I recently did a training session for some clergy in Northern Virginia. During this session I opened up the floor for discussion on topics surrounding technology in worship. One of the questions that came up during this discussion was, "Does the high cost of technology make it a point of division between rich churches and poor churches?" This is a particularly interesting question that I had not previously considered. I am not sure that I have a coherent theological answer to this question, but I do think there are strategies for using technology well without spending the maximum amount of money. In this blog post I will talk broadly about why and how this is possible. In a future blog post I will talk a bit more practically about some of the resources are available and how one might go about putting together a reasonably priced AV system.
I will begin this discussion with a disclaimer. I wholly subscribe to the philosophy that you get what you pay for. It is possible to do AV technology cheaply but there might be good reasons to go with a more expensive option. The whole point of this discussion is to offer other options for churches that might not be able to afford the most expensive technology out there. There is often a trade off between time and money. Often times the cheaper option will require more time spent in learning, upkeep, or preparation. For churches with limited financial resources and good volunteers this might be a good option, but I am sure there are churches that can afford to buy equipment that would save valuable time for important members of the ministry team by going with the more expensive option.
Open Source Mentality
There are many great software and hardware resources that are available for cheap or free. Many of these resources come from a philosophy of technology commonly referred to as "Open Source". A piece of software is considered Open Source if the source code is available to the public. Anyone is freely able to use or modify the software with the understanding that they must share any improvements they make with the community.
A Two Sided Coin
There is lots of Open Source software out there and much of it is really good. If a piece of open source software is good it likely has a big active community. A big community will mean that there are a lot of people improving the software and that there are lots of people to give you advice for troubleshooting any issues you may run into. While Open Source software can be really good there are some potential downsides to going with open source software over a piece of software that you pay for. Open source software is updated and improved by volunteers and therefore generally updates don't come as often as with paid software. Likewise the support for Open Source generally comes from volunteers that work on and use the software, so it can be hard to get help if you have issues with the software.
All in all Open Source software can be a great way for poor churches to cut down on the amount of money that is needed to have a successful AV ministry. It is important to weigh the human costs along with the monetary costs when deciding if a piece of open source software might work for you. In my next blog post I will talk about one potential way to put together an AV system for your church using Open Source software and other cost saving techniques.