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Implementing an AVL System that Meets Needs and Provides Usability

Every church has had that long discussion about updating the sanctuary with new technology. The endless back and forth of fashion versus function divided by cost usually ends with someone pointing out that Jesus never needed a microphone and everyone else throwing their hands up in defeat. Occasionally, a church can be proactive and make the decision to effect change before it’s absolutely necessary; however, oftentimes, external influences make the decision for them.

The latter occurred when the leaky roof of Calvary Assembly of God in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania, caused the sanctuary ceiling to cave in, and the church was forced to leap into action. The goal was to implement a complete audio, video and lighting solution that would facilitate their needs as they continued to grow and provide usability for their tech team. The project also needed to be completed within the timeline of their sanctuary reconstruction, as well as fit within the emergency budget they had for the project. It was a fairly simple goal on paper; however, trying to assess where they wanted to be in 10 years was anything but simple.

Spire AVL’s philosophy is always to start by assessing the individual needs of a church before making any assumptions about what equipment will best fit their room. Understanding their individual technical skills as well as ensuring the system will still meet their needs in a decade are just a few of the key requirements for a truly successful design.

First, you must agree on what their true needs are, which occasionally means helping them figure it out, as well. Maybe they want to look like church “XYZ,” but, in truth, they are actually church “ABC.” If they don’t have the staff to run a 300 cue light show for every service, giving them the equipment to do so may not be in their best interest.

We sat with the leadership at Calvary and started by asking what their goals were. Their response was, “We want to move into the 21st century and have compelling worship.” Having discussed their desires for the new system, we asked them how large their tech team was. Although they have very dedicated volunteers, they only had a few and were unsure about throwing all this new technology at them in fear of overwhelming even the bravest of volunteers. Our solution was to put most of the control on an iPad and build a custom control interface that would allow them to perform complex tasks with the push of a preset button.

Having control of the projectors, prompter screen, house lights and stage lights from a clearly labeled touchscreen made the monumental task of using this new system feel more manageable. Of course, they had the ability to control every aspect of the system; new or entry-level users didn’t feel like they needed a masters’ degree if all they wanted to do was have a small event. Occasionally, it’s possible to give a client what they want and what they need, but it takes imagination and a deep understanding of their individual skills to accomplish both.

Equally important to helping a church understand their true technical needs is to help them find the system that fits within their budget. This can also mean telling them they are not ready to afford the system they need. Debating about whether to purchase the cheap wireless mic or the more expensive one is entirely missing the point. The real question is,”Do I need this mic to be wireless?” and, if so, “How important is it for this microphone to function reliably the way I want it to?”

If you have a team of background vocalist on stage standing behind mic stands, perhaps you should use wired microphones for far less investment. However, if this mic is for the preaching pastor to use on a Sunday morning, you may be better off investing in the better sounding and more reliable wireless option. Sometimes it’s necessary to explain that value is not determined by dollar amount but instead by the role any system plays. When addressing concerns about budget, it’s important to understand the “true cost” of the cheap option.

If two items appear to have the same functionality, but two different price tags, often the difference is reliability and/or sustainability. If item A costs 30% more than item B, you may feel like you saved money by purchasing the cheaper option. However, if item B breaks far sooner than item A, you have spent far more money because now you must purchase the item again.

Helping clients see when it’s important to invest and when they are wasting money on functionality they may not truly need is one of the core roles any AVL designer must play. In the end, an expert’s responsibility is to provide the system they need even when it isn’t the system they want. Everyone holds the responsibility to be good stewards of the church’s resources, and this isn’t a responsibility we take lightly.

Having completed the system design and integration within their timeframe as well as in their budget, this church now has a beautiful sanctuary that not only meets the needs of a growing church body but also feels like home. They are able to worship without the distraction of malfunctioning equipment or noisy audio and focus on the true reason they gather together on Sunday mornings.

Spire AVL Group

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