Five Questions to Ask BEFORE You Invest
by Matt McKay, Founder House Right
For years I’ve walked in to churches and internally thought “I wish I could have met these guys before they invested in that.” We’ve all made a purchase and had buyer’s remorse, right? The car that was a lemon, or that pair of shoes that didn’t improve the jump shot.
In church production land, the investment sometimes is quite large, and many times is a five-year or ten-year mistake. Short term buyer’s remorse might turn in to a decade long headache.
So here are five questions to ask BEFORE you make that investment:
1. Is this an investment in OUR vision?
This is crucial, because from where I’m embedded, it’s the mission.
I’ve walked into a number of places where people have built to someone else’s vision and it has limited their growth – they have over-built, they have under-built, they have built around an artificial constraint that proved not to be real.
In a lot of these cases, leaders at these churches had at some point along the way released the implementation of the vision for their church to others, others that didn’t ask or know to ask what implementing that particular church’s vision should look like.
I’m sure that most of you have a pretty good handle on what God’s Unique Thumbprint looks like for your church.
But does your vision have a number on it?
“Reach the world for Jesus” is more of a slogan than it is a vision without a plan to get there. Slogans are great, but a vision will take a right-sized investment every time.
2. Is this an investment in some OTHER CHURCH’S vision?
Are you the guy that comes back from a conference and immediately tells your staff what you just saw, wondering if you can do that too? I’ll admit to being that guy.
I don’t want to say you shouldn’t do that. We should all shy away from constantly reinventing the wheel. But if you sense this has become a negative driver in really leaning in to what it is that God has for your church, then start to pay more attention to your own instincts or your own creativity.
Let me give you a couple examples where I’ve seen churches make this mistake as it relates to building design or AVL systems.
Sometimes geometry and science will tell you that line arrays just don’t make sense in a particular room. People have admitted to me they installed them because of the way they looked.
Some teachers just aren’t Andy Stanley. Having a display beside the teacher doesn’t always make sense, especially if your teacher likes to roam about or if the content on the display doesn’t look good.
Architectural Projection (using projected images on your walls to create an immersive experience) can be a powerful visual, but if your team is not suited to continually develop fresh content, this can become a high-priced albatross and a technological sacred cow.
LED walls are great, but you can many times have an equally stunning image by using traditional projectors.
And while we’re talking about LED walls, this is a really good example of where you can spend a lot money on certain brands and really get yourself in trouble. Tread cautiously here, especially if you’re vision is to use the wall as a backdrop for the teacher on camera for a multisite effort or for web streaming. There are lots of churches that are on multiple iterations of buying expensive LED walls where they haven’t paid enough attention to what that wall will look like on camera.
3. Is this just an investment in a SALES GUY’S vision?
I was recently at a church where a new Technical Director had come on staff within a couple years after the church had built a new building. The church had a very healthy project budget and had spent more money than they ever had on technology in their history. However, my friend was lamenting how hard it was to recruit volunteers into the FOH audio role because his predecessor had made the decision to buy a console that was totally ill suited for their environment. Their team was essentially trying to mix a high energy, typical six-piece worship band on a touch screen without a fader-based console. It turns out, the sales guy for a nationally known AVL company had approached the lead decision maker about “getting a deal” offered by a particular manufacturer. It wasn’t a good solution for this church but the AVL company did get a really nice story printed about them in a trade magazine.
4. Is this just an investment in an ARCHITECT’S vision?
It probably goes without saying that most growing churches at some point along the way are confronted with space issues. Growth is probably a key outshoot of the vision, right?
So, I actually do like architects and even pretend to be one sometimes. But please don’t let an architect define your vision, and make no mistake, there are a lot of them that will try even if unintentionally. Architects have great power to help you achieve your vision or to set you back years in being able to implement your vision. And maybe rather than singling out “architects” maybe I should say the “architectural process” can be a journey where I’ve seen churches get side tracked, both from a financial standpoint and a functional standpoint.
Many architects have a hard time understanding what actually makes the modern church work well. It’s a lot easier to create great sounding rooms or rooms that work well visually if that aspect of your vision is not overlooked.
Many architects’ only instinct or focus is to “mitigate risk” rather than “design a space that people would want to invite a neighbor”. You gotta have both. Don’t settle for “design by rectangle” even if your overall budgets are small. Décor and design elements for your space should match something about who you are and don’t have to translate into being expensive.
5.Is this just an investment in the TECH GUY’S vision?
I run the risk here of making some friends angry here, but sometimes your technical staff doesn’t have the full picture of your vision and could lead you astray. I’m going to pick on myself first for this one.
Before the onset of the digital audio and video revolution, I was an over eager young staff guy who thought it would be great to create a room that was so flexible there’d be nothing that couldn’t be attempted. At the same time, conversations were taking place in my church about simplifying our weekly programming in order for us to embrace a multisite growth model. The result was an over engineered system that, even though we hit our budget target, had too much investment in infrastructure that largely went unused because our programming needs shifted. Three months later I really wished we had spent our dollars differently.
I was at another church recently where the Technical Directorpushed for the installation of an extremely expensive system where he would be the only one to benefit. Nobody in the seats would have known it was there and none of his volunteers would have been better for it. It turned out that the real reason he wanted to include this in the design was essentially for job security and to feed his general personal insecurity. I learned later that this TD would frequently complain about being over-worked and under-appreciated. It never dawned on the guy to develop a volunteer team even though this was completely in line with the church’s stated vision of empowering people to serve in their church.
All that said…
…Before you invest in the gear, invest in the team
Make sure you buy equipment that is appropriate for your level of staffing and volunteer capability. I try to encourage churches on every project to find ways to get their staff and volunteers involved in the installation of their system. This is not because it is easier for us. But it’s rooted in a firm belief that our volunteer teams are actually the life blood of technical production ministries. And as a result, they need to be invested in.
And this doesn’t mean that you just buy a lot of pizza, although that helps. Staff and volunteers need to be trained, need to be empowered, and need to be given the tools they need to succeed. Let’s NOT be giving them tools that due to intimidation are likely to cause them to quit.
Use the opportunity of your next project to let the installation be a catalytic event to build your teams, both numerically and in their skill sets. Be wary of the process that won’t let your volunteers be a part of the installation. From personal experience this can be hugely beneficial.
How are your production staff and/or volunteers being developed? How do you know?
Let’s invest wisely.