Published in April 2008

Striking A Balance
By Tony Warner, CTS-D
Design, integration and technology management must work together in today's churches.

The new contemporary church model characterized by the heavy use of technology and multimedia has provoked profound changes to such things as facility design, multimedia systems design and staffing requirements, to name just a few.

Church attendees have come to expect the same level of multimedia and quality on Sundays as they’re accustomed to throughout the week at home, school and work. This has resulted in technologies never before dreamed of in today’s worship centers. With synchronized media servers, in-ear monitoring, satellite uplink, high-definition IMAG and broadcast production, and complex digital signage, many of today’s progressive worship facilities now rival some of the most elaborate performing arts, broadcast and sports complexes.

This new requirement for versatility and functionality has brought with it the need for full-time staff member(s) maintaining those systems on a regular basis. A new breed of worship facilities technology managers has evolved in response. On the surface, one might question the need for such a position after the initial learning curve has subsided. But, upon closer inspection, one finds that these individuals often find themselves responsible for video post-production, stage preparation, slide production, digital mixer preparation, preparation of lighting scenes, technology support for events throughout the week, and maintenance of the complex systems throughout the facility. The nature of these responsibilities dictates individuals highly skilled in wide-reaching technologies.

Unfortunately, many churches view these staff members as free resources and a way to realize huge cost savings when new technology projects arise. Most churches, even after moving into a brand new facility, continue to expand and refine their use of technology, trying to keep step with the rapid developments in society. At times, these modifications are minor and make sense to be handled in-house. Other times, however, they can be extensive, and handling them in-house without involvement from outside professionals can be a costly misstep. The appeal of saving money upfront all too frequently overshadows any consideration of the drawbacks.

Many times, the in-house technology managers formerly worked in the professional integration industry and are highly capable individuals. In spite of this, they often lack the resources available to professional design and installation firms. These limited resources can include such things as manpower available for proper and safe installation, documentation capabilities, insurance to cover liability for installation and the knowledge of other building systems that may be impacted by modifications to the multimedia systems.

All too frequently, using the in-house approach results in systems designed and installed outside of industry best practices. Because the systems often perform at an acceptable level, the process is viewed as a success by the church’s decision makers, and the process is used again in the future. In reality, the financial gains generally are short term, with often-overlooked long-term consequences.

For instance, because the technology manager is the person who will be maintaining these systems after the installation, often less priority is given to proper cable management, cable labeling, future flexibility and system documentation. Because these elements don’t directly impact initial system performance, they are seen as nice to have—but unnecessary—expenses, and often go overlooked.

Tony Warner, CTS-D, is director of the Audio-Visual Design group for RTKL, a 60-year-old worldwide planning, architecture, design and creative services organization. He has worked on projects for such clients as the US State Department, the US House of Representatives, the National Institutes of Health and the US Naval Academy. Send comments to him at

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