How Do I Choose a Contractor or Integrator for My Church’s AVL System?

Do you want to save $50,000 today?

The single biggest decision you’re going to make for your church’s audio, video and lighting system is going to be the decision to replace your current system with something new.

Depending on the size of your building and the complexity required, this is going to cost you anywhere from thousands of dollars on the low end to millions of dollars on the high end.

It would be an understatement to say that choosing wisely when it comes to a AV contractor is really important!  Getting this single decision correct will mean a great AVL system that meets your needs, is well thought out and comes in on budget.

Unfortunately, we all probably know of someone who made a bad choice in an AV contractor and got burned or didn’t get the system they needed.

Let’s make sure this doesn’t happen to you:

So how do you choose wisely?

Step 0: Do You Actually Need an Integrator?

Integrators or installation contractors can be a great fit if you need a complete system, or certain work done like rigging and electrical.  But you don’t HAVE to use an integrator if you are only updating parts of your system, or if you can use existing rigging pipes or trusses and value saving money over having it done for you.

For many churches, it can be significantly less expensive do DIY changing out some light fixtures or moving to a new console.  At Learn Stage Lighting GEAR, we do exactly that – we help folks through our quote process or contact form everyday to figure out what they need, and then give them the support to install it themselves – you save money, and we help you get the GEAR you need!  Check it out at the link above or use our Contact page to ask us for help!

Step 1: Ask Around

Church Stage LightingOne of the great advantages to being a church, is that you probably know of another local church who has recently put in a AVL system.  And if you don’t, ask around and you’ll find someone!

Before shopping for a AVL contractor, you need to call around to ANYONE you know and ask about their experience with getting a new system installed.

You’ll quickly find out who’s happy with the AVL contractor they hired and who’s not!

Arrange visits to these other churches and take your AVL leaders with you to see what other finished systems look like, and begin to create a vision of what your system will be.

If you are a smaller church or looking at smaller projects, you’re probably going to be limited (price-wise) to integrators who are in your regional area.  But, when a project crosses a certain threshold (often around $100-$150k), it can make sense to talk to integrators nationwide, as the travel costs won’t necessarily outweigh a better fit in integrator (the next point!).

Step 2: Find Your Identity First, and Make Sure They’re Listening!

Church Ceiling LightingLike step 1, this second step is really, really important!

Long before you get any bids or talk with any contractors, you need to get a good idea of what you want your end product to look like.

Think about your current system and what needs to be improved.  Think about the identity of your congregation and what styles of corporate worship and special events currently go on, and what you want to see in the future.

When you do begin to talk to contractors/consultants, you can weed out the bad ones by seeing who listens to your needs, and which ones send you a “form quote”, that doesn’t match your congregation at all.  This isn’t about brands of gear and individual products, but it’s about the end result. While their quotes will features names/brands of gear, in your conversations with the integrator they should be talking more about the type of atmosphere you are looking to create and how to get there.

Be sure and talk over each quote with the contractor when things don’t match up and see why they suggested such items.  Contractors may suggest gear or placement that you didn’t think of which would be perfect for your needs!

Step 3: Get Multiple Bids…But DON’T Make The Final Decision 100% About Cost

Like any big project, it’s important to get multiple bids and evaluate them to see which will work best for you.

As you look over your bids, some will likely be abnormally high or low.

But this isn’t the place to go cheap – you will likely regret it, unless the contractor/consultant in question comes highly recommended.  Like in many projects, choosing the lowest bidder often ends poorly….and as MANY folks will point out, it is actually often a waste of money to go with the lowest bidder because you end up replacing their system in a much shorter timeframe than another bidder.

When talking with churches, we often find that integrators that seem to be the best fit tend to be in the middle of the price range of bids.

Step 4: Choose Wisely and Keep Tabs on the Project (But Not Too Closely!)

Once you choose a contractor and work begins, it’s important to poke your head in every once in awhile and see how things are going.

Do show interest and ask specific questions if you are unsure about anything.  Remember that 90% of the work is going to look like very little progress is happening, and 10% of the work will look like major progress!

Don’t spend all day babysitting the contractor!  Give them some space to do their job bringing you an awesome AVL system, and you’ll be happy for years to come!

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