should have learned their lessons from the audio debacles, one would think that they’d not waltz right into the same trap when it comes to adding video. I must report, however, that lightning has been striking in the same churches and has little sign of letting up – they’re making the same mistakes with video as well.

Well, to be honest, it’s a bit different. I’ll tell you some experiences that I know about and thenwalk you through how not to duplicate their mistakes.

“We found a good deal on the Internet”

It usually starts with the Internet. Really, though, this first type of mistake isn’t the fault of the Internet. It’s the mind-set that brings about this type of purchase: determining budgets before assessing needs (or even knowing how). Not knowing how to determine the right projector and
associated hardware leads to wasted money and frustrated viewers.

I’ve been to well over one hundred churches, and the story is almost always the same: A member of the church who is successful in business has a portable projector that they use for business presentations. Someone knows that this person “knows projectors” and finds out what model they
are using for their business. A search is made at www.projectorcentral.com and, voilá, they found it for the low, low internet-only price of “X”.

The problem is that typically the small portable projectors so prevalent for today’s traveling sales professionals are designed for small group presentations of four to 15 people. The average size of today’s church is around 200 members. Anyone see a potential problem here?

“A sales guy on the phone sold me a video system”

Hey, I’m in sales and I talk on the phone to a lot of churches. But I can’t sell a system over the phone. It’s impossible to know what the church needs, what the environmental factors are in the building, what kind of distances are involved, what kind of light levels are associated with the room, etc. A site-survey is in order.

Sure, someone can ask these questions, but unless the church knows what kind of light meter readings to take, what sightline angles to various percentages of the audience are important, what type of cabling and infrastructure are present and what specular reflections will affect the
various screens (and if gain is needed or not), they’re really just skimming the surface. Listen to me: I have yet to find a church who has had a system sold to them over the phone that was exactly what the church needed.

Yet I find advertisements in magazines and email that say things like:

• “(Company name here) is the leading provider of multimedia equipment to the religious market.” – How can they even begin to back that statement up factually?

• “500 ANSI lumen image brightness for brilliant pictures even in normal room light.” – This would maybe work in a 10’ x 15’ room with no windows on a 3’ x 4’ screen. Oh, and this is advertised by a Christian bookstore – obvious projection experts.

• “Largest selection at discount prices.” – When I called this company, they had 24 projectors in stock. Just for comparison, my company stocks over 2,000 projectors in our warehouse, and I’m not sure we’re the largest.

Find an expert – and check references

I’m amazed that a few of these “church A/V firms” are still in business. One in particular is infamous in our industry for poorly designed systems. Yet, they’re still in business. How is this possible? The answer is that a shockingly large percentage of churches don’t check references.

How hard is this? Ask for a list of references. If you don’t know or can’t visit any on the list, ask for local churches near you that they’ve done. Or, ask for pictures of installations and call and ask the church Administrator, Pastor, Music Minister and (if they have one) Media Pastor if they are satisfied and would they recommend the company?

A simple exercise is to find churches in your area and ask them whom they used. Then go peek in their sanctuary and see if it’s done the way you’d want yours done.

When is it time?

There are three main reasons to add/upgrade your equipment:

1) New building program
2) Renovation of existing building
3) Just beginning to use video

If you’re about to begin new construction, bring your A/V expert in to meet with the architects during the building design. Implementing the A/V at this stage will save your church thousands of dollars down the road as important infrastructure such as conduit, power runs, screen placement,
control point access, wall plate and floor box locations that affect the A/V will be mapped out early on.

Well-meaning architects want a pretty space, but marrying form with function isn’t an easy process. I’ve been brought in after the building was mostly constructed only to find out that we couldn’t move the screens to the correct location because large steel I-beams are irrevocably located in the way.

Here me say this: the money your church will save by bringing a qualified A/V contractor and consultant in at the beginning of the process will be saved by the mistakes that are not made. This isn’t a sales-pitch; this is truth.

If in the renovation process, the same is true: earlier is better. Let the experts be the champion for the church. Allow them to fight the battles with electricians, GC’s and architects. After the construction is complete, it will cost exponentially more to retrofit.

Finally, if your church is just beginning to use video, consider the applications you want to include (song lyrics, sermon points, video announcements, testimonial videos, IMAG) and pick up the phone to get some help. Find an expert that will work with your church and not only recommend
equipment, but also will train your volunteers and staff on the operation and maintenance.

Sit down with your consultant and tell them what you want to do and allow that expert to then design a system to fulfill your needs. Their research and your input will create a system. Make sure the system has a clear upgrade path for growth. That system will have a certain price. That
price is now your budget. If you can’t spend that, find a way to raise the money or hold off on the purchase of the system.

“What should I consider for my video system?”

This will depend largely on what you want to do with video. In order to get you thinking along the lines of what’s possible, I’ll list different video options that churches are using.

• Video projection in the Sanctuary.
- Song Lyrics
- Sermon Notes
- Video Illustrations
- Animated video backdrops
- Videotaped testimonials
- Announcement videos

• Stage/Choir reference video
- Sermon notes for Pastor to see
- Song lyrics for praise team singers
- Projection system in sanctuary facing choir loft
- Sound booth/ Tech booth reference monitors

• TV information displays.
- Foyer announcements
- Hallway information system
- Kiosks (You are here. Preschool is to your right)
- Foyer/Lobby overflow for parents with disruptive children

• Stage Video
- Additional monitors on stage (could be projectors, plasmas, TV’s) that has looping animations to enhance the look.
- Music videos synced with live band and live singers.

• Video Cameras
- IMAG (Image Magnification) of pastor, singers, etc. for large sanctuaries
- Shoot and edit testimonials, promotional spots for activities, create a Visitor’s Video, etc.

The possibilities are almost endless. The information that people can utilize from these video displays is amazing. Don’t be overwhelmed by all of these options. Consider what it is your church wants to accomplish with video and develop a plan to implement the technology and training in stages. Research how you want to reach your audience and then work with your consultant to formulate a plan to do it.

Be a good steward of God’s money. That means spend it once, not three times.

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