A few years ago I installed a really nice sound system in a church located in the South Bay area of Southern California. The church had been damage by a fire 12 months earlier and they were having Wednesday and Sunday services in a large tent set-up in the church parking lot. A local audio company supplied the sound and lighting for the services at a cost of $2000 a week to rent and operate the sound and lighting system.

While my crew was installing the new sound system in the main sanctuary, I checked out the system in the tent. It consists of two subs and two tops. The lighting was supplied by four 300 watt par cans mounted one stand per side. The system was used to service 250 to 300 persons per service. It was old and worn, and in my expert opinion the sound and lighting with operator probably would have rented for about $800 to $900 a week in any other venue. Especially since the gear was left set-up from week to week.

If you do the math, the church spent over $100,000 on the rental of that temporary system. That is a lot of money and it seems like even more when you take into account that the new sound and lighting system I installed in the main sanctuary cost a little more than half that—about $55,000. So you really have to know when it is better to rent or better to buy.

If it had been my call, I would have spent $12,000 to $15,000 on an equivalent audio and lighting system, paid a tech $300 a week to mix the Wed and Sunday services and saved $70,000. Money that would have more than paid for the new sanctuary system. But it wasn’t my call and the church leaders who spent $100,000 on rental gear obviously didn’t think things through. Not only would the church have save a pile of cash but they would have another sound and lighting system. They could use the system for a variety of events or just sell it and recoup some of their investment. Any way you slice it, the church leaders were not being good stewards of the congregation’s money.

So, how do you know when to buy or when to rent? First: let’s look at the pros and cons of buying a sound system. You buy it and it is yours. As basic as that sounds it is simply true that you will never have to rent gear you own. Somewhere in the future you can sell the gear. If you own the system you will inevitably become familiar with every piece of gear and potentially become an expert at setting up and operating the equipment.

So, what’s the downside of buying? Initially you will have to put out more money than a single rental cost. Once you own a sound system you will have to have a place to store it when it is not in use. And of course you will be responsible for any breakage or maintenance of the gear.

So, what are the pros and cons of renting? On the plus side, it is much less expensive than buying. You will never have to store your rented gear and if you hire a rental technician, you would have to set-up or tear down the system. If you put on outreach events, you can rent the size of system that meets the particular needs of any given event, which will include lighting if needed. And you will never have to bear the responsibility of maintaining a rented system.

Now let me share my personal thoughts. It all comes down to use. How often will you use the gear you intend on purchasing or renting? If you put on one special event per year in which you need additional equipment or a separate sound system, just rent what you need including a competent technician/operator. However, if you produce 10 events per year, you should buy the gear you will need.  As a rule of thumb, rental gear (including set-up and operation) usually cost about 10% of the purchase price.

So, a $10,000 sound system should cost you about $1000 with delivery, set-up and a technician. So, the math would tell us that ten events would pay for the sound system.

But what if you put on 4, 5 or 6 events per year? With my formula, it will take two years to recoup the cost of the gear. However if your house of worship produces 5 or 6 events you can probably push it to 6 or 7. In this scenario I would suggest you buy your sound system. That said, you will still have to store and maintain the gear.

I only recommend renting gear under these circumstances. ?1: Your church produces 3 or less events per year. ?2: Every event varies in production and audience size. In other words, one sound system would not accommodate all events.
3: Your house of worship simply does not have the money to purchase an entire sound system.

If you really have limited funds for your audio system, consider purchasing some gear and renting the rest until you have an entire system. Buy a mixer and rent the rest of the gear or purchase front of house speakers and rent everything else. Whatever decisions you make strive to be a good steward of your congregation’s money. Good Luck…