I had the opportunity and privilege to sit on an “Ask the Experts Panel” at the 2021 Church Facilities Conference & Expo (CFX 2021) this past September. There were great questions that came from the audience. This article focuses on one of the questions asked during the panel discussion, which also included Donnie Haulk of AE Global Media, Stephen Ellison of The Light Source, and Karl Winkler of Lectrosonics.
The first question asked was how do church tech leaders and pastors go about finding reputable consultants and integrators.
This was an awesome and extremely relevant question as I have heard repeatedly from churches that have had a bad experience from so-called consultants. The story usually goes that the church finds someone to help them upgrade their gear, and once the upgrade is done, they are never heard from again and are unreachable—which means the church is up a creek with no support. So, how do you avoid this?
Get Educated and Connected Through Conferences & Trade Shows
The first answer, provided by Donnie Haulk and seconded by Stephen Ellison, is to attend conferences like CFX and trade shows like LDI, NAB and InfoComm, which are often attended by the quality integrators and consultants you are looking for. True professionals invest in their ongoing education and knowledge by attending these trade shows to see what the new trends are, what new equipment is coming to market and to learn about how they can design more functional systems that are easier to use and have long life and reliability.
These shows also provide the opportunity to network and build or further develop relationships with equipment manufacturers and service providers that these professionals can call in when they or a client runs into an issue. This “in the field” type of support is critical, and that relationship is often handed off to the church to ensure they are not left high and dry when something goes wrong. True professionals also understand that things will go wrong and won’t just hope that they don’t. Many times, the integrator is not local to the church, and being able to call or refer support calls to the manufacturer helps to maintain the client relationship, but also ensures the church gets the help they need when they need it.
These professionals often give presentations and talks at these events to help bridge the knowledge gap that often exists with church volunteers and tech staff. The audiovisual industry is always changing, and trying to keep up is exhausting, especially if AV is not your paid job. Integrators and consultants understand this, and that is why they invest so heavily in keeping themselves educated and current.
Go to the Manufacturer to Find the Right Integrator
Karl Winkler suggested that contacting equipment manufacturers who have built relationships with distributors, dealers, and integrators for their gear can help you find the right integrator or consultant. While this approach does require you doing a little research to learn about the manufacturers who make the kind of equipment you need, it’s also a great way to use their network of contacts to your advantage.
They often have already sifted through the chaff to find those companies that provide the after-sale support, who truly understand the systems they sell and install, and who have the staying power in an industry that is fraught with posers.
Utilize Social Media & Referrals
My answer was to utilize social media, to look in trade magazines such as Technologies for Worship, and to also not be afraid to look in your local area to find a church or churches that are doing what you would like to do. The caution with these avenues is not to assume that by mimicking or copying someone else’s system you will achieve the same results. It’s extremely important to learn what you can, but not take a “cookie cutter” approach. Your church has its own unique characteristics, and you must take those into account. Things like architecture, acoustics, seating style, seating layout, stage size, stage layout, structural components, etc. are all likely very different between two churches, and this is why working with a professional will ensure you get the system you need, while also providing you with the long-lasting support your church will need as your technical needs and utilization changes.
There are groups on social media platforms that offer support from both church techs and integrators that can help you in a moment of crisis or to give troubleshooting tips. However, it’s important to understand that when you take this approach, you must provide as much detail about your setup as possible as there are many, many variables in any AV system. It can take a long time to explain all those details when a call to your integrator would have likely helped you in a much more efficient manner.
The final point I will make is that if you are in a rural part of the country, you can likely expect that there will be a cost to working with an integrator; however, they can likely justify their costs by saving you money on equipment purchases that will cost you much less than finding a source yourself. Included in their costs are long-term support, industry connections, a knowledge of how all your equipment connects, and a genuine interest in setting you up to succeed. Of course, you need to do your due diligence: check their reviews, see if they offer testimonials on their website or social media pages, and don’t be afraid to contact any clients they list publicly to get an idea of what their experience was like. It does take some time and effort, but the benefits pay long dividends and can provide that safety net of knowledge, experience and long-term support that help you feel confident in moving forward with your AV ministry.