By Scott Cougill
Choosing equipment for a portable church is significantly different than choosing equipment for a permanent church building. Churches that don’t take into account the unique challenges related to equipping rented spaces will likely make things much harder for their volunteers, as well as experience more breakage, require far more storage, and end up spending more money in the long run.
So, what’s so unique about portable spaces? What are the competing values that impact equipment selection for a portable church?
System design & integration tuned to portability
In most portable churches, the venue and setup stays the same each week. (This is the opposite of a “touring design,” where each venue is different.) This site consistency allows for some awesome opportunities in the design, selection and storage of the overall system.
For example, one large church we work with meets in a high school. As people enter the school, the entire children’s area is off to the right. Therefore, the church was able to design a beautiful, bright, arched entryway that is custom-fitted to the high school, with matching graphic-wrapped registration systems. It’s easy to set up and fits perfectly each week — not to mention, fun! Companies experienced in designing touring solutions tend to miss this opportunity.
Another church we work with has an elaborate stage setup which involves trusses, programmable lights, multiple screens, live video streaming, in-house Wi-Fi, and a sophisticated sound system. Because the auditorium is mostly the same each week when leaders and volunteers arrive for setup, we were able to create an elaborate design and tune it into a system that still can be set up with non-skilled volunteers in just over an hour.
Designing portable church equipment solutions is a very unique niche skill. As such, using professional designers — who have experience with a number of different rental venues — can add significant value in selecting the best equipment to turn a rented venue into an excellent worship experience.
Another unique challenge in portable church plants is that the equipment needs to be fully brought in and taken out each week. Some venues occasionally allow the church to permanently install audio/video/lighting (AVL) equipment in the auditorium or allow the church to store its equipment on site.
For the majority of portable church plants, however, the church must figure out transportation and logistics details. Transportation impacts the selection of equipment; weight, storage and volume
matter greatly. Looking at the BALANCED SOLUTION graphic, you will note the competing values.
Chairs are a prime example. We have worked with a church that was using a whole trailer to bring its chairs to the site each week. They didn’t consider weight, stacking and volume, and thus had a full, multi-thousand-dollar, 24-foot trailer dedicated to just their chairs. All these chairs had to be carried in by the volunteers, adding significant time to their setup and contributing to volunteer burnout.
By spending just a little more on the right kind of chair, all those needed chairs could have been stored with other equipment on another trailer, saving thousands of dollars. It also would have decreased the number of people trips and set-up time.
The economics of portable church solutions are more involved than just the total price of each piece of equipment. In addition, the cost of the rental venue, wear and tear, replacement costs and equipment life need to be included. In many instances, the venue is rented by the hour. Choosing equipment in a BALANCED SOLUTION — one that’s more efficient — can save thousands of dollars a year in rental costs.
One of the largest errors in equipment selection is ignoring the safe, proper storage of the equipment.
When I was an Executive Pastor, I didn’t understand this well enough. We purchased good equipment and went cheap on the cases / tubs. We had much of our equipment loose. Consequently, our signs, electronics and kids’ area equipment wore out quickly, had dings and scratches, and had to be replaced much more quickly than other churches’ wares — churches which invested in proper storage cases and solutions.
There are many church planting networks and websites that list essential equipment for church planting. However, since most church plants and multisite churches launch in rented spaces, the essential equipment for launch needs to be looked at through a BALANCED SOLUTION lens. Engaging portability experts early in the process can lower total costs while maximizing the overall worship and volunteer experience.
Scott Cougill is CEO of Portable Church Industries in Troy, MI, a company that has partnered with more than 2,000 churches to launch strong and thrive in rented spaces. Find Cougill on Twitter @ScottCougill. For more information, download a free eBook that goes into many more specifics about volunteer structure, training, setup strategies and staffing.