Houses of worship, including churches, synagogues and mosques, are emerging as some of the most logical places to install digital signage. With large groups of parishioners needing updated information each week, flatscreens are serving as a worthwhile replacement to bulletin boards and printed signage.
However, installing a network in a house of worship differs from doing so in retail, financial, hospitality or other environments. Here experts offer up seven considerations for planning and installing a digital signage network in a religious setting.
1. Paying for the network
Since they are non-profit organizations, the upfront cost of a digital signage system for houses of worship can be daunting. “Churches are always a little bit frugal in any economic climate because they rely on their parishioners for money. But because they are non-profit, they don’t have to pay taxes,” said Tom Searcy, president of MagicBox. Some churches will have individual donors that fund the signage network, or will fund-raise specifically for it. Churches under renovation can lump the expense of the network into the total renovation cost. There have even been cases where outside companies have “sponsored” the network in exchange for a logo or ad on the screen.
2. Working with house of worship staff and volunteers
Almost every decision made in this setting is done by committee, so there are often more people involved with less technical insight. Many of the people on those committees are volunteers or lay volunteers, which can be beneficial or detrimental depending on the situation.
“The key thing with all churches is helping them get started in understanding the power of what they have and figuring out the best way to communicate,” said Ryan Cahoy, managing director of Rise Vision. “With other industries they may have a very structured plan or objective for the use of the displays, verses a church that sees a need and is open to brainstorming on creative uses to fit a variety of needs.”
3. Pleasing the congregation
It’s no secret that congregations are full of people with different opinions on matters within their religious institutions. So while the thought of adding high-tech flatscreens to the facility may concern traditionalists, it can excite others. “Many new facilities are looking for the high tech look so it fits well and many congregations are looking for ways to include the younger members so this technology really helps make that connection,” Cahoy said. Some institutions are toning down their screens by encasing them in wood frames and enclosures that match the existing architecture and furniture. “Most people looking at digital signage of any kind want the information, regardless of the look,” Searcy said. “I think if there was concern about it, the benefits of the system would override them.”
4. Finding the internal champion
One of the reasons networks fail in these situations is because content isn’t updated on time, thus negating the advantages of having a network in place. The key here is to have an internal champion who makes updating and managing the network his responsibility. Some institutions are fortunate enough to have a director of communications or IT staff, but for most others this position is filled by an administrative assistant or lay volunteer. “If you don’t identify the internal champion right away, the content becomes something that gets dumped on someone,” said Mike Zmuda, director of business development for NEC Display Solutions. “The key is to lay out the content so that the champion can easily make changes to it. A tip is to make things text-updateable so that it’s as easy as updating a Web site.”
5. Having the right content
In order to make sure that content is updated regularly and still appropriate for religious settings, Mike White, president of Multi-Media Solutions, says to establish a written policy for content on the network before it goes live. “This is seldom done and is sometimes painful to complete because it requires work, but failure to plan for content is a guarantee that the content will eventually cause trouble,” he said. “It’s no different than in any other environment in the sense that if the content is not fresh and pertinent, people will cease to pay any attention, or even worse take an aggressive position against the technology.”
6. Getting content to the screens
Many houses of worship don’t have full-time IT staff, so when planning a digital signage network it becomes very important to decide how the content is going to get to the screens. Experts tend to go back and forth between using a software-as-a-service model (where the content and software are hosted online) and a LAN/WAN model (where the house of worship operates the network on its existing network infrastructure).
Cahoy, who works for a SaaS software provider, said that “for this environment SaaS provides the most flexibility to include multiple members to contribute content and eases the burden of the church having to set up and maintain servers and network infrastructure. It also helps them put the system into an operating budget providing a predictable monthly or annual fee.” But some institutions may not be as keen on that reccurring fee as others. “I don’t see a lot of SaaS in churches because especially in this environment people like to buy something and own it outright,” Searcy said. “They don’t want to know the bills will go on forever, even if it’s not very much. They would rather raise the money, get it and be done with it.”
7. Finding an ROI
The burning question for deployers of digital signage is always “Where is my ROI?” — and it is no different for houses of worship. However, the ROI in this case may not always be monetary. “If I can cut my bulletin from five to three pages or increase donations, there is a savings there,” Zmuda said. “But institutions see a real ROI in the improvement of communication.” Others call this the return on message (ROM) or return in objective (ROO), but the bottom line is that a house of worship network will be deemed successful if it results in increased participation and having a congregation that is better informed and engaged.