An Open Letter To The A/V/L Community

featured-how-trendsI want to start with an explanation and end with an apology. As a veteran of the A/V/L industry and the house of worship market as a former pastor, I wanted to express my thoughts on how a very small group of the overall church community has been lacking in attitude and actions towards the audio, video and lighting industry. This is written to manufacturers, dealers, consultants, systems integrators and rep firm staff who have had the unfortunate experience of dealing with people that represented the local church poorly.

There have been too many stories of local churches being difficult to deal with or, in some instances, downright horrible clients. In my many years of serving and working within the house of worship market, I’ve had some audio, video and lighting manufacturers, integrators, rep firms and consultants tell me they prefer not to work with churches. Yet at the same time, there are many positive stories of churches going above-and-beyond to build a new reputation as stellar clients. But as we all know, it takes a lot more positive stories to remove the perception from just a few negative ones.

Now I’m just one voice that speaks for my own faith and the churches represented by as Christian, but I’ve been in and around the house of worship market for more than two decades and have seen too many instances where local churches have not treated you, the professional community of audio, video and lighting, as good representatives of this faith. I believe God has led me to admit the mistakes of those churches that have harmed your business or missed the opportunity to be the very best clients you could ever want, and to ask for your forgiveness. Churches are full of people and, like every other people group, there’s always a vocal minority that harms the overall group reputation, as well as being staffed by men and women who have simply made mistakes in judgement. We’re human, too.

For every tough story represented below, I’ve also countered with a positive, uplifting example to balance the conversation and, hopefully, renew your hope in this very large and worthwhile market.

Sometimes, well-meaning church staff and/or volunteer leaders don’t recognize our own limitations. At other times, some of us have stepped over the bounds of ignorance and walked with arrogance, assuming that we have the ability or knowledge to go it alone or, just as bad, assuming most/all vendors are out to take advantage of churches. Both are poor positions for us to take, and for that, we apologize.

Your expertise has become more vocal to our market, most notably through publications and conferences focused on the church market. This has allowed tens of thousands of church leaders to improve our knowledge, sharpen our skills and make better technology decisions. Also, local churches are adding technical staff to their ranks in increasing numbers, helping to shore up previous areas of weakness with more experience and wisdom.

Yet, we know there have been times when a church leader has taken advantage of your customer service or design services, expecting a limitless amount of time and resources to meet his every change in desire or scope. This also applies to those of us who have expected you to take the hit to your bottom line so that we don’t have to re-prioritize our wants. These are our mistakes, and we own that we have missed the opportunity to graciously accept your kindness while also missing our opportunity to bless you in return.

Today, more church leaders are stepping up and ensuring that contracts are mutually beneficial, because they see the value of a long-term relationship with a trusted vendor. They understand that it benefits everyone when you have the ability to not only stay in business, but thrive and grow, making your organization better, which then benefits the church all over again.

For all of the times some churches told you they were going to use your company’s products or services after you’d spent time with them onsite, online or on the phone, helped them fix their problems and identify solutions to get them on the right track, only to have them buy online or from a local vendor in order to save a few bucks in the name of being “good stewards,” we are sorry. Good stewardship means being faithful with our time, talents and treasure. Hiding behind this Biblical truth to justify penny-pinching is, at best, a half-truth, and at worst, a lie. This is a huge miss, and we apologize for those who have done this to you. In fact, if you’ve ever had a church tell you that you should give them a discount — or even be so audacious as to demand something for free — we owe you a sincere apology. You are under no Biblical obligation to do so, even if someone made it sound that way to you. In fact, both in the Old Testament and the New Testament, the consistency is clear: A workman is worthy of his wages. Any discount or giveaway is always at your discretion, whether you’re offering it to a church or a corporation.

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There will always be those who want to maximize their investments, which is fine, but there will also be the group that is simply penny wise and pound foolish. The churches that today are looking for vendor relationships to see if you’ll take the time to truly understand them will also take the time to understand you, too. The value of relationship is a core doctrine in our faith, and you’ll find many church leaders taking time to pray for you, your business and even your family. They’ll invest in relationship without any expectation of a financial or contractual benefit. These are the churches that value honestly, loyalty and integrity and give the same in return.

For those church leaders that have tried ‘guilting’ you into reducing your fees or throwing in additional products or services, we humble ourselves and tell you that this is contrary to our faith. Giving to God is about doing so cheerfully, not under compulsion. Any attempt to leverage an emotional plea or spiritual rebuke to get something for nothing is actually contrary to what we believe. There are simply those who sacrifice principle and character in order to benefit themselves, even when the Bible teaches us the very opposite. It only takes a few of these ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’ to create this negative image, but we still desire to rightly apologize to you for these unfortunate instances.

We know many of you have bent over backwards to work with churches, only to have their mercy meter peg zero when one of their expectations was not met in (or out of) the contract. We are so sorry and ask for you to forgive local churches for not always being the kind of client every vendor wants to work with.

Sometimes, churches have compromised the integrity of your designs to satisfy ill-planned budgets via ‘value engineering’. It is our duty to seek wise counsel; therefore, when we’ve ignored your advice and professional experience, we have both hurt ourselves and, in turn, compromised our relationship with you. Trust equity runs both ways, and all too frequently some churches have failed to earn your trust while you have dutifully earned theirs. On behalf of local churches that demonstrate tremendous integrity, grace and mercy and are delightful to work with, we apologize for times when these character traits were absent.

Just like any other organization, churches are made up of people, too. We’re all flawed, but we desire to example healthy relationships, a gracious attitude and a thankful posture. Sometimes, though, you may have dealt with the ego of a church leader who wanted to use the same systems and technology that much, much larger churches use. And when you told them they didn’t need to spend that much money or use tools intended for much larger, more sophisticated environments, they didn’t listen, instead seeking to comfort themselves in the self-indulgence of technology they didn’t need and couldn’t maximize. It is in these instances where the local church missed the opportunity to example the humility of Jesus for which we’re sorry and apologize for insecure leadership.

Finally, there’s a stigma attached to the church market that has been perpetuated by just enough churches choosing to either slow-pay or no-pay for your time, equipment and/or resources. Quite frankly, there is no excuse. Jesus himself told us to first estimate our costs to ensure we had enough money to complete our projects before we ever begin. He did this as part of a parable for understanding the cost of denying ourselves to follow him, yet the principle applies today. As churches, we must first ensure we are willing to fully commit our plans to God before we ever commission our work to you.

I’ve both witnessed and heard about a number of churches not only paying on time, but actually paying early and even providing help and support for installers and crew when a personal need was realized. Far beyond the contract, churches have invested in personal relationships to demonstrate the generosity, compassion and love that is taught and demonstrated in the Bible. This is the church market that I know and love. This is the kind of client that I know every vendor — from manufacturer to dealer — wants to have working with their employees.

The local church is a unique organization, with a higher standard that we want to meet and exceed. For those who have exampled otherwise, we sincerely apologize, but invite you to experience the majority of the local church market where respect, integrity, and relationship matter. Of course, you’ll encounter a few bad apples in every market segment; I simply believe the House of Worship market should be the exception to the rule. Mutual respect between the house of worship market and the A/V/L industry starts with local churches representing the character of Jesus.

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