Theotek Podcast #023: Church Computer Buying Guide
The Microsoft Surface 3 came out and a couple of our team members got one. Rick Mansfield and I talk about our impressions of Microsoft’s new tablet and how it works as a Bible study tool.
The Surface 3 discussions led us to talking about what kind of computer we recommend users buy for their church. We take another stab at it here with recommendations for a computer for the sanctuary, the pastor and the church secretary.
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A Computer for the Church Secretary
In one sense almost any computer will do. The key for a church secretary is being able to work on office documents, print things like bulletins and newsletters, work on the books and handle all the tasks he or she will need to do. So here’s our specific recommendations.
Most people already know Windows, so find a decent desktop system since they don’t cost as much. If someone at the church can work on desktop systems, install a hard drive and install an operating system, then get the Lenovo ThinkServier TS140 and then put in a fast 256GB SSD. Buy a copy of Windows. This makes for a speedy system that can do dual display with two DisplayPort out ports on the back and 6 USB ports on back and two on front. The reason I’m recommending a server is because it’s fast, powerful and costs just $260 on Amazon. Install this 240GB Kingston SSD for under $90 and buy a copy of Windows 7 for under $70 for a total of $420. All you need is a keyboard, mouse and monitor which she likely already has.
The 21-inch iMac makes a great option for the Mac lover manning the church office. It starts at just over $1,000 and handles everything the average office user would need.
The MacBook Air plugged into an external monitor and keyboard/mouse can serve as a desktop that’s also portable. It handles all the office work well too. Don’t use one unless you get a larger screen monitor too.
Surprise! Antoine suggests no PC at all. Instead he suggests the secretary using an iPad. That’s a novel choice and we’ll let you ask him directly how in the world he thinks she can really get all of her work done on a 10-inch display that doesn’t run anything more than apps. She’ll likely need a Bluetooth keyboard to go with it and may want a display plus the adapter to plug it in or the Apple TV hooked up so she can do screen mirroring to a larger screen.
A Computer for the Pastor
Pastors need something that portable so they can take it home, on the road or put it on their desk. They also need a little more power since many pastors will want to promote their church with video, pictures and maybe audio of their sermons. That’s why all three of our team suggests a laptop/two-in-one computer.
Since my friends will likely push the MacBooks, I’ll suggest the Microsoft Surface Pro 3. It’s an awesome computer. Wait and MS will likely release a new version (Surface Pro 4 possibly) in the coming months. It’s a surprising fast, powerful and easy to use system that doubles as a tablet and laptop.
Add the excellent Microsoft Dock and hook up a monitor, keyboard and mouse and you get a desktop too for a few hundred dollars more.
The Surface Pro 3 costs $799 for the low-end model, but I recommend getting one with at least 256GB of storage for $1,299.
Rick also suggests the MacBook Air for the Apple fans or the Surface Pro 3 for the Windows users.
The new MacBook will fit well, but might not come with enough power. That’s why a MacBook Pro will always fit.
Antoine also likes the Surface Pro 3 for the Pastor. That’s the trifecta!
A Computer for the Sanctuary
The sanctuary computer needs more power than either the pastor or the secretary. According to Memory Tree of Austin such a system will need at least two video outputs and a dedicated graphics card will help keep it from stalling while playing video and presenting graphics. Some people also use the same computer to record audio and video and stream the worship service online. I recommend getting two if you do all that. Hook up one to the sound system and record the audio and stream the video using that computer. Display the lyrics using software like MediaShout or ProPresenter, which handles lyrics, Bible verses, graphics, video and audio files.
The Lenovo recommended for the secretary will also work in the sanctuary. Install a good video card to get the two outputs for driving the screen and the monitor connected for the operator.
Wes uses the MacBook Air, which starts at $899 for the 11-inch machine. It’s a great system for churches with simpler needs. Wes uses open source church presentation software so it doesn’t require a lot of horsepower. I think most people will prefer the 13-inch system because it gives them more room for sowing the presentation user-interface. He suggests adding an external hard drive for media storage.
The 27-inch iMac brings plenty of power and screen real-estate for running presentations and doing multi-tasking like recording or streaming the service while presenting and controlling the sound board.
When we asked Antoine what he suggests for the worship computer, he said, “None.” He suggested only hooking up a Chromecast ($35) or a Tronsmart Miracast dongle (under $30 and connects via HDMI) to a projector. Of course he meant that the church should use either the pastor’s or secretary’s tablet to cast or wirelessly display their content over the projector.
Ben Evans gives some depth to the response I’ve given towards this question: http://ben-evans.com/benedictevans/2015/5/14/mobile-first
Of course, in order to receive such a perspective, living out of it makes its case. I’m particular, that is – not normal, in that respect.
Small clarification to my answer also: I don’t think a church/sanctuary needs a PC. Those persons with admin tasks usually need a computer, but would be better served by a computer that’s not a “work PC” but is personal that just has a work mode. Church admin software no longer needs to be held on-site, and through free and low cost online services, all work can be done thru a browser or app (yes, even video editing). I think it’s a disservice to the fellowship-first behavior of the church if we continue to pursue a model where the church is a place things get done, rather than the connection(s) which cause us to meet anyplace.