Communication Can Make All The Difference In Making A Ministry Much More Effective

Over the years I’ve worked with churches, the problems I find often have foundation in basic communication, organization and administrative skills — or more precisely, the lack thereof.

Over the years I’ve worked with churches, the problems I find often have foundation in basic communication, organization and administrative skills—or more precisely, the lack thereof.

My primary field of interest and experience is with the technical side of ministry, so the discussion here will reflect that. However, I offer that many of these same approaches and ideas can be applied to many areas of a ministry.

Quite often I visit with a church where there are numerous complaints about a lack of consistently in the technical area, and the explanation goes something like: “When Jim is here everything works, but when he is not it is a disaster.”

I know at that point that while Jim may be a great operator and may understand the system very well, he’s most likely not a good delegator, administrator or teacher. When a church is suffering from the “Jim’s the man” syndrome, I can almost guarantee that the mixing board/patching is either not labeled, labeled incorrectly or just poorly labeled. The poor folks who are mixing on the weeks Jim is not there end up scrambling just to get things properly connected and working.

Also, because they’re volunteers and “Jim the man” is the golden boy in the eyes of the Worship Leader, people are afraid to step in and to try to organize and logically lay out the board.

Other things that end up happening usually relate back to clear organization, things like:

• Batteries failing in the middle of the service because everybody thought someone else had changed them.

• Trying four mic cables until you find one that works, because nobody throws out or labels the bad cables.

• The last minute scramble to find a mic (or stand, or direct box) that is missing because somebody used it during the week in another room at the church.

• Nobody shows up to mix on a Sunday morning. Bob traded with Steve who traded with George and now nobody really knows who on for the next month.

• The sound person “on” for a given week shows up “late” because “Jim the man” never told him/her the Worship Leader was bringing in a mini-orchestra of 10 players, along with  six vocalists. The poor sound person was actually on-time for a typical Sunday, but did now know an extra hour or so was needed for additional setup.

I’m sure you can add your own list of frustrations but rather than moan over them, let’s look at how to prevent them.

1) Get together as a group and agree to a consistent layout of the mixing board and create a channel/patch list that sits next to the board. Also, commit to each other that if for some reason you need to deviate from the standard layout, immediately following the service you will reset the boars to the standard layout.

2) Make a rule that first thing every Sunday new batteries go in the wireless mics. This takes the guess work out of the equation and also lets you use the mics during the week without wondering when the batteries will die. Wireless mics usually last up to 10 hours on a fresh set of batteries. To be precise, check the specs of your system, and then simply do the math.

3) Throw away bad cables. I know that this is not eco-friendly and everyone likes to occasionally get out the soldering iron. However, my experience shows that either the repair never happens and the cable accidentally gets placed back with the good ones, or a repair ends up being poorly done.

4) Organize mics, cables and all accessories and put a sign out sheet that details who took the item and to what room they took it to. This way everyone will know where that missing equipment should be located.

5) Hand out or post online a schedule for six months of who is “on” every Sunday. In the sound booth (or online), keep a master schedule with this rule: “if your name is on for that day, you’d better be there.” This doesn’t mean that dates can’t be traded; rather, if dates are traded, this should be immediately noted on the master schedule.

6) Put the burden on the Worship Leader to communicate—ahead of time—with the actual person that is on for that Sunday. A simple email with a stage layout and instrument list will provide the information needed to plan for special needs and configurations, as well as the time to do them right.

These may sound like simple suggestions, but may churches are simply negligent in these fairly basic tasks. If there is a no leader of the crew, volunteer to be the coordinator, or facilitator that will facilitate the items above. If there is a clear leader, offer to help them with the organization. In a respectful manner, of course

 

Insuring Consistency From Service To Service

The benefit of keeping everything in its place and in working order

Talking with worship technicians and worship leaders, I often hear the complaint that from week to week, the quality of Sunday morning services varies.

Some of this stems from training, such as when there’s a problem and the tech doesn’t know how to fix it. Some of it is skill; for example, some sound engineers just have a better ear and command of the equipment than others.

The skill level of musicians may also vary, usually due to lack of experience and thus confidence. When they know a song, no problem, but when they’re unsure, they hold back and can become tentative.

But in my experience, there’s another primary contributor to the problem of inconsistency: equipment status and organization.

Example: It’s five minutes before the start of the service, and the sound engineer is sweating bullets, being told to set up for an additional four musicians that the worship leader hadn’t mentioned until just now. No time for sound check, no time for even a simple line check for these new players.

The mics and direct boxes are quickly located, plugged in, and positioned, and then the engineer high-tails it to the sound booth in time for the start of the service.

Rough estimates are made requiring the input gain and monitor levels, a quick prayer murmured, and the channels are unmuted for the opening song.

Then, and of course, “it” happens: that infamous bzzzzzzzz that makes everyone’s hair stand on end!

This particular time, the problem is the additional bass player’s direct box. Time for a split decision: mute the channel or quickly get to the stage to check find the cause, likely the line cord on the bass, or the direct box is faulty (or set wrong), or the direct box cable is bad, or…?!?

With so many potential trouble spots, and so much else going on during the service, the choice is likely going to be to mute the channel and be comforted by the fact that at least some of the sound coming from the bass rig is still being heard in the house, so the player’s efforts aren’t completely wasted.

Was this entire situation preventable? Of course! And, as usual, it’s the simple things that matter most.

There are at least five things that could and should have been done prior to this “sweat and bzzzzzz” fest:

1) Basic maintenance. All cables and cords need to be checked on a monthly basis. In addition, these should be treated properly (wrapped correctly) and organized (hung in a single, logical location). I recommend a peg board, where cables are sorted by type and length. This way, they can be easily found, even in pressure situation, and will work correctly.

There should be at least two spare cables for each variety of cables (and connectors) being used.

2) Organization. Staying with audio, it’s vital to know exactly how many inputs, and what type, will be required for each and every service. And all of these must be set up and tested ahead of time.

3) Communication. Techs should regularly interface with the worship leader and never be shy about asking if anything new or unusual is coming up. Do this early, and as often as necessary. It beats being surprised, and, it also beats having things go wrong on Sunday.

Still, last-minute stuff can and will happen. Working sound at my church recently, I noticed on the worship order that a missions report had been scheduled, and it would be delivered by someone we weren’t outfitted with a headset/lavalier mic. This was 10 minutes before the service.

So I walked up to the stage and quickly arranged for one of the vocalists, at the appropriate time, to hand off her vocal mic to the person delivering the report, and then to collect it when he was done. Nothing genius, but a last-minute solution that worked smoothly and well. When the time came, I was ready to quickly adjust that particular mic channel to adjust for the new person’s particular voice and mic handling.

4) Plan ahead, and always have a “plan B.” Normally the above scenario would not have been an issue because we always keep a spare “just in case” handheld mic on a stand on the stage (discretely out of the way). But at this particular point in the service, it was already going to be used by someone else on the worship team.

5) Have a party! (You didn’t see that one coming, did you?) Once every few months or so,  the entire tech team should get together to go through all of the equipment, making sure it’s all there, working properly, and organized. It really helps to make this a fun, festive event, with pizza and cold drinks and some time for everyone to “just hang.”

Keep these five things in mind, and you’ll see a dramatic improvement in consistency from service to service.

 

How Loud is Too Loud?

Your congregation’s perception of what is “too loud” during your services can be heavily influenced by quality of mix, sound system, acoustics and musical dynamics.

Sitting in the tech booth during a service on a recent Sunday, I had an “a-ha” moment. Not a big one, but still a good lesson.

We had traded worship bands for the day with our sister church. Our band was playing at their place, and vice versa.

One of our front of house people, Justin, traveled with the band to do the mixing. Just as our service began, I received a text from Justin that simply said, “Running a service at 85 dBA. A new record!” I glanced over at the Smaart app running on my iPad, and our levels were hovering around 88 dBA.

This was during a mellow song; moments later we were doing 90 to 95 dBA. Just then, Justin texted me again: “Update. I was able to get it to 80 dBA. It seems to have pleased the masses.”

This “conversation” (via text) got me thinking about the “how loud is too loud” conversation that’s a constant among church tech folks.

I realized this:

1) Since we’ve installed a new loudspeaker system and acoustical treatment, we’ve been running a bit louder yet haven’t received a single complaint (or for that matter, even a “suggestion” to turn it down).

2) Dynamics really do play into perceived level.

We all know that if the sound is pleasing, we tolerate more level. Think of your morning alarm clock at 90 dBA versus your favorite song on the car radio at 90 dBA—it’s a BIG difference in how you react to those sounds.

Watching as our meter hit 97 dBA, I thought “wow, it just doesn’t seem that loud.” Clearly, it was a combination of a good mix, excellent system, and the acoustical tightness of the room. (Lends credence to getting the the best system you can and mixing it loud!)

But the “a-ha” moment occurred when the band played a familiar song in a very different way. It usually starts out loud with a big guitar riff and big drums. However, this band began it with acoustic guitar only. I glanced at the meter and it read 72 dBA, and the sound was good and the level “felt” appropriate.

Then without warning came a huge downbeat, with everyone hitting it hard and then taking off. But the meter read just 86 dBA. What?! It had to be wrong, because it sure sounded like 92 to 95 dB.

The answer is obvious, however. The contrast was so great that the perceived change in volume was greater than the actual change. Kind of like when you walk out of a dark space directly into sunlight—once your eyes adjust, it’s not usually painfully bright.

The band used this type of dynamic very effectively throughout the service, bringing it way down for the quiet parts and then jumping on louder passages. They were quite skilled at it, and the new system was able to reproduce it very well.

When things got quiet, it still sounded full and rich, and when things got louder, the system responded accurately and without compressing or distorting. I watched the front of house mixer, Trevor, keep his right hand on the control group that we call program (basically everything but vocals). He wasn’t shy about riding the control group to also help accentuate the band’s change in dynamics.

So the lesson is clear: give dynamics more credence to add power and emotion to the mix.

I realize these observations aren’t earth shattering, but it’s a valuable reminder to mix to the appropriate level for the sound system. Don’t push it if the system can’t handle it. Also make sure that the system has enough headroom so that it can respond to these types of changes in level.

It’s also vital for us to bear in mind how we can best help accentuate the dynamics that a band is already producing on stage, to take advantage of that while resisting the temptation to overmix and overprocess.

Loud where it should be, soft where it should be—use the dynamics to make it all the more powerful.

 

Church DNA: Who are you? Who?

Along the way it has become an idea, that if the big, cool churches are doing something, then everybody feels like they need to copy them and do the same thing.

 

A good friend of mine Jeff Abbott, service programming director at Ada Bible Church in Ada, Michigan recently opined about the copycat syndrome in today’s churches.

He talked about how a couple of years ago everyone had to have pallets on their stage to look cool.

He also bemoaned the current use of LED tape.

Jeff has nothing against pallets or LED tape, however he is discouraged by what he refers to the cookie cutter look of today’s contemporary churches.

Jeff continued on talking about the idea that if the big, cool churches are doing something, then everybody feels like they need to copy them and do the same thing.

Jeff asked the question “Does God really want the church to be a bunch of clones, stamping a couple clones out in towns across the country?”

Both Jeff and I agree that we do not believe that is what God intended for the church.

It really comes down to a church understanding their own DNA and culture and living that out.

I was at a training session where the main topic was diversity.  Point blank I expected the typical talk on culture differences and the understanding that we need to develop between cultures.  The speaker asked the simple question of how many different cultures that we thought existed.

I began trying to estimate the number of countries and then thinking I could probably add a 5 to 10x factor to that number.

I figured each country had a main culture with a few additional sub cultures that permeated each country.  His answer rocked me on my heals and shocked me.  He proclaimed with authority that there are around 7 billion cultures in the world!

Wait 7 billion, how can that be?  That is about how many people are on earth.  Exactly!

So am I saying that we need to have 7 billion different churches?  I believe there should be 7 billion different temples as our bodies are the temple of the Lord, I do not believe each person is a church.
A church is a collection of cultures (people). I liken to America, there is the distinct American culture but in that culture there are a lot of subcultures.

On the lateral plane there are culture separations based on race, socioeconomic class and the like.  On the vertical plane there is the age difference, the Boomer, GenX and Millennials.  All of the different cultures make up the overall American culture.

The church is really the same way.

As people we bring our own diverse culture under the umbrella of the church to collectively create its own distinct culture.  This could be a culture based around evangelism, missions, doctrine etc.  Whatever that culture is, a wise church will base its ministry around the culture, thus creating the DNA of the church.

Once discovered, each church must do and create things that fit into its own unique DNA.

This does not mean that a church cannot learn and adapt ideas from another church or other institution.  It means that the church has to meld it into their unique DNA.

A great example that I experienced of this taking place was at the WFX conference.

Jeff and I were walking downtown Louisville, enjoying the downtown when Jeff suddenly stopped and pulled out his phone and snapped a picture of a window display.  The display was a cool wood design that filled the front window of an architectural firm.  It really resonated with Jeff (and myself), it also was a perfect window display for an architectural firm that showed off their design creativity.  Jeff turned to me and said, “I just got a great idea for a set design”.

Will the set look exactly like the window display?  I doubt it. When Jeff builds the set it will be inspired by the window display, in fact it will most likely bear a strong resemblance to it.  More importantly the DNA of Ada Bible Church will be woven into the set and it will become part of who Ada Bible is.

If you don’t know or understand the DNA at your church, discover it!

Also do things that fit your DNA.

This includes taking things that you see and weaving them into your DNA.

Does a Great Facility Equal Great Growth?

Having a well-kept, nice facility is just expected. Also having the proper technology to carry out your ministry is a total must…

 

Does a great facility = great growth?

Having a well-kept, nice facility is just expected.  Also having the proper technology to carry out your ministry is a total must.

Over the years that I’ve been involved in ministry, I have noticed that there can be what I call the “want to be” syndrome.

The statements – I am sure you have also heard – go something like this, “If only we had the technology that XYZ church has, we would grow as fast as they are”.  Or “If our building looked that nice we too could have rapid growth.”

Mentally most of know that the above statement is not true for the church, in business or in general.

I am currently listening to one of the many biographies on the life of Steve Jobs.  Many of you know that that when Steve left apple, only to come back a decade later, he started a company call NeXT.  Steve had it all: he recruited the best engineers and built the most advanced factory and well-equipped offices.

Steve himself was a visionary, a charismatic (if not sometimes frightening) leader.  NeXT however basically tanked being acquired by Apple (some say that NeXT was only purchased by Apple to get Steve back) for a fraction of the investment that went into the company.

How could a company that had the best of support and wind at its back fail?  I contend that it was Steve’s journey in the wilderness, he had lost direction and purpose.

Churches too can fall into this trap.  I have seen church plants that seem to have everything, a great place to meet, plenty of financing and yet not succeeded.  Success is not guaranteed by the amount of resources that we possess.

Another way to look at this is to realize that the reason your ministry may be stagnant or dying is not because you don’t have the cool technology, or a fancy facility.  Most likely the stagnation come from the fact that the church is not connecting with people or living out and fulfilling its calling and mission.

A change in venue or and upgrade often just moves the problem, it the proverbial lipstick on the pig.  Sure it looks a little nicer, but it’s still a pig.  In fact, I believe that new technology may only magnify your current irrelevance. It’s like putting new siding on a building with a bad foundation or a new paint on a car with a bad or blown engine.  It may look better but it’s still going to crumble or stop running.

The false hope and belief that something new can spark growth or change the current reality leads many churches to get out the lipstick, somehow hoping against hope that nobody will notice the stench that is still there.

Reality check.  Buildings and technology are a means to an end.  They can help facilitate growth but in no way are they the secret cause.

I think the biggest proof of this is the fact that you can have a growing church in a centuries old building and you can kill or have a dead or dying church in a brand new multi-million-dollar facility.

If you are counting on facilities or technology to somehow be the thing alone that brings growth to your ministry, you better get ready for a major disappointment.