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 changed.
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 and Salvation.
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 their vision.