Four seasoned church technical directors list the top criteria they look for in choosing a dealer, contractor or consultant to partner with on AVL projects and upgrades. If you can meet these criteria, the job just may be yours.
One of the most important decisions a church technical team may make all year long involves who to partner with on their next AVL design, installation or upgrade. The ramifications of their choice will be seen, heard, and felt to the core by staff and worship attendees alike. Here, four veteran technical directors share their insights into what they look for. Consider that selecting the right contractor relationship is oftentimes more important to them than the gear they pick. Because, if they choose well, this tight-knit relationship can continue long after the gear needs replacement.
Church Designer spoke with Brian Poole, director of live production technologies at Elevation Church in Charlotte, N.C.; Sean McDermott, production manager with LCBC Church outside metro Philadelphia; Steven Cobb, CTS-D/I, AV systems director with Oak Hills Church in San Antonio; and Tim Flowers, worship pastor with Watermark Church in Ashford, Ala. Here, they provide five vital considerations in the contractor selection process.1-Experience
This top reason cited sounds like a no-brainer, but the thinking behind it can hold the key to project success for a church. Our experts say it’s not just church specification, installation and integration experience that you want your selected vendor to have, it’s a broad range of experience outside the realm of the church.
As Poole puts it, “I look for partners with a wide array of experience—generally ones with a touring/live production arm that are actually using gear and interfacing with industry professionals on a regular basis. This allows them a different perspective that they can bring to the table as we work together to design systems that will work for us now and into the future.”
Broad experience leads to competency for Cobb. “AV technology is far more complex than it used to be. A company that means to do well but does not have a good grasp on current AV technology will end up designing and installing a system that may not meet your needs, or that is based on outdated methodologies or components.”
Hope Community Church, Raleigh, NC
Flowers, whose Watermark Church is on the smaller side of those we interviewed, has some excellent advice for any sized church to consider when selecting from vendors—even those vendors that have a reputation in your area of working with churches. “Take a look at what they have done in the past. Is it close to what you are looking for?” he asks. For instance, “Don’t expect a company that specializes in cathedral installs to give you what you need for a modern worship [space].”2-Chemistry
Some refer to this as “responsiveness” or “ability to listen,” but McDermott calls it plain old chemistry. Does the church's staff enjoy working with the integrator’s staff?
“In some ways, when you bring an integrator on to a project, it’s similar to bringing them on staff. You will be in long meetings, sharing varying opinions, making hard choices. You aren’t looking for a pushover, but someone who you get along with, enjoy being around, and can come to the best decision [with] for your organization,” he states.
“In some ways, when you bring an integrator on to a project, it’s similar to bringing them on staff. You will be in long meetings, sharing varying opinions, making hard choices.... "
—Sean McDermott, Production Manager, LCBC Church, Philadelphia, PA
Poole values the give-and-take element that’s present in a relationship that has good chemistry. “The key factor for me is the AVL partner’s ability to shelve their preferences and listen to my needs, past experiences and biases.”
He adds, “If they can put their sales pitch aside long enough to hear me out and take our unique needs into consideration, then there’s a good chance we can work together [well].”
Along with the attraction, there must be trust … an all’s well feeling in your gut. “Trust is the cornerstone of any relationship,” Cobb states. “Through the course of an AV project there will be mistakes made by both the client and the installer, and trust will help navigate these issues.”3-Adaptability
Church staff wants to be confident that the chosen vendor partner for a new project or upgrade can handle change and go with the flow. Flowers offers this: “When building or renovating, things come up … plans change due to building codes, structural changes, and even budgetary constraints. Do they have a backup plan? Will they work [with] you? Check with their past clients and references for this.”
Another important question that Flowers asks is, “Are they willing to help you with the items that they don’t sell?” If so, their flexibility factor is likely high, and that will serve you well.
Be prepared, our tech experts say, there is one thing that every single project has in common: Nothing will go exactly as planned. “How well a company can adapt will make a huge difference in the quality of your experience,” Cobb notes.4-Budget-Consciousness
Restraint is the key word here. Stewardship of funds is something that both tech team staff and their chosen AVL partners must hold as sacrosanct. As Poole puts it, “When designing a system with the funds that people have trusted us to steward we have to set aside [our biases and preferences] and examine why we are selecting each piece [of] gear and make sure it's the right tool to carry us into the future.” And that means that your chosen AVL partner will have to be capable of setting aside their biases and preferences for the overall project good, as well. Choose vendors who will understand and be supportive of your need to adhere to the budget.
On the other hand, wherever the topic of money comes into play, the subject of quality should also be present, according to McDermott. A church’s chosen AVL design, installation or integration professional will be invaluable here. “Conversations with our integrator are huge in determining what type of gear we purchase,” he says. “They bring in a wealth of knowledge on how certain manufacturer’s gear holds up and how well their service department responds to issues.”
McDermott also offers this absolutely invaluable nugget on money. “One practical piece of advice: never, ever, ever finish paying for a project until it is complete. Whether you hold onto the final 10% or 20%, there should be wording in your contracts that final payment will come at agreed upon completion of the project. This usually provides the needed motivation for your integrator to sort out the remaining punch-list items and satisfy their end of the agreement.”5-User Training Presence
A vendor or manufacturer who stands behind their products and services will provide thorough and ongoing training for a church’s technical staff.
“We really like companies who offer comprehensive end user training,” Cobb concurs. “This goes beyond the basic training during the installation process. If a manufacturer [or vendor] offers end user courses, certifications, or classes, then we believe that they are committed to creating educated customers and are committed to long-term support.”
Flowers notes that AVL vendor training opportunities are especially critical for smaller churches. “Having good equipment [that] no one knows how to use doesn’t help much,” he closes. “Training will be key.”