A guide to buying the right AVL gear for your portable church
November 23, 2020

Know the differences between Portability vs Permanent vs Touring Gear vs DIY

In a new church ministry (aka church plant), the audio/visual/lighting needs will likely be your largest expense. Determining what gear you need can only come after clarifying the purpose for having AVL in your ministry, and the context in which your ministry will take place. 

When considering the competing points of tension in making AVL decisions, the two primary elements that will dictate what a supporting AVL system can look like are budget and venue. Knowing where to look to get the right AVL System will help with both, (regardless if your budget is small or large).

All AVL gear for a church (regardless of size) needs to be integrated into a design that fits both of the above; your budget and context. These will fall into one of three types:

Portable System Design, Touring System Design, and Permanent System Design.  After describing each of these design types, we will also dive into the Do-It-Yourself method

PORTABILITY DESIGN

  • The Portable Context – the venue is a rented facility (school, YMCA, theater, community center, event center, etc.) and is the same each week you meet. However, you can only occupy he venue for a brief period (6-8 hours) in which you need to load-in, do church as many times as necessary, and then load-out.  
  • Things to Consider – Budget and convenience usually drive the use of this design. Rented venues are usually well known by the greater community in which you want to launch and inherently provide ample parking, access, function and flow, and dedicated space. You are going to ‘pay’ for portability somewhere, either on the right system or in human resources. A good Portable AVL design is quick and easy to load in and out, highly systematic, presents a very professional image, and allows a volunteer team to thrive in the process. 
  • The Pros of Portability (using a PCI SYSTEM)
    • Volunteer friendly 
    • A complex system created to be intuitive for volunteers to set up
    • Load in and set up in facility in 30-50 minutes (on average)
    • Load out of facility in less than 20-40 minutes (time is $$ here)
    • No special access needed
      • No loading docks
      • No wide doors
      • No extraneous ramps
      • Parking lots, or whatever, work great
    • Integrated plug and play AVL design
    • EVERYTHING fits through standard doorways
    • Cases designed to protect expensive gear
    • Excellent efficiency, effectiveness, and impression
    • Comprehensive to include worship, children’s ministry, first impressions, trailers, and storage
    • Cases and trailers balanced for weight distribution
    • Launching as a portable church is the least expensive way to launch a new presence into a new community
  • The Cons of portability (all portability systems) 
    • Set up and tear down each week
    • Higher need for volunteers
    • A bad design causes significant burnout
    • To do it right, some pieces will cost more

TOURING DESIGN

  • The Touring Context – Because touring groups are in a new venue for each performance, the touring design in response to the need to be ready for any new situation or environment that might come up from week to week. 
  • Things to Consider – Will you be in the same facility from week to week, or encounter a new facility and environment each week? What will the access be at each new facility? Will there always be a dock to load in and out of? 
  • The Pros of a Touring System
    • Expensive gear is protected really well
    • Load in/out processes can be similar to portable
    • Usually have a gear-solution on hand for every situation
  • The Cons of a touring System (in the context of a church meeting portability) 
    • Gear storage is usually overkill in rented situations
    • Cost of gear storage is prohibitive
    • Often designed around the use of a hi-lo
    • Usually requires extra gear for unforeseen circumstances ($$)
    • Gear is stored/transported in individual cases – need for flexibility decreases efficiencies
    • Usually assumes loading docks, or box trucks with lift gates (slower and inefficient, also unsafe for non-professionals)
    • Size of gear storage sometimes at odds with size of doorways available(they assume large doorways)
    • Usually designed for sophisticated users and crew (paid professionals)
    • Load in and load out times are longer (touring assumes multiple hours or overnight set-ups)

PERMANENT INSTALL DESIGN

  • The Permanent Context – Facility under your control 24/7. Typically, spaces can be dedicated to specific use(s).
  • Things to Consider – Facility spaces as well as AVL uses are typically designed for known ministry patterns. As often as ministry patterns change over a period of decades, can the AVL design respond appropriately to change?
  • The Pros of a permanent Install System
    • Opportunity to set and forget lighting, video gear, controls
    • Usually, infrastructure constructed to support AVL structures
    • Can accommodate a large range of sophistication
    • Most gear can be adjusted by individual technicians
    • No set up and take down process
  • The Cons of a permanent Install System (for a portable church)
    • Cabling is buried inside conduit and left alone, durability is less a consideration
    • Ease of handling isn’t needed – Handles, durability, weight is not a primary consideration
    • Speed of set-up and take down isn’t a consideration in the design of the system
    • Once a permanent system is installed it is ‘set and forget’ – These designs are not inherently volunteer friendly
    • Complacency over time
    • Lots of cost outlay
    • Less flexibility

DO IT YOURSELF SYSTEM DESIGN

The last design method to consider is the DIY system. We understand the allure to doing it yourself. It’s a real option that some simply have to consider. Pastor, we LOVE what you are doing and our main drive at PCI is to help you focus on building kingdom in your cities and peoples lives. However, we also want to help you consider all the costs to take into consideration.

The popular thought is “if I do it myself it will be cheaper.” There is no doubt that a cheaper system can be purchased. But low up front cost obviously doesn’t mean it will be the least expensive. Initially, you only know what you know, and you absolutely don’t know what you don’t know.  With an extreme amount of AVL knowledge, AVL Integration/Production Experience, and access to well-priced and diverse gear selection for audio, visual, lighting, acoustics treatment, and staging, a good system can be designed and built. But the skillset for designing an excellent portable system is rare to find. This typically leads to a design that is not built for maximum portability. The costs of this is extreme volunteer fatigue and burnout, incorrect gear choices, longer set-up time, higher facility rental costs, frequent damage to gear, and an unsustainable system among other things.

We have found that when churches buy the right system up front, the initial higher investment is frequently paid back many times over and both the user and church visitor experience is better week after week. 

Ultimately, we want you to be a success.

Whatever you are considering we encourage you to connect with one of our portable experts to help you process your thoughts to get you ready to launch strong and thrive for years to come!