Christmas Church Tech in the Summer

The dog days of summer are upon us and much of the commercial and education vertical markets have slowed to a crawl, but the house of worship market is heating up seemingly in proportion to the high temps of the season. That’s because, for churches, summertime is the time when the planning for the big push of attendance at Christmas begins for the Technical Arts and Worship Arts teams.

Working on my first church staff back in 1993, I still recall the disconnect I experienced when walking past the music suite where Christmas songs were playing while the staff was dressed appropriately for the heatwave associated with summers in south Texas. This juxtaposition was my introduction to the reality of planning for the big push of the musical productions churches often go all-out for during the high-attendance months of November and December. As a young tech assistant, I quickly learned of the commitment to planning the logistics of these productions since our Audio, Video and Lighting (AVL) teams were heavily involved in these productions.

Fast forward a few decades, and what used to be the domain of only the very largest churches has trickled down into medium size churches as the costs and technology offerings have also percolated into these average size venues.

Helping churches plan the technology infrastructure and equipment for these Christmas productions also demonstrated how what was planned for during the summer had an equally large impact on our rental, leasing, and purchasing decisions halfway through the year and at the beginning of the calendar (and fiscal) year. Some of the shorter-term needs, such as extra lighting or additional video cameras, still had infrastructure considerations well before the cold temperatures three to four to six months down the road. This pragmatic planning required us to evaluate our current infrastructure limitations and determine what needed to be upgraded or replaced well before the fake snow starting falling onto the stage.

My story, and countless others like it in the Church Tech Arts space, is one that manufacturers and systems integrators alike should understand as they sell their products and services to this unique vertical market. The principle of helping churches think through their technology decisions can be grouped into the same stages I listed above: infrastructure planning; upgrades and replacement technology; equipment rentals and short-term leases; try-before-buying budget changes for the beginning of the fiscal year.

For the largest percentage of churches, infrastructure is likely the least addressed opportunity for making major changes today that reap huge benefits for the church venues later. Perhaps it’s the ‘Shamwow’ effect of salespeople pitching the coolest new products, but when churches can see and understand the pros and cons of sticking with limited technology infrastructure, it shifts the discussion away from the temporary benefits of new tools to the long-term value proposition of future-proofing their space. This is especially important in a volunteer-focused culture where the operation of technology needs to be so well designed that it does not overwhelm the non-professional volunteer who loves to use the technology and serve their church.

In one church where I cut my tech teeth and gained most of my don’t-do-that-again experiences, a particular challenge was working with high-voltage power and lighting infrastructure (control and dimming, in particular). The limitations of our staff and budget meant we did a lot of rentals to make the most out of what we had, but it also underscored just how improved this particular technology has advanced over the years to make the easy justification of man-hours and safety concerns alone to replace the entire lighting control and dimming system for one that gave us far more future growth and greatly simplified our installation and fixture focusing options. To make the case, all I had to do was walk my boss (the Worship Arts leader) over to the electrical closet and show him what our volunteers were required to do to make even simple changes to our old hardware. He didn’t even try to argue the cost since it was so patently obvious that an upgrade would provide countless improvements that would save time and money.

Since that time, I’ve had the opportunity to work with literally hundreds of churches who have the same experience and have begun dividing up their technology planning and budgeting into the categories listed above. Education of the end users is to help inform where there isn’t yet enough proper information, not to talk down to a market segment that is too often judged as ‘unprofessional’ by AVL vendors. Ignorance is easily remedied with helpful information. Churches sometimes are lacking knowledge or understanding of a subject, but they do not suffer from an inability to comprehend a subject. Treat them with respect and help educate them and you’ll have a client for life.

In the church production world, once the Christmas production season ends, church tech leaders should be encouraged to evaluate which technologies worked particularly well that should make it permanently into their start-of-year budget. After all, it is easier to ‘sell’ the idea of new/upgraded technology solutions when they have just proven success with the technology with results that were obvious to the senior leadership staff.

The future of the house of worship market may need to only look three to six months ahead to begin adding value to how they approach Christmas in the middle of the summer.

In what ways are you helping churches realize the distinction between infrastructure and tools? Share your views and opinions in the comments below.