in April 2005
By David Lee Jr.
A refresher course in business and communication
This year, Sound
& Communications presented the 8th Annual Worship
Center Survey [see March issue]. Over the past several years,
these surveys have indicated that there is a growing number
of churches investing in new or upgraded multimedia systems.
The “good news” for contractors, consultants
and integrators is that many religious leaders have “seen
the light” and are eager to use new communication
technologies in their local churches. After meeting face-to-face
with more than 200 church leaders in the past few months,
I found that the motivating factor for these upgrades is
simple: They are beginning to understand that the 21st century
churchgoer values a high-tech and often high-priced multimedia
experience. Unfortunately, the not-so-good news is that
many of these church leaders stated that the media contractors
they have met with presented their wares much like a car
salesman and left them with the sense that they only cared
about making a sale.
While working to salvage the reputation
of my colleagues, I have shared with many church leaders
that the majority of contractors in our industry understand
the need to do a credible job for their clients. Regardless,
the candid comments of these church leaders suggest that
there is a perception problem that has created a divide
between the church leader and the media contractor. The
task then is to build a bridge across this divide. My experience
suggests that at least three essential tools are needed:
• Significant knowledge of the industry.
• Credible business ethics.
• The ability to listen, develop and cultivate genuine
relationships with church leaders.
Before I go on, let me explain how I
can make these claims. I am a licensed minister, an academic
and have worked as a systems integrator for 25 years. I
have designed and installed small to extremely large, complex
systems on five continents. During this time, I have observed
both the good and the bad on both sides of the divide.
On the industry’s side, we all
know some who deserve the car salesman caricature. On the
other side, we all have met with church leaders who fall
short of living the model the church espouses. It’s
quite a view from the bridge between these two vastly separate
worlds. But, we certainly need each other to address the
multimedia needs currently emerging in the local church.
Looking at the opportunity of reaching
church clients, I think many of us can benefit from a quick
refresher course that profiles this unique sector of the
market and how we can bridge this virtual gap. First of
all, most church leaders have studied the Bible and are
trained to communicate the teachings of God. Thus, they
are not necessarily coming to the table ready for money-minded
banter. In spite of this, they face countless big business
decisions in the midst of a major building program. From
my experience, the grueling schedule of meetings fraught
with unfamiliar jargon nearly overwhelms many of them, causing
them to question their trust of almost everyone involved
in the process.
For example, most of you know that church
leaders in building programs must encounter the numerous
government agencies that demand money for countless reasons,
some of them silly enough to seem newsworthy (I’d
love to tell you about the $50,000 a church had to spend
to relocate a family of frogs). Then there are the demands
of building contractors who need bigger budgets, the congregants
wanting faster results and somewhere in line there we are,
the media integrators needing whatever it is we need, now!
The best thing we can do for them in the midst of this chaos
is to become a credible, sincere source that is interested
in listening. And if possible, just maybe be their friend—not
only across the bridge, but across the negotiating table.
This simple recipe has kept me busy for
many years, and I am blessed with contracts for many years
to come. I add here that many of you have far more technical
knowledge than I have; you are brilliant. I know this because
I am in contact with many church leaders who tell me about
the consultations they have received from some of you.
On the other hand, I often get paid to
interpret designs and equipment lists that you have submitted
to them because you didn’t. Nor did you spend much
time getting to know them as people. Because of this, and
with all things being relatively equal, I was awarded some
of these projects on the merits that I took extra time to
cultivate a credible relationship that garnered their trust.
I hope you will receive this as simply a return to the basics
and not deconstructive criticism.
Thus, recognizing that the local church
needs your help, I offer here a simple list for you to consider
as you plan your next meeting with the leaders of a church:
• Anonymously attend at least one of their church
services and develop a sense of their needs in their current
or new facility. At your “covert op,” try to
get a sense of the pastor’s personality and identify
other important staff leaders. (Hint: Read their literature.)
• Check the mirror: Your company representative should
be patient, confident, well-spoken, and neatly dressed and
groomed. The odor of cigarettes or being seen smoking on
church property likely will lead to non-consideration of
your company (the “no-go” list also includes
alcohol and even bad breath).
• Creatively share past accomplishments, but also
work hard to assure them you are there to listen to them
and help them accomplish their goals.
• Explain in simple terms the technologies you recommend
based on the skill level of their operators, while offering
room for growth.
• Avoid fine print. Explain in clear terms any agreements
that may be reached. And don’t make any promises you
• If you provide training, make sure the trainer “checks
the mirror” (see bullet item #2). It is in your interest
to adequately teach the client to use the technology.
• Finally, make follow up contact within 24 hours
of your meeting, with a letter and a phone call to the pastor
or leader. Let him know you are available almost any time
to address questions and concerns. And, respond to any inquiries
the same day you receive them.
This is an obvious communication and
business ethics “101” list that could apply
to nearly any sector of the market. However, it clearly
addresses the needs of the growing church market. Drawn
from my experience, I say again that church leaders can
be a difficult group. I can also say they can be a loyal
group. If you win their trust, they are likely to seek your
help to resolve not only their immediate needs, but also
their long-term goals.
David Lee, PhD, is CEO of Lee Communication Inc. and travels
extensively around the world consulting with churches, organizations
and governments. Send any comments to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.