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Are You Traveling The Path Of Lease Resistance?

Jan 22, 2008
When pastors and church members contemplate building a new church, they often think in terms of a new edifice, a glorious building with stained glass, tastefully painted walls and high ceilings. But in the rush to plan and fund four walls and a roof, some churches might overlook a key element: what to put in the new building. Quality sound, lighting and presentation equipment can make the difference in how people perceive the life-changing message you're presenting.

In the ideal situation, the presentation technology needs of your building have been addressed from day one of the planning process. The building itself has been designed from the inside out, focusing first on the shape, size and acoustic character of the sanctuary. If you're really on track, this emphasis on quality worship elements has led you to place a skilled sound engineer into a peer working relationship with your architect.

In a perfect world, the technical equipment has been carefully chosen and integrated into the facility to generate the optimal stimulation of the senses, creating a veritable work of sight and sound art. In this ideal scenario, your plans have included technical needs in the project budget and the equipment in question has been funded as part of the building's overall financing package. This astute financial approach has thus accounted for lower interest rates, extended repayment times and a lower overall cost for your capital investment. The end result is a seamlessly integrated setting for pure worship and life change.

Unfortunately, we don't live in a perfect world. There are those churches that delay planning on technical requirements until they are well into the capital campaign, then add them at a too-late point in the funding and design process. Other churches might undergo a change in leadership only to discover that their new pastor wants a higher level of quality in technical equipment. Still others might find that construction costs have stressed their finances to the point that they simply cannot afford the right quality of equipment. In these situations, buying may take a back seat to leasing.

Leasing is often more closely associated with the automotive industry, but it is gaining increasing popularity in the church world. In the old days, the major capital outlay for technology might have consisted of replacement ivories for the pipe organ or a new batch of leatherette hymnal covers. In this era of rapidly changing technology, churches are relying more frequently on unique communications technologies utilized in education, entertainment or corporate America. Video projectors, wireless transmitters, sophisticated sound mixing equipment and even smoke machines are integrated into church services designed to appeal to the increasingly sophisticated participants in our interactive culture. Your church may never need a smoke machine but as a teacher, you might agree that if the Word can't be clearly heard, it may not get the job done.

Churches face growing competition from the countless recreation options that people have on a Sunday morning. They aren't competing so much with other churches any more but with other institutions that inform, educate and entertain (e.g., television, amusement parks, movies or concerts). Although a Ricky Martin concert will never match a Billy Graham sermon for substance and eternal significance, polished shows by Martin and other entertainers set a standard for technical excellence that people then associate with "professional" organizations. Conduct a service or two with dead microphones, shrieking feedback and a bass-heavy mix that shakes the windows and see how many people come back. It pays to use the right tools.

Even if your church wants to capitalize on the available communications technology, your financial situation might keep you from touching the quality of equipment you desire. There are some churches that will squirrel away money for the day they can pay cash for a particular item. However, the rate at which your church account can accumulate dollars is often exceeded by the rate at which the technology items increase in price. Leasing can help churches get the quality equipment that they need to reach people now without crippling them financially.

Also, some technology items might add value in terms of convenience and quality to your operation, but are either difficult to maintain or too expensive to justify purchasing. An example of this outside the sanctuary is office equipment. You may need a copier to duplicate your bulletins, your ministry fliers and the endless paperwork of churches. However, your church secretary may not have the training necessary to maintain a copier and your budget might not support the price of a purchase. A lease on this type of item--with its accompanying maintenance and service features--can save endless headaches for you and your people.

Like any technology product, church presentation equipment is on a rapidly rising curve of innovation, development and change. Gizmos that elicited a "wow" in your main service a year or even six months ago may have already been relegated to your children's service or the Tuesday bridge club. This rapid pace of change can severely impact the value of an item once the church purchases it. Depreciation is a fact of life. However, when you're dealing with high-tech equipment, obsolescence can accelerate that depreciation to distressingly low levels. Leasing can take the edge off of this depreciation.

Also, leasing offers a certain degree of flexibility. Although a lease term may run three years or more, it can give you the chance and the incentive to upgrade your presentation technology so that you can continue to communicate in the most effective way possible. In some respects, it can be almost like a test-drive of your equipment.

Leasing is not for everyone, nor is it appropriate in every situation. Your decision will likely be based on a few pros and cons. The cons must be considered as you begin your thought process. First of all, leasing can end up costing more in the long run due to the various charges and interest that companies may charge. Secondly, a poorly- or deceptively-written contract can put you in a bind at the end of the term or if the item is damaged.

On the pro side, leasing allows you to hang onto your existing capital in the near term. Also, you get your hands on a better grade of equipment than if buying outright. In addition, leasing can inoculate you from the scourge of obsolescence that eventually diminishes the value of every technical creation. Finally, a relationship with a reputable leasing company might position you to upgrade your equipment over the course of the lease agreement as new technologies emerge, depending on your lessor's policies.

If you believe you might be ready to lease some of your equipment, it is important to know how to choose both your equipment source and/or your leasing agent. You or your music minister may be a regular customer at your local music store. These stores are a great place to purchase lower cost items like microphones, guitars or music stands. However, when it comes to planning, obtaining, installing, calibrating and operating a 48-channel sound board or special effects lighting, you probably won't get the best deal or advice.

For a major presentation improvement project, it is well worth retaining the services of an experienced sound consultant. A consultant who answers to you and is paid by you will enter all planning and negotiations with your vision and best interests foremost in his or her mind. They can collaborate with your architect, your music minister and other expert counsel to design the most favorable sound and light situation. Then they can represent you in dealings with equipment distributors and apply their volume discounts, industry knowledge and experience to the negotiating process.

Since you may go outside the world of church vendors to obtain your equipment, you might find yourself working with distributors who don't share your passion for stewardship and lost people. Some vendors may see your church plans, get a whiff of your budget and then, regardless of your actual needs, try to wring maximum dollars out of you by selling you equipment you don't really need.

When negotiating your lease, there are a few non-negotiable guidelines. First, shop around for favorable lease programs. You may not find significant differences in fees and interest, but you may find companies that offer enhanced service support and other benefits. Don't forget to inquire about training support. Since the group that will operate this equipment during your services may be composed entirely of volunteers, you should try to find a leasing company that will train them.

As part of your research, ask these companies for the names of other satisfied customers and then contact them (hopefully churches) to get their thoughts on the company in question. You may find that a company with pretty advertisements and brand name equipment has a lousy track record on returning calls or honoring commitments.

Also, and most importantly, make sure you have a written commitment to a set price due at the end of the lease. It is not unusual for some leasing companies, whether they deal in cars or spotlights, to stick you with a huge bill at the end of the lease. As tight as church budgets are, you cannot afford to be in a spot where you are legally obligated to a huge, unexpected debt.

So, if you are committed to using technology to reach people in ways that they are used to being reached, you may want to consider the path of lease resistance.
About the Author
Bruce Anderson is a nationally recognized church design and construction consultant and President of Build-Masters Group LLC, www.build-masters.com. Mr. Anderson also publishes of "Straight Talk" About Church Design,Building & Construction at www.brucecanderson.com.
Email: bca@brucecanderson.com
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