House Of Worship

Pitch, Plan And Execute Part 2

HOWs: Vision and needs determination, and more.

Editor’s Note: This is the second of three parts developed to provide insight for church staff members and/or committees, and contractors/integrators. The first part (April) discussed how to identify and properly communicate with HOW decision makers, whether individuals, pastors or committees. This time, the author details the vision and needs determination, the design process and how to properly document these very important concepts. He also addresses some construction factors to be considered in these projects, and some of the expectations regarding the financial aspects of HOW projects.

The integrator should always present the church with a Contract Document that clearly describes what he intends to provide. If the project is relatively simple, a short contract might suffice. (An example might be replacing a mixer. A simple contract stating the specs of the new mixer and associated costs might be enough.) But a more detailed and specific contract will be appropriate for many church projects.

Clear Communication
Developing clear communication between the church and the integrator is crucial to a successful project. Most integrators understand that this process requires education; few HOW clients really understand this. Although some know what they want, many don’t even know the right questions to ask. Worse yet, some even “expect” the integrator to know what they want. “We want a new sound system. Tell us what we need.” Such ill-defined expectations are a recipe for disaster.

The best way to gather information is to have a formal meeting, often referred to as a Programming Meeting or a Needs Analysis Meeting, to discuss the technical systems of the project. On a major installation (i.e., renovation or new building), the architect or builder might have already had a Programming Meeting. If so, that would have been focused on the overall building.

Few architects or builders know or understand the full requirements for sound, lighting or video systems. So, unless your contract is with the architect or builder (a less advantageous situation), the integrator should not count on directions or information from them. It is much safer to work directly with the church leaders to develop a proper understanding of the facility’s needs and wants.

It should be noted that, even if the contract is directly with the architect or builder, a Programming Meeting with church representatives should occur. This meeting can serve to build a good relationship with the architect and builder, by emphasizing your desire to work together as a team, as well as help everyone understand the process.

This Programming Meeting should be single purposed; i.e., no other project subjects, such as parking, landscaping, etc., should be on the agenda. Lead the church to focus on the technical systems and their requirements.

Record this meeting. Take notes, yes. But do not depend on others to record the meeting; when needed, their recording may or may not be available. Or, when available, you might get only an edited version. Have your recording transcribed for your job file. Then, if any questions arise regarding a specific subject, you can produce a transcript or copy of the recording.

This will be difficult but, as the meeting progresses, avoid all conversation about budgets until the time recommended in our discussion later. Depending on circumstances, broad estimates (i.e., $100 to $300 per seat, etc.) might be given, referring to more budget discussions later.

It should be noted here that general programming discussions as addressed thus far are necessary for most projects, and can be gathered without more formal Programming Sessions. These more detailed discussions are more often a specific part of an independent consultant’s efforts…efforts for which they will be paid.

If an independent consultant is not involved in the project and the integrator provides this service, it would be appropriate for the integrator to be compensated for this effort. In some cases, depending on the integrator’s relationship with the client and/or the estimated size of the project, the integrator might simply request a Letter of Intent and a retainer for the programming services, based on a mutual understanding that he will also be contracted for the install services.

The programming effort should ideally occur in at least two distinct and separate sessions.

Programming Session 1
Session 1 should be an open time of general discussion. The integrator should request attendance of anyone involved in the technical ministries (music, staging, sound, lighting, video, graphics, etc.), all members of the building committee and (to the degree that the committee will allow) other interested parties. Also remember to involve people from different age groups. Although the young people might be more familiar with the “tools” available, the “older” members have years of wisdom from which to draw.

The primary mistake made when developing the needs analysis for any size HOW installation is not having the right people available to provide information. This cannot be overstated! In far too many projects, design changes are requested to meet a specific need that was never discussed. In such cases, it is completely reasonable to expect the consultant and/or integrator be compensated for these changes.

As the meeting progresses, allow the church officials the time to define their needs or expectations. Do not lead the discussion: Simply guide them. Let them talk. This process takes time; time well spent toward a successful project.

Consider this session a “Dream Time.” Church personnel should talk about everything they eventually want in the technical systems: in the first year, in three years and in the future. Understanding that many or even most of these “dreams” will not be affordable in the first construction phase of the job; they still are part of the vision of the church.

Verbalizing these items or concepts will allow the integrator to discuss what is necessary now to make that part of the dream happen in the future.

If possible, use a large white board and list each item topic (not details) discussed under one of three columns: Current Plan, 3-Year Plan and Possible Future Plan. Refer to the board when discussing the relationship of all the items discussed. This helps those present develop an understanding of the priorities being “agreed upon” during the discussion.

After this first session, many of those involved might not choose (or not be asked) to be present for the second session.

Programming Session 2
During Session 2 of the Programming Meeting, discussions will focus on what must be done. It is important that the architect and builder be present, along with the committee and staff. If department heads or others are present, that might be helpful.

The structure of Session 2 should be in three parts:
Part 2a, Vision Musts: The integrator should identify specific aspects and or technologies of the vision that the church needs to (or must) implement during this construction phase of the project to accomplish the overall vision. Likewise, during this time, other capabilities or technologies will be defined as “future” and therefore postponed to a later phase.

Part 2b, Infrastructure: During Part 2b, it is particularly important for the integrator to clearly identify the infrstructure required to accomplish the vision discussed in Session 1. Important subjects for discussion during Part 2b would include, but are not be limited to:

  • Layout: locations and amounts of space required where components will be located
  • Structural support: how elements (speakers, screens, etc.) are installed safely (hanging points, general sizes or weight loads, etc.)
  • Electrical power: necessary for each of the systems and the importance of the phase relationship
  • Conduit: amount and types of pathways from point to point
  • Access: ability to get to components for both installation and service.

Part 2c, Budgets & Payments: The available budgets must be discussed based on the decisions made previously, and project spending prioritized. Not knowing what expectations really cost is an all too common mistake made by churches. Few church members really understand the complexity of these systems; even fewer understand the cost. The integrator must educate the church on the costs, not just quote prices.

The integrator should lead the church officials to decide exactly what they want to have installed in the first building phase. Help them stay focused and make correct decisions based on the overall goals established in the first session and supportable by the infrastructure agreed upon. It is helpful to discuss the advantages of preparation for future growth in terms of money saved over the life of the building. Sometimes it is helpful to offer a parallel example that they can easily understand.

A parallel example might be the requirement for a wall-mounted power receptacle. During the bid process, explain that an electrical contractor will take an overall count of receptacles and then estimate the cost of these individual items at a low amount, say $3.00 to $5.00 per outlet. He is looking at a raw, unfinished building, with easy access for installation coupled with the opportunity to buy in bulk for the overall project. However, after construction, to come back and add even one receptacle easily can cost $200 or more because of the “finished” items that will have to be rearranged or replaced…if it can even be done. (There are some power-load and building code reasons a single receptacle might not be able to be added.)

Often during budget discussions, the subject of reuse of current equipment arises. In today’s fast-paced world of technology, this is often counterproductive to the goals of the project; specifically for the long term.

Another subject that arises is the “advantage” of buying online or from a box house that sells only components, offering no installation or onsite services. Technical systems are just that: systems. All too often, a church will try to evaluate costs by comparing with internet or retail options. This might work acceptably for individual purchases, but not systems.

A professional designer will consider each component in light of the other components within the overall system, as well as complying with local building codes and other life safety issues. And a professional integrator/installer is not only responsible for the components; he will often be responsible for training church personnel and servicing the system.

Many churches have experienced major issues where components were purchased independently. Bluntly, why should any integrator want to install a component handed to him, and then go through the “fault-finding” process if it fails to perform? In such cases, the church has little recourse except to pay for repair or replacement.

Likewise, churches should carefully consider the use of “in-house” or “brother-in-law” labor. There is much to be said in favor of having a qualified professional company on the project. If something goes wrong, it is much easier to complain to (or about) an unassociated contractor, as opposed to a friend or church member.

The integrator is there to lead church officials in making an informed buying decision, not to pressure them. Clearly define the difference between buying cheap vs. buying smart. And openly discuss payment schedules. The church personnel need to know what to expect in progressive payments, and the integrator must know how much (%) the church intends to hold until the project is complete.

The Programming Document
Development of a proper and thorough Programming Document identifying subjects discussed and formalizing priorities takes a considerable amount of time on the part of the church, as well as the contractor. However, proper investment of this time can yield a much more successful overall project.

There are many forms of Programming Documents, such as:
Opening: Meeting Format Description: Provide a general overview of the purpose for the meeting and that there were multiple sessions. List the names of everyone in attendance in each session. The reason for using names is to show the church that you recognize that the information came from them, and to allow them to remember who was there and take “ownership” of their comments.

  • Section 1: Vision Identification: Simply speaking, use this section to state your understanding of the church’s vision. Do not offer any comments regarding your preferences or opinions. Repeat back to them what you heard them tell you about what they want. 
  • Section 2: Project Priorities & System(s) Description: This section of the document is the most important. Discuss exactly what was decided by the church as priorities for the overall project. Then, list each system individually, describing those capabilities decided upon by the church. Remember, your end product will ultimately be “judged” by how closely it matches these descriptions. Therefore, it will be important to provide, along with the descriptions of the systems, general statements about how the church will be involved in the development of the systems and that some changes might be made accordingly.
  • If, during the design or installation process, decisions are made or instructions are given that take away from items or capabilities specifically identified in the programming document, it will be very important to notify the church in writing of this situation. The integrator should tell the church that this is different from the Programming Document, and identify the impact (pro or con) that likely will result. Again, at the end of the project, the contractor will be judged by how closely the end product follows the programming (contract) document.

Infrastructure Descriptions

  • Section 3: Infrastructure Descriptions: As just stated, few in the average church understand the complexity of these systems; likewise, the infrastructure. Describe again the various infrastructure elements, such as conduit, power, space allocation, access, etc., that are to be installed. Extremely Important: Clearly define who has the responsibility for the installation of each element of the infrastructure. A few example statements might be as follows:

A: Conduit necessary for these systems will include x, x, x, and will be installed by the general contractor or electrical subcontractor as part of their contract.
B: The structural steel for these systems will include x, x, x, from which the screen, lights, speakers, projector, etc., will be supported, and will be installed by the general contractor or its subcontractor as part of its contract.
C: Loudspeakers and other visible audio and video equipment, as applicable, will be provided by the AV integrator as part of its contract, and painted to match the architect’s or church’s selected colors by the general contractor or its painting subcontractor as part of its contract.
D: The control spaces and associated millwork for the x, x, x systems will be fabricated by the general contractor or the project trim carpenter/subcontractor as part of their contract.

  • Section 4: Budget Definitions: Documentation about the project technical systems BASE budgets should include a brief identification of specific items to be installed. A second part of the budget documentation should identify other items or components discussed, but identified for future installation. This second part keeps these “future” ideas on their mind; maybe to be included as “Add-Alternates” and, more specifically, makes the church aware of elements that are not to be included.
  • Section 5: Time: Due to most churches’ inexperience with a major building project, it is important to identify for them the time constraints involved with their tasks. When doing so, integrators should address timelines necessary to work around any interruptions that might arise. An example could be stipulations regarding any scheduled events, such as weddings (to be notified X number of days in advance and/or compensated for the interruption), or for unforeseen events such as funerals (again, “interruption days” to be compensated for accordingly). 
  • [As an independent consultant hired to read through various contracts between systems integrators and churches, I was often impressed with those contractors that clearly identified the time necessary to complete their work. Sometimes this was shown by tasks (hang loudspeakers = 14 working days), but it was more often shown as overall install weeks or days.]
  • Section 6: Acceptance: The Programming Document represents the integrator’s understanding of the church’s expectations. It will become the “heart” of the Contract for Services to follow. To assure that all parties understand the importance of this work, the document should close with a formal Acceptance Section for the church to sign. Additionally, a legally binding Statement of Confidentiality should be a part of the Acceptance Section:

IMPORTANT Comment to Churches: The Programming Document will detail the desires and expectations of the church. However, that document is the work of the providing contractor or consultant, and therefore it should NEVER be copied, summarized or any way offered to any other contractor or bidding agent for review.

Almost every contractor has had the experience where a church took one of its programming documents, proposals or even its contract and then used it to collect prices from other, competing contractors. Such action shows that the church does not respect the contractor’s effort to take the time necessary to understand the church’s needs and then build the document for the church.

Using a contractor’s document in this fashion is equally as unethical on the part of a church as that of a contractor that does not provide the services of its contract. Both are wrong.

This second installment of the three-part series, “Pitch, Plan And Execute,” not only covers what a contractor should know about working with houses of worship, but has also provided insight for church staff members and/or committees regarding what to expect from contractors/integrators. In our conclusion next month, we will tie these aspects of the project into the actual construction process and discuss ways to communicate that promote understanding and trust. We will also address options, should the process not go as planned.

R Bob Adams, International Director, SLS Audio, has more than 30 years of experience in architectural acoustics, lighting, video and sound reinforcement system design, installation, operation and training. He has written for many publications, and is featured in Crown International’s video for operators, Live Sound! for Houses of Worship. Additionally, Adams has given hundreds of seminars for organizations such as InfoComm International, NSCA, Acoustical Society of America, the Baptist General Convention of Texas and National Conference of Church Musicians, in the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Germany, Korea, Australia, New Zealand, China, Malaysia and Singapore. You can find more information at

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Sound & Communications: March 2021 Digital Edition
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