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Old Friday, January 23rd, 2009, 11:52 AM
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Yell Please, please don't find yourself in "the cycle"...

I figured I'd make this my first post- my name is Chandler, I'm a long timer lurker, technology geek, and passionate believer... (and I think I have the flu now, ugh)

I work for a company called Blue Hat Design- we engineer and implement technology for Churches... no, this is not a marketing plug.

During my time working in the church broadcast market, I have seen the best and worst when it comes to designing a Church's audio/visual components, but I usually see a media director or pastor enter into a typical pattern in terms of the "buying cycle" which is extraordinary dangerous and expensive. I actually just got off the phone with a media director for a medium sized church and after talking with him, realized he is knee deep in "the cycle" and my heart breaks for him. So, in my frustration, I figured I'd join the forum and share some of my limited perspective.

Before I get into the cycle, I really want to express that I truly love the Church. I want a church to be a good steward of its resources and to recognize that we are all uniquely gifted. I try to abide by the biblical principal of, "Find your gifts, focus on using them, and delegate your weaknesses"- I have an immense amount of respect for authentic Church leaders, I could never do what they do- I am simply wired up with different gifts. In fact, when I became a believer over 4 years ago, it was my church's technology that got me in the door. With that said, let's dive in...

The Cycle begins when a media director or pastor realizes the importance and benefit of technology, which I absolutely think is awesome! In my experience, 90% of the time, the cycle begins...

Stage 1: This is when the media director or pastor recruits someone who is a novice in technology, usually from the congregation, to attempt to bring media to the church. Typically, the end result of this is a "best buy" type system, something that is relatively inexpensive, but completely misses the point. Most of the time, the stage 1 system is so poorly designed that it actually alienates the congregation. (think Charlie Brown's teacher blasting audio and dim, unwatchable video) Unfortunately, this type of system is the most common and usually remains in service for entirely too long.

Stage 2: Once the realization has been made that the stage 1 system is delivering the opposite of the intended results, stage 2 typically begins. In my experience, the realization of the failure of stage 1 usually happens when a church hires a media director or a pastor makes a visit to a professionally engineered church. Stage 2 involves replacing the stage 1 system by bringing in a professional team.

At this point, most of stage 2 is mimicking what other churches have done. Very little due-diligence is performed here, most churches simply copy what a successful church has done without any regard to the unique requirements of their own staff's abilities and what best fits for the congregation- present or future.

The result of stage 2 is generally an impressive looking system, but one that is massively over engineered and unusable. Shooting from the hip here, I'd say that most stage 2 systems only use 30% of their potential. As a result, the stage 2 system is entirely too expensive, and because it is not engineered for the unique requirements of the individual church, has the same effect as stage 1 in that it often alienates the congregation and does little to bring younger generations to the church.

Stage 3: I'd say that 50% of the customers that call us fall into stage 3. This is the church that understands that, at best, they just installed a massive, multi-million dollar system that they have no idea how to use or worse, a system that is irrelevant to their goals.

These churches generally are shopping for a redesign, but, the pitfall here is going with an integrator that does "free" design quotes- I've been in this business for a long time, nothing is free- the cost is rolled in somewhere.

(Side note: We never do free quotes, we charge for engineering and building the blueprints for a system and if the client doesn't like our final drawings, they are free to shop the market with the blueprints- this has never happened though- we have built the system for every client that has purchased our design work)

Anyway, at this point the church's pastor or media director has done surface due-diligence and, as cliche'd as this sounds, think they are experts in broadcast engineering. (I wouldn't tell my doctor how to operate because I watched "House")
This is a critical moment where stage 3 can easily revert back to stage 2 because a Pastor or Media Director refuses to alter their vision for their technology based a broadcast engineer's input. Often times, cool new technology that has been introduced to the market is totally ignored because it isn't understood and the builder's input is absolutely ignored. The resulting system is built exactly as the pastor's limited perspective dictated, leaving the church with an unusable system that has the same limitations of stage 2.

Breaking the Cycle:
I absolutely love getting the phone call where a pastor or media director says, "We know this system (stage 2) isn't working, but we don't know how to fix this". This isn't an arrogance thing here, like I said before, I couldn't lead a Church, my gifts are in technology. At this point, the cycle is broken due to humility. We work with the media directors, creating a two way dialog, learning everything we can from them about their church and either modifying the existing technologies, or start from scratch. The end result, 100% of the time we leave a job site, is a Church that is using technology properly.

So, I say all this to say, those Churches that enter "the cycle" spend upwards of 4x's the amount they would have if they approached an expert from the beginning. In my honest opinion, not delegating a weakness could be construed as being a poor steward of money- as believers, we are called to be smarter and achieve excellence in all that we do.

OK, so my rant is over. If there are any engineering questions that you guys have in the future, I'd love to answer them (as best I can). I'm glad to be a part of the forum and hope to contribute as best I can. If you guys like, we can post some behind the scenes pictures of building some really cool churches.

Thanks for reading!

Chan
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  #2 (permalink)  
Old Friday, January 23rd, 2009, 03:50 PM
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Behind the Scenes

I don't know about the rest of the folks, but i love the behind the scenes stuff! Post away!
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Old Friday, January 23rd, 2009, 04:06 PM
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I am with you Chan. I can't believe sometimes how many calls I get from churches in stage 2 that want things "fixed" and it kills me to tell them often that they are beyond "fixing" the system and are into major surgery.

Mike
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Old Friday, January 23rd, 2009, 04:39 PM
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Best inaugural post I've read in a long time. w()()tness!

There's a Stage 1.5 though: poorly implemented system leads someone to donate equipment to help to some degree. Said equipment Is probably pretty good, but doesn't *quite* fit. Stage 2 happens because their new system is designed to fit this gear that was donated and it severely inhibits the overall installation, and momentum builds as replacement gear is bought to handle the new, limited system, etc.

Still, your insight should be required reading for anyone looking for a significant system redesign. Sticky'd!

Joey
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Old Monday, January 26th, 2009, 08:14 AM
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Stage 1.5- brilliant!!!

I think we could probably boil the stages down to:
Phase 1: Attempting, spending little
Phase 2: Copying, spending lots.
Phase 3: D.I.Y (do it yourself), spending lots more.

Breaking the Cycle: Asking for help.


Anyway, I'm glad that you guys enjoyed our first post! We'd love to offer some more "Behind the scenes" input, pictures, or share some horror stories (Everything from fishing cables through 150 year old crawlspaces in the summer heat to being hired after another integrator was fired, starting from scratch with only several months until the first services)

If you guys wouldn't mind, start thinking of what we can offer the forum. As lame as this sounds, I love teaching and sharing. If there are any questions that you've always wanted to ask a professional integrator, just let us know! Just a fyi, we really like what Churchmedia.net has become and want to figure out how we can support the forum in some way.
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Old Monday, January 26th, 2009, 12:14 PM
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Sounds a lot like "Why Churches Buy Three Sound Systems, and How You Can Buy Only One"

Must be something in the air of the church buildings causing this behavior.
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Old Monday, January 26th, 2009, 01:16 PM
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I saw some of this at my church, but I think we busted the cycle.

I walked into a mix of pro, semi-pro and what I call "Radio Shack workarounds", "short-Circuit City kludge" (can't use that one much longer), and "Best Buy Bandaids". Folks had addressed problems one at a time by throwing shiny metal boxes at them without thought to overall systems integration. It was "interesting".

When we began our most recent buildout phase, I was asked if we could do the tech engineering in-house. I told the elders it would cost more up front to hire a design consultant to write a spec and then select and hire an engineering firm, but over the next five years it would cost us less to do so.

So we did. We sat down and had several meetings with the design firm. We did not talk about equipment. We talked about what we wanted to be able to DO. We talked about how we effectively communicate. We discussed the ways we did things and how we might change some of them.

After that they wrote a spec and shopped it. We brought engineering firms in to bid. We selected one, sat down with them, looked at budget and did some value engineering to meet budget. I told them, simplify the video, but don't go cheap on the sound. I also, thinking of 10 years down the road, kept money in the system foundation to allow for growth, migration to digital or hi-def video, etc. Just left room to grow.

The final result is an AVL system that's robust and pretty versatile with very few compromises.

Find a design consultant that doesn't sell gear, has a good track record, and ideally, shares your Christ-centered values and goals. Be deliberate and intentional about the process. Be prepared to shoot sacred cows. Be open to the possibilities. Discuss what you want to do, not what you want to have.

I could have pushed hard to keep everything on the video side that I wanted. Television production is my background. But I knew we had to have good sound in that room first. So we value engineered the video side mostly. And God blessed us mightily. I wouldn't change a thing.

No more 'Best Buy bandaids".
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Old Wednesday, January 28th, 2009, 11:42 AM
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Hi everyone, I just wanted to add a comment that one of our engineers made after reading this post.

"Going from stage 2 to stage 3 is where the Church no longer trusts the professional engineers or integrators, which is why they refuse to accept any input from them."- Mat (our Emmy Award winning, ultra-nerd engineer)

Just thought that was an interesting insight. Stage 2 Churches are very quick to write a blank check and give little to no direction to the professionals, stage 3 is the inverse where the church deliberates over every penny and dictates where every wire should go. The end result is the same in both cases, unfortunately.
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Old Thursday, January 29th, 2009, 12:53 PM
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Just thought I post this. I was writing to an architectural firm that focuses on Churches to discuss some sort of strategic partnership (They design the building while we design the technology)
When I asked if their architectural firm incorporates any technology planning services, this is the response I received. Sad example of stage 1 continuing...

"Our church work typically has someone in the congregation or some one who knows someone on the building committee who gets the job."


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Old Thursday, January 29th, 2009, 03:18 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BlueHatChan View Post
Just thought I post this. I was writing to an architectural firm that focuses on Churches to discuss some sort of strategic partnership (They design the building while we design the technology)
When I asked if their architectural firm incorporates any technology planning services, this is the response I received. Sad example of stage 1 continuing...

"Our church work typically has someone in the congregation or some one who knows someone on the building committee who gets the job."


This can be quite hit-or-miss. I don't mean to brag, but our church has a tech crew that I believe is second to none in our area. We've got several professional contractors who are members of our church. This past Winter Retreat, we had 3 IMAG cameras, 4 screens, 8 intelligent light fixtures, and a 12-foot hand complete with moving fingers, all set up, debugged, and running in 36 hours. Our church is amidst a building project that involves A/V installation. While we are hiring an outside firm to perform the actual installation, my tech crew and I have a solid handle on what our needs are, and the ringleader is on the Trustee board, so it's difficult to sell us on something that we don't need. I'm well aware that mine is an atypical situation, and I'd venture to guess that 80% of the time or better, your disdain for "someone in the church will get the job" is warranted. Still, there are exceptions, and many of those exceptional churches are represented here.

Joey
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Old Thursday, January 29th, 2009, 06:31 PM
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Our church has been extraordinarily blessed in the multimedia department for the last 20 years. We have been able to move pretty much directly into the technological promised land, largely because we've had two or three experienced technology professionals leading the charge, and because the rest of our leadership has been willing to accept their guidance. (OK I'll admit to being one of those pros.)

Professionals understand how to establish realistic expectations, and then meet them. They understand that you need to crawl before you walk, and walk before you run.

Example: When we first decided to get into computer projection, we recognized that we had to start with what we understood - PowerPoint. After a year with that were ready to take the next step into a church projection software package. Across nearly 10 years of computer projection, every major step has been one that we have been both ready for, and have been able to plan carefully. We've had almost no glitches, and in fact, most of the congregation have not been aware of the changes - except for the initial introduction of the screen and projector. We're about to introduce a new computer system, but it won't go in place until it's tested and we're sure all our software and data are ready to go - I won't be surprised if it's another month, even though the computer is in house now.

The moral is pretty much where Chan was heading: Careful planning and preparation, which includes setting reasonable expectations. Chan has pretty much told the story of what happens when you don't.

Blessings,

Roger
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Old Friday, January 30th, 2009, 04:48 AM
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While I agree with most of what I read here I feel I must put in my 2 cents worth in support of all of us small churches in small towns everywhere. It makes perfect sense to me to go through the process of hiring professionals to achieve the ultimate custom system that would fit each individual church's needs. I really don't know what "cycle" I would consider us in but as a new contemporary tech driven church plant I think we have done fairly well to accomplish our goals using the "Best Buy (tigerdirect) bandaids" and piecing together what we can to get where we are. We operated as a portable church for a few months before getting a building. We had to do some minor remodeling and move into that building on a shoestring budget. I literally had to put together a system with very little funding. Some of which I had to donate myself to avoid delays because the money just wasn't in the church's account. We are very fast growing considering the size of our town. The largest church in our town averages 1200-1500. We average 180 and are less than a year old. We have a great vision of where we want to be and are getting there. Our system isn't that elaborate. We use an iMac with ProPresenter and Keynote projected onto two large screens (walls painted with Kilz) and a 37" LCD monitor as a confidence monitor. We will build onto the system to integrate imag and more as budget allows. I am sure as we grow and when the time is right we will seek help from professional designers and installers. My point is, we don't really have a choice right now. Not everyone operates on generous budgets.I got my start in multimedia about 6 years ago in my former church. We were a traditional church but were on the cutting edge among the rural churches in the community. We didn't go through cycle 1. We went the professional route. We knew what we wanted but had no clue where to start. We got bids from about three companies and went with one that wasn't the lowest bid but seemed to be the ones we could trust. They sold us a fantastic system. I was a novice and had no clue what to do but had the desire and willingness to jump in head first and learn all I could about it. The system served the church very well and was an absolute perfect fit. Therefore supporting what Chan is saying. I don't know what cycle it would be but after 6 years the computer needs replacing due to software updates and redesigns. Despite all of my pleading and begging the church leaders decided we had the ultimate system 5 years ago it should still be the ultimate system. Well, it is showing it's age and as that church progresses it will no longer meet all of their needs.
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