The $350K question

The ever-vigilant Jason Cole made me aware of this story about a church purchasing a mac-daddy sound console for their auditorium and the related angst expressed in this forum over the decision.  Read through it if you want (a simpler version is here), but I’ll spare you the techno mumbo-jumbo with this summary:

  • Westover Church in Greensboro, NC is building a new 3,000 seat auditorium.  Total cost:  $28 million.
  • Midas is the crème de la crème of companies that make audio consoles, and the one that this church bought is the first of a new line from them.  People in the industry are not a little surprised that the first one was bought by a church.  Console cost:  $350K.
  • The angst at the forum is from certain techies who object to the church spending the money for the console (no one mentioned the rest of the project, just the console).  It’s the same predictable "what about the starving people in China?" argument.

So here’s my random stream-of-consciousness brain dump:

The argument that the money could feed a village in Africa for a year (or fund a missionary or whatever other noble global endeavor is used) is a cheap argument that requires little thought and should be given little weight.  Hiding behind a cause that no one would oppose in order to take pot shots at someone else’s idea is cowardly and lazy. 

Sure, the money could feed a village in Africa, but that doesn’t mean that it would or even should.  The age-old "if every believer would just tithe, we could eliminate world hunger" is not a good argument for tithing because we wouldn’t eliminate world hunger if every believer tithed.  Most of us know that if every beliver tithed we’d just get bigger church buildings, bigger church staffs, and fancier programs designed to get more and more people to spend more and more time in the bigger church buildings.

A $350K audio console is a 20-year purchase that has the potential to leverage a lot of money for a lot of good over a period of 20 years.  A $350K feed-the-African-village project will require another $350K every year for the next 20 years.  Infrastructre leverages resources in ways that programs can’t.

The average pew-warmer can’t tell the difference between the sound of a $350K console and the sound of a $3K console (or a Michelangelo and a Bob Ross, for that matter).  I’m not even sure I could.  But that’s not the point.  You buy a console like this in order to hook that 99.5 percentile guy who

  1. wanders into your church,
  2. can tell the difference, and
  3. notices that you’re serious about what you’re doing. 

If you get three of those guys to stick with you and get involved, you’ve gained something you can’t buy at any store. 

This church had better have some players and singers that can play and sing well.  Sound equipment can’t fix bad technique.

Whatever you think about the wisdom of the purchase, you have to tip your hat to the leadership ability of the church’s leadership team.  Pulling this off could not have been easy. 


4 Responses to “The $350K question”

  1. 1 Jason December 15, 2006 at 12:43 am

    ever-vigilant… wow… I’m humbled to say the least.

    I will be adding my two cents worth on my blog soon. Stay tuned. I plan to take much of what I write to the forum and post it there as well because I believe that group of people need Jesus more than almost any group of people I’ve ever seen. I’ve worked with a large number of production people over the years and they tend to be the most cynical about religion that I have found. I think it stems from the observance of performers that make themselves look so good to the audience then treat people like garbage back stage. The become extremly distrustful of people in general, especially ones with money. The spending of money like that says the church has money. Given the reputation of the Jim Bakers of the world its hard to overcome the two converging distaste many of the production people have for religion.

  2. 2 PotatoStew December 15, 2006 at 8:35 pm

    So you would advocate spending $350,000 on something to *possibly* attract two or three people who would *possibly* get involved in the church? Doesn’t seem like good stewardship of the money to me personally, especially if it’s true that 99% of the congregation would get the same experience from a $3000 system.

    It also neglects the possibility that the potential gain of two or three members could easily be offset by the loss of at least that many who think it was an unwise purchase (if we’re dealing in possibilities here).

    Your broad point about investment in infrastructure makes sense, but I think any investment of that size needs a better return.

    Regarding your Africa example, why not use the $350K to build the “infrastructure” in the African village, rather than in the megachurch? Then it feeds the village and reduces the need for similarly sized future investments.

  3. 3 byron December 16, 2006 at 8:31 am


    No, I’m not advocating anything. I’m only suggesting that there really may be a good reason for this purchase. I do know the value of a good, quality volunteer, and have seen extremely valuable people stick with a church simply because they were inspired by the church’s commitment to do things well. The 99% who can’t discern the difference between the $350K system and the $3K system will nonetheless benefit from having highly motivated and competent volunteer staff in the system.

    This will sound harsh, but I’ll trade 3 motivated and competent volunteers for 10 families that aren’t on board with the vision and direction of the church. Some say I do that on a regular basis!

    I will agree with you that Africa could use some infrastructure help and that it would be better to invest in infrastructure there than in food there, but that whole conversation leads to the question of whether or not Africa’s problem is resource scarcity or something far more complex that even infrastructure won’t fix.

  4. 4 James January 16, 2007 at 11:01 am

    I have three points I’d like to add.

    For many professional, semi-professional and church sound guys, talent and ability (and patience) can be sapped quickly by the fatigue and stress of a lot of people needing very detailed things in a very short amount of time. The ability to have everything pre-set and available at the touch of a button is much more efficient than hiring and training several different sound techs through a course of 20 years because the previous ones burnt out or blew up in frustration.

    Biblically, Exodus 35:21 – 36:6 recounts the people bringing a freewill offering of gold, silver, jewels, nice wood, spices, oil and the like to the point that they had to be asked to STOP. Bezalel is introduced in 35:30-34; “[God] has filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom and understanding, in knowledge and all manner of workmanship, to design artistic works, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood and to work in all manner of artistic workmanship.” Beauty and excellence matter to the Lord, and He was pleased that there were gold, silver and precious jewels for Bezalel to craft into beautiful things. Jesus likes it sounding awesome! Bezalel was given the best of the best to make the house of the Lord beautiful. I think sound and lighting people should get the same.

    The sound board is the most important instrument in contemporary congregational worship settings. We don’t often have large choirs with pipe organs that lead us in worship. Amplification has thus become necessary, and if the worship team isn’t being or can’t be presented well, the congregation has a harder time engaging with the Lord in worship. Isn’t THAT what it’s really about?

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