Every church struggles with paying for and keeping its technology current. Some leaders see it as frivolous while others just see it as being too expensive. Yet, our technology (or lack thereof) often shapes the perception of the church by visitors and members.
Poor lighting, bad sound, an outdated website or a dim screen can create a negative impression that either the church doesn't care or is in financial straits. Experiences send a loud message, especially as a growing number of people have no interaction with a faith community.
What message do we send if our church still uses large CRT televisions on a cart? What happens when a guest speaker can't connect a computer to display to the screen or can't get the DVD player to work?
Technology can be used to create more meaningful worship experiences and more engaging children's church. It can serve as a bridge with your community as you provide a space for meetings and connection. Church leaders need to be intentional in how technology is applied, creating an investment strategy that's as important as the one for the building and other property.
Implement this seven-step process to develop, implement and maintain a technology plan to support your church.
Conduct an inventory of technology assets. Start by walking through your church room by room, noting your current technology. List when each key item was purchased. Don't worry about the original purchase price as the cost of technology decreases over time.
Plan for new technology to support the mission of the church. Cast a vision for your future! Brainstorm the needs of the church, and start your wish list. For example, is it time to replace old televisions with mounted flat screens in each of the children's education rooms? Can you upgrade the technology of the fellowship hall to encourage community groups to hold meetings at your location?
Here are special details to consider:
Screen and projector sizes: Keep the room size and seating layout in mind. The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers recommends a standard screen viewing angle of 30 degrees. The ProjectorScreen website provides a calculator to determine the right screen size for your sanctuary or room. (Use a 16:9 projector layout in your calculations.)
Youth and children's rooms: Avoid the temptation to use leftover/hand-me-down technology in the rooms used by youth and children. Invest in the children and youth areas before improving the adult Sunday school areas.
Wi-Fi: People expect it in every community space, including church. Get expert help or your local internet company to assess your needs and provide a plan. Consumer Wi-Fi routers will be insufficient for a network load, so plan to upgrade.
Meeting spaces: Turn your fellowship hall into a multi-use space by adding a projector, retractable screen, wireless microphone and speaker system. It may cost more in the short term but can pay huge dividends in flexibility when using the church.
Printer and copiers: In this instance, we're referring to the major workhorses of the church and not necessarily the desktop printer on the pastor's desk. This can be a major expense for the church and should be specifically sent out for bid to multiple suppliers. Take your time and do the research before committing to a buy or lease strategy.
Mac, PC or ChromeBook: Start with a needs assessment of the staff and how they'll use computers on a daily and weekly basis. Next, assess what software or applications they'll use. Only then should you ask what type of computer needs to be purchased. Too many times, churches are blinded by preference vs. need and may spend more than what's required.
As an example, a church treasurer may need to access giving software to enter the offering and generate reports on a quarterly basis. This person may only need a ChromeBook to access the giving software in the cloud. Your pastor may not need a 15" MacBook Pro with 16GB of RAM and a 2TB drive unless they are building videos and click tracks — a series of audio cues used to synchronize sound recording — for worship. Use common sense to be a good steward of God's resources.
Calculate the average lifecycle to determine when each item needs to be replaced. The moment the church installs a new piece of technology, it needs to start saving to replace it. Technology requires maintenance, becomes outdated and ultimately wears out. Churches must take a long term outlook on these elements, just as you would for a roof or a furnace.
As an example, according to Projector Central, a projector generally has a lifespan of 2,000 hours. Think about the average length of time your church uses the projector per week and then calculate the usage per year. This doesn't mean that if you have a one hour service a week, the projector will last 2,000 weeks or 38 years. Dust, age and other factors will reduce its lifespan by seven to 10 years — especially considering how difficult they are to clean. Be conservative in your estimates.
Most technology wears out or becomes obsolete in five to seven years. Computers need to be replaced every three to five years depending on the frequency of use and the type of applications needed. For sound equipment, microphones may last three to five years, consoles 10 years and amps/speakers 15 years. Do your homework and be realistic about how long you can expect your equipment to last.
Calculate the replacement cost. Search for the items online or work with a potential long-term supplier to help plan for replacement costs. Don't look for the best deal but rather the average price for a quality replacement. Include both the cost of the equipment and the installation for hardware. If you're replacing something like flat screen TVs, remember that you may be able to reuse the wall mounting brackets from the previous technology. For software, calculate the cost based on the license (monthly, annual, cost + maintenance) as well. The goal is to determine the total replacement cost of the capability the technology provides and budget for it ahead of time.
Determine the amount to be saved weekly. Once you understand the lifespan and the cost of technology, you can calculate the cost per week. By doing this for the entire technology plan, you can now determine how much should be allocated from the offering every week or every month.
Maintain a separate technology fund, and spend it as needed. Maintain a budget line item to track the fund. Avoid the temptation to spend it on unplanned items or use the funds for other operational expenses.
Update and review the plan every year. Take time each year to update the plan to keep it current. Some equipment may last longer (or shorter) than expected. Review the planned expenditures for the year and adjust the budget as necessary.
A case study
A mid-sized church decided that it was going to significantly upgrade its use of technology to reach the local community. Their goals were to
- Upgrade the projection and sound in the sanctuary.
- Broadcast their services on cable access.
- Provide hearing assistance.
In addition, it wanted to improve the flexibility of its parlor, fellowship hall and classrooms with the use of technology.
They created a technology plan to outline their needs and the approximate total cost of $61,000.
By factoring in the lifespan of the equipment, the church knows it needs to save $159.78 per week or $8,308.56 per year to support the plan. While some years may be more expensive than others, the church can build a surplus over time and be prepared when something needs to be repaired or replaced.
Every church can do it
While this may seem daunting, it's important that every church assess its needs, define its technology plan and invest in the future.
Eric Seiberling is part of a husband-wife duo working to help the church embody "1 > 99" at brokensheep.com. He leverages his 20+ years of marketing and consulting experience to help churches "baptize" and use secular techniques to be more effective at reaching the lost, the least and the last for Jesus Christ.