I worked for years in churches as a Technical Director, and during my tenure in that position I had a front row seat on the effects of volunteer-installed equipment. While there is a time and place for volunteers to do some elements of installation, let me say that it’s generally a bad idea. Not because volunteers will always get it wrong, but because volunteers are too valuable to compromise. Here are a few observations/experiences from my years in the trenches.

“It sure is expensive…”
We had a large video projector that would chew through $4,000 bulbs. It was big, noisy, and very expensive. Inside it had high velocity fans for cooling, but it still ate bulbs at a very expensive rate. A volunteer on the tech crew had installed the projector. In the months that followed we made many calls to the manufacturer to try and resolve the issue (before we went broke feeding the projector!) Finally a question was raised about the projector’s location. Could the fact that it was mounted to the underside of a balcony be the problem? Heat rises, and there was not much room for it to rise there. As it turns out, the projector was slightly overheating which drastically shortened the life of the bulb. It wasn’t intended to be installed in the wrong place, but since the volunteer didn’t know (or follow) all of the installation specs, it became a huge problem. volunteers.jpg
“I thought I plugged that in right…”
When a well meaning volunteer happens to improperly plug in an expensive piece of gear, a novel thing happens: out pops the smoke genie. Having been in this situation, I’ve had many chances to practice my response. While I might try to minimize my frustration by saying something to the effect of “The gear will work better with the smoke still in it!”, It’s still pretty frustrating. To make matters worse, it puts the volunteer in a whole new dilemma: should they purchase a new piece of gear to replace the one they ruined or let the church pay for it? If a contractor had this problem, they would get the “privilege” of buying a new piece of gear for the church, no question about it. Where does this scenario leave your volunteers? volunteers.jpg
“I just wanted to warm him up…”
It’s never good when we fire up the lighting and the pastor’s skin tone looks a bit funny on the video screens. Maybe he even looks a bit sickly. Instead of listening to the sermon, the congregation is thinking about bringing a meal to the sick pastor’s home. After some investigation, we discovered that the message lights had been re-gelled with a strange color. Using the proper gel colors for your pastor’s skin tone is an art. Mess it up, and the results can be a bit “sickening.”volunteers.jpg
“I thought that was stronger…”
…As a piece of gear came crashing down mid program, and thankfully no one was hurt. The church program was interrupted, but we had to continue on, even with the awkward moment in full view. Later, in conversations with the volunteer who hung it, I found out they knew nothing about the strength of the mounting hardware they had used. If the gear had been installed by a contractor, then the company would have had liability insurance in case of a lawsuit. Fortunately, in that case, no one was hurt, and nobody sued the church. A good question to ask: who installed the equipment hanging from your ceiling?

My Advice:

The risks to the church are far too great to let volunteers install AV gear. The expense, loss of use, and liability of volunteer-installed equipment will far outweigh any financial savings you hope to obtain. Some churches are blessed with technical personnel that are gifted, knowledgeable, and responsible, but they are the exception not the rule. Instead of putting your volunteers in a compromising position, empower them to fulfill the mission of your church by functioning in areas where they can succeed. When it comes to things that are beyond your volunteers’ skill level, use the knowledge and expertise of an AV integrator.

ABD Engineering and Design

ABD Engineering and Design is one of North America’s leading independent acoustical consulting and AV design firms, serving clients across the United States and Canada, as well as other international markets from offices in Grand Rapids, MI and Portland, OR. Our specialized acoustical engineering and AV design practices help architects, building owners, engineers, facility directors, and municipalities design spaces, environments, and systems for optimal acoustical and audiovisual performance. Our consulting practice areas specialize in all aspects of architectural acoustics, environmental and industrial noise and vibration control, and audiovisual systems design.

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