Conducting an AVL Needs Assessment

AVL“It’s a good problem to have.”

What a complex expression, but few phrases ring as true in the life of church audiovisual lighting (AVL). As you and your team continue to grow and expand, you will consistently be faced with the difficult decisions that always lead to both production and church work. 

None of those “good problems” are as complicated as budget decisions. These talks arise in any number of ways: capital campaigns, building projects or a generous donation from a supportive member. People wanting to spend money on production is the good (often great) part. The problem comes into play when you have to decide how to spend it. 

In the following, I’ll outline some easy questions to think through as you assess how to make the right purchase at the right time. After all, spending money on gear should be fun! 

Is Anything Bleeding?

Solving major problems is always the best place to start when tackling a new AVL project. Sometimes this isn’t the “sexiest” starting point, but if it can help your team execute and engage in Sunday services at a higher level, it’s well worth it.

Is there anything that you wake up on Sunday morning nervous about? Are there specific pieces of gear in your system that you spend hours maintaining and explaining to volunteers how to use? Is it impossible to find people to service your gear because it has long been discontinued?

Tackling issues of this kind usually are a bit easier to get approved as the rest of the team will naturally feel confident spending money on actually fixing a problem. Remember, in order to continue to grow and accomplish your goals, you’ll need to feel secure enough in the systems you have in place to spend less time babysitting them.

What’s the Vision?

Answering this next question often requires big-picture conversations with the rest of your team. The goal here is to figure out where you all want to be in one to five years (or more). Does the church hope to have developed a more complete online presence? Are you wanting to provide a balanced worship experience by improving the quality of your audio?

Whatever the vision for your body, it’s important to consider how AVL purchases play into either chasing (or competing with) that vision. A big win is a purchase that helps accomplish the goals for the production team as well as advances the overall vision of the church.

Sometimes these conversations with other staff members can be awkward, as you don’t want to come across as “not knowing what to get.” So, it’s important to lean into a desire to help accomplish the big picture goals.

What’s Down the Road?

In my opinion, this is the most important question to answer. As we all know, so much of what we are trying to accomplish within production systems builds on something else. For example, if you are not happy with your video setup but haven’t invested any money in lighting, you’ll never really know what your current structure is capable of. This means that upgrading video capabilities might not be the best use of funds.

This question also takes the imagined vision from question two and puts the foundation in place. Once you have a solid understanding of what is to come for your church community, it’s a lot easier to think through the phases that will get you there. Working through a system build-out in steps isn’t nearly as fun, but it’s the reality for the vast majority of us. It’s far easier to raise $50K as opposed to $500K.

A good rule of thumb as you tackle this is to consider infrastructure. Gear is constantly changing, but infrastructure changes at a much slower pace and is considerably more expensive to add on to or replace. It’s always better to make sure that the “bones are good” before diving too deep into the bells and whistles.

What Else Should Be Considered?

Another frustration may be the difficulty in explaining a necessary purchase to non-technical team members. It’s essential to work through this because, depending on roles, we all view a project as a “success” for different reasons. After doing hours of research, it’s easy to feel defensive and standoffish when people raise questions about a proposed project. Once you’re able to take a step back and see the broader picture of how production affects every aspect of the worship experience, it’s far easier to explain.

As tedious as the leg work of starting a project can be, it’s well worth it. Taking the time to look over your needs and goals allows you to make the most informed decision possible. Working through these questions is a practice of good stewardship, helping to ensure you’re spending wisely (no matter the amount). I’d recommend writing your answers to these questions out and using that to help you present to the final decision-makers.

It is always a great idea to consult a professional you trust whenever you’re able. Sometimes access to more expansive industry insight can save you thousands of dollars on the back end of a project and help you avoid common pitfalls. Working through a framework of where you’d like to be in the next few years will allow them to recommend a solution that accomplishes your goals and stays within your spending limits.