Budgeting for Your Church AVL Upgrades in 3 Simple Steps

Budgeting for Your Church AVL Upgrades in 3 Simple Steps


As a church tech artist, one of the worst things I could do for my church and its executive leadership team is to make excessive demands for expensive church AVL upgrades.

I’ve never been the business administrator or CFO of a church, but if I had been, I imagine one thing I would dread the most would be someone showing up in my office one day to explain why they need a massive amount of money in a short amount of time, to solve a problem that had been previously known about.

Maintaining a church tech ministry is busy, to say the least. There’s a bevy of events to execute, volunteers to train, and gear to fix. And sometimes I can get so focused on extinguishing the fire burning right in front of me that I forget (or am unable) to look further down the road to do any sort of forecasting or planning, especially when it comes to expenses.

Church AVL Upgrade Lessons

Instead of just moving from fire to fire, I’ve found over the years that it’s critical to find time to step back from a purely day-to-day perspective and endeavor to take a longer-term look at expenses. Specifically, how expenses for church AVL upgrades could be planned for, especially now that technology changes like 4K, HDR, and Dante (or other types of AV-over-IP) are slowly becoming more standardized or common in the industry.

As you read here about my story, I humbly invite you to take some time to pause and consider setting aside some time to plan for your own impending church AVL upgrades. By doing this, you’ll begin to look ahead to set yourself, your ministry, and your leadership teams for success.

Here are three steps to plan for church AVL upgrades:

Step #1 – Long-Range Planning for Church AVL Upgrades

It might sound extreme, but the first step to budgeting for AVL upgrades is to create a five-year forecast for capital expense-level AVL upgrades. I’d recommend this (or even a seven-year or 10-year view) for just about any ministry.

Most larger, capital technology investments should typically function effectively on at least an eight- to ten-year cycle before the technology becomes outdated, or the manufacturer has announced a sunset date for parts or support.

This level of product could include audio consoles, speakers/PAs, video switchers, lighting consoles, projectors, and broadcast-level video cameras. Chances are these products were installed at different times in a church’s history, so the odds are high that there needs to be a rolling window to explore replacement options. So, a five-year plan (at minimum) may be able to capture the times that any of these large pieces need to be replaced.

By giving our financial leadership an extra-early heads-up, more time can be allotted to plan for a large expense related to AVL upgrades, whether that means launching a stewardship campaign, re-allocating short-term investments to free up cash, or exploring lease/financing options from a manufacturer to make a high-dollar purchase more feasible.

But these aren’t the only high-dollar expenses that a church may need to make. Some other items may need to be explored on a five-to-seven-year replacement window, for example (and yes, these items can definitely outlive a five or seven-year lifespan if managed and maintained well, and if there are fewer changes or the room environment or service expectations). This could possibly include lighting fixtures (especially if you’re unable to do regular maintenance on them to handle motor/yoke repairs or to clean out any build-up from haze usage), DSLR cameras, and LED walls.

It is important to also note how certain system components may need to be replaced in tandem as part of a more wholesale approach to AVL upgrades.

Making notable changes with a video camera or lens package may expose issues with front lighting, so that may need to get included in the mix as well. And higher-quality cameras may also show greater deficiencies with an LED wall that’s used as a background on stage. So when planning an upgrade in any area, it’s worth considering whether other technology needs to get rolled in as well.

Budgeting for Your Church AVL Upgrades in 3 Simple Steps

Step #2 – Mid-Range Planning for Church AVL Upgrades

There are likely more items that could be on a three- to five-year replacement cycle that would need to get included in the AVL upgrade forecasting plan as well.

This could include computers (depending on their workload or their expectations for performance), wireless mics and in-ear monitor (IEM) packs (simply due to wear-and-tear and constant use…or being dropped!), and, if a church is in a portable state, lighting fixtures that may be regularly exposed to getting dinged or dropped (or having the DMX pins ground to smaller nubs by volunteers trying to twist and lock cables incorrectly).

Now, a projected budget is starting to become rather full once all of these different items are taken into account. And while it’s possible, that gear can certainly outlive a certain ownership date if well-maintained and not used too heavily (or improperly), it’s always better to plan on the worst-case scenario just in case a high-dollar purchase needs to be made.

This type of planning should even be done on an annual basis as well, including recurring expenses that may not need to be factored into a long-term capital forecast.

Step #3 – Short-Range Planning for Church AVL Upgrades

While focusing on longer-term investments, near-term expenses can’t be overlooked and neglected. This could include repair/replacement parts for equipment that breaks, consulting or labor fees for integrators, shipping costs (to send/receive items that need to be repaired by a manufacturer), and consumable costs.

Consumable items would include things that can get used and then disposed of or easily replaced, which would include all types of cables, connectors/dongles (especially for computers), haze fluid, gaff tape, batteries, lighting gels (for pairing with conventional leko fixtures), or even tools or storage materials (like crates, tubs, or pegboards) that might help a team stay more organized.

Beyond the technology pieces, annual expenses should also include allowances for team-related items. This would be any opportunity to bless or appreciate volunteers (like clothing, food, coffee, etc.), any networking or training opportunities for staff (conference registration, certification fees, travel to other churches, etc.), and any other type of staff benefits (staff shirts, meals during team meetings, gas/travel reimbursements, etc.).

Thinking through each of these areas on a granular level can help not only think through “big rocks” that will need to get replaced at a set point in time during a wide view on a timeline, but also the recurring expenses that need to be taken into account every year.

And as an extra point of planning, it may be wise to take inflation and growth into account and plan at least a 10% (or maybe 20% to be on the safe side) increase annually for many of the recurring cost items.

Final Thoughts on Church AVL Upgrades

Thinking through each of these areas and developing a plan doesn’t necessarily commit me to a firm plan of action. If anything, it’s a good thought exercise that helps ensure that I’m considering all of the different facets of the team I lead.

It’s also a good way to earn credibility and respect in the eyes of my leaders. Not only am I showing myself a good steward of my area by planning ahead and working to make wise decisions, I’m also showing respect for my leaders by giving them advance notice so they can plan ahead and make decisions that are in the best interest of the church.

When I show my ability to think and plan like this, I eventually will earn myself more credibility with those leaders. So when something does happen unexpectedly that requires financial approval, they’ll know it was an unforeseen issue that we weren’t able to forecast; my request isn’t simply because of a lack of planning.

When planning out future budgets and expenses, particularly those related to AVL upgrades, it’s critical to be able to look through three different lenses and consider system components that may need to get addressed during those different time frames.

Step #1 – Long-Range Planning (7-10 years)

  • Audio console
  • Speakers/PA
  • Lighting console
  • Video switcher
  • Broadcast cameras and lenses
  • Projectors
  • DSLR cameras
  • Lighting fixtures
  • LED walls

Step #2 – Mid-range planning (3-5 years)

  • Computers
  • Wireless Microphones
  • In-Ear-Monitors (IEMs)
  • Hazers

Step #3 – Short-range planning (Annual)

  • Consumables, such as cables, dongles, gaff tape, batteries, hazer fluid, and lighting gels
  • Department tools
  • Volunteer appreciation expenses
  • Staff development/training expenses
  • Shipping
  • Consultant/labor fees

All of us in ministry are called to be good stewards of the resources with which we’ve been entrusted, and helping develop a long-term expense plan is a great way to ensure that we’re properly planning for both today and tomorrow.

Why Attend WAVE? (What makes us different)

The WAVE conference focuses on audiovisual and lighting first and is a traditional conference and expo with the best church AVL exhibitors and vendors in the industry. At WAVE, you and your tech team will have the time to talk with exhibitors because our expo floor is less crowded and better organized than other AVL conferences. WAVE offers the opportunity to see what others are doing and even boasts and church tour local to the conference. Experience roundtable discussions during meals and after sessions. Visit the biggest manufacturers in your area. Maximize your team’s time for education, training on equipment, and industry connection and collaboration. Lastly, WAVE offers incredible value for the education, exhibit access, networking, worship, and amenities for the price of the ticket. Lastly, we at WAVE want to see your church grow, help others find God, and feel personal satisfaction with their jobs by being educated and connecting within the AVL church tech industry. Register for WAVE today!

Justin Firesheets has been on staff at Church of the Highlands since early 2009. For his first 12 years on the team, Firesheets served as the Production Director, overseeing all of the events, teams, and Production infrastructure for more than 20 Highlands locations, including the broadcast campus in Birmingham, Ala. In early 2021, he shifted into a new Project Manager role, working with the IT and Technology Services teams to oversee the network technology components of construction projects and capital infrastructure initiatives for the church and Highlands College, the ministry school Highlands founded that now has around 1,000 students. He enjoys training and investing in ministry leaders from across the world and enjoys sharing his experiences through online articles, public speaking, and on-site coaching.