In Over Your Head

Buying tech equipment doesn't have to be overwhelming

It's not enough to be a competent pastor. Today church and ministry leaders face the nearly impossible task of being experts in their chosen field and mastering the art of new technologies. Inexpensive lighting, sound, video and digital technologies have turned any church into a potential recording studio.

Yet many pastors aren't natural "techies." And when they're expected to make or approve a major purchase of tech equipment, the questions become overwhelming: Should I buy state of the art? If I spend less, will I regret it in the long-run? Which pieces are essential, and which ones can I plan for later? Whom should I go to for advice?

Before making a bad purchase that your church will regret, consider these four factors:

1) The source. Who is selling/recommending this piece of equipment? Is it a reputable source? Is it an experienced producer or engineer with years of ministry and church broadcasting under his belt? And what are his credits and track record? I counsel my clients to avoid any equipment salesman who isn't first of all interested in your program formats and production requirements. After all, how can he suggest the correct equipment if he doesn't know how it will be used and for what purpose?

2) Service. Can you get the equipment serviced easily? Inexpensively? Can you get spare parts? What is the equipment's track record with other ministries or churches?

Although you'll always be able to get a cheaper price from knockoff brands and fringe companies, your cost savings will soon get swallowed up in down time waiting for parts and service. I prefer to buy from companies that can keep me moving forward without delays and complications.

3) Price. Most expensive isn't always best. Least expensive isn't always cheapest by the time you've repaired or replaced it a dozen times. Weigh track records of similar equipment against the price. Virtually everything is negotiable, especially if you are putting together a package of several types of equipment or are outfitting a small studio.

4) Flexibility. Will the piece of equipment be compatible with other pieces? Can it move from one location to another, or does it have to be permanently installed? With digital editing environments, it's crucial that different pieces of equipment be able to "talk to each other." For instance, in postproduction, the editing software should be talking to the audio board, the graphics workstation and other pivotal pieces of equipment.

Although such equipment doesn't have to be made by the same company (and I don't know of any company that makes everything equally well), I recommend those pieces of equipment be purchased from the top branded companies—because they all know how to work with each other.

The bottom line: Get the advice of experts. Find impartial judges, consultants and/or advisers who can help you with proper equipment and software decisions. Where do you locate these experts? Look to other churches and ministries that you admire for their effectiveness. Talk with the pastors, administrators, television and video producers, lighting and sound people. They've been exactly where you are today, and many have the scars to prove it.

Spend the money to keep yourself and your in-house advisers updated and trained. Your staff members can't help you if they don't know exactly what's out there.

Finally, it's important to attend trade shows to get a grasp of the big picture. The National Religious Broadcasters Convention and the National Association of Broadcasters Convention are examples of events where you'll see state-of-the-art equipment and get a better understanding of the marketplace.


PHIL COOKE is a media producer and consultant in Los Angeles whose latest book is called The Last TV Evangelist: Why the Next Generation Couldn't Care Less About Religious Media and Why It Matters. For more information, go to

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