By Ken McKibben On December 02, 2011
In the ’90s, the idea of integrating sound, video, and lighting systems in the
church market was basically non-existent. Some of the larger churches had
a basic video system, and the industry consisted mostly of sound contractors.
Needless to say, that story has changed.
As churches delved
deeper into presentation
technology, more and
more sound companies
across the country added
“& Video & Lighting” to
their corporate logos. Today, the church market has
become a driving force in the development of technology
in our industry. Like I said before, times have
The thing is, working with churches can be like
juggling flaming bowling balls on a unicycle. They
don’t generally do business like corporations. Their
organizational structures vary by religion and region.
Their decisions are often made by emotional creatures
who understand that they are spending God’s money
and are to be good stewards in the process.
Indeed, churches represent a most unique market
segment. Recognizing that fact can help integrators
better understand the motivations of churches and,
ultimately, better serve them. So what’s the trick?
Understand Your Customer
In order to understand how to better serve churches,
you have to first understand the church’s objectives
and purpose. While each denomination or rite differs
in a variety of ways, there are a few consistent ideas
that relate to what we do as integrators.
First and foremost, the church’s mission is to
share the Gospel. That means communicating a
message to people, and this is where we come in. The
technology provided by systems integrators should
enhance the church’s ability to deliver its message.
That is the primary objective, and should always be
at the forefront of an integrator’s mind while looking
for ways to solve problems.
Within churches, the committees that make
decisions are typically made up of volunteers. These
volunteers are often the most committed members of
the church who are giving up their personal time to
serve. They are typically very clear on their purpose
and can inherently sense the difference between a
person who “gets it” and a salesman.
The second key is to understand that Sunday
morning worship is not a performance in their eyes.
As worship has become more culturally relevant,
this distinction has become harder for outsiders to
recognize. For churchgoers, worship is an expression
of the recognition of God’s power and majesty, and
serves as an offering of praise for undeserved Grace
Treat that like it’s just another concert, and you
probably won’t like the results.
About 10 years ago, a worship pastor recounted an
experience to me that I will never forget. While the
church was interviewing companies for their project,
a local integrator set up a site visit at a nearby club
to demonstrate their prowess in the field
of sound reinforcement. The committee
packed into a church van and headed over
to the club. I asked him what he thought
of the system, and he responded that he
had no idea. Apparently, the over-zealous
salesman’s decision to blast Van Halen’s
“Runnin’ with the Devil” for the demo was
not a good one. As a result, the committee
removed that company from consideration.
While this is an extreme example, there
are numerous other ways that integrators
can send mixed signals. I don’t know how
many times I’ve looked at the website of an
integrator listing “houses of worship” as one
of its market niches and discovered a plethora
of strip clubs and casinos in the list of references.
Depending on the region and culture, this type of thing
may or may not be a big deal, but integrators should be
very aware of the total message that they are sending.
Talking about the uses of technology in worship is one
thing, but actions speak louder than words.
At the core, integrators should take a good look
at themselves from the perspective of churches. Try
to see what they see, and you will better understand
their needs. After all, the last thing you want to do
in the communication business is send mixed signals.
Ken McKibben oversees operations for MediaMerge, a systems
integration company specializing in design, installation,
service, and support for sound, video, and theatrical lighting
systems in churches.
Talk the Talk
Your choice of words can do damage
to your credibility. Every faith
has its own culture, and as a result,
its own vernacular. It’s the “worship
center” in one church, the “chapel”
in another, and the “sanctuary”
in another. Pastor, reverend, priest.
elder, deacon, trustee. Sermon, message,
homily. All of these possess
different meanings in different contexts,
and it is the integrator’s job to
do the appropriate homework and
understand these differences. Use the
wrong language, and you can be sure
that everyone on the committee will
recognize it immediately.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting
that integrators pretend to be
something that they are not. I’ve
found that people are quite gracious
when you simply ask them about the
proper protocol or take the time to
explain where you are coming from.
They are often excited that you are
making an effort to understand them
better. No matter what, just be sure
you are using the right words before
you open your mouth.
The best resource at your disposal
is the most obvious. Before
you meet with a church, spend some
time on their website. Almost every
church has a site, and almost every
site has an “About Us” section. Many
churches post their history and a
statement of faith. Some will include
a message from the pastor.
Even a quick read of these documents
should give a tremendous
amount of insight into church culture,
and the whole team will be
impressed that you’ve come prepared
to speak their language and share in