5 Elements of An Engaging Church Facility

One of the activities that a church facility needs to facilitate is creating an active sense of community.

It is true that buildings are basically what we call brick and mortar, however we must also recognize that they have character and thus communicate a message about the inhabitants and often facilitate very specific activities.

Church attendance is often driven by our desire as humans to connect.

We primarily go to church to connect with God, but there is also a huge element of human/social connection that brings people thru the doors.

For a church one of the activities that a building should facilitate is creating a sense of community.

So how can brick and mortar help create a sense of community?

Church Seating Areas

When you show up early or stay later after a service you may want to have an extended conversation with someone you haven’t seen lately, or perhaps with someone who is personally struggling with a loss or tough situation in their life.

To connect on such a deep and personal level can be difficult if you are standing in a crowded lobby.  In that lobby setting there are fears of being overheard and also the constant distraction and interruptions as people walk by and wave or stop and say hi.

There is something about a seating area that is off to the side that communicates, do not interrupt.

It’s almost like you put up a do not disturb sign. In reality these areas often are where deep ministry takes place.  People are more open if they feel safe from being overheard or interrupted.

Community is about Gathering Space

There is something exciting about a crowd.

The noise, the closeness and sometimes what feels like chaos gives off a strong energy of “something is happening here”.  A lobby is great place to be seen and to see people and make a quick connection.

Church attendance is often driven by our desire as humans to connect.

We primarily go to church to connect with God, but there is also a huge element of human/social connection that brings people thru the doors.

For a church one of the activities that a building should facilitate is creating a sense of community.

So how can brick and mortar help create a sense of community?

Church Seating Areas

When you show up early or stay later after a service you may want to have an extended conversation with someone you haven’t seen lately, or perhaps with someone who is personally struggling with a loss or tough situation in their life.

To connect on such a deep and personal level can be difficult if you are standing in a crowded lobby.  In that lobby setting there are fears of being overheard and also the constant distraction and interruptions as people walk by and wave or stop and say hi.

There is something about a seating area that is off to the side that communicates, do not interrupt.

It’s almost like you put up a do not disturb sign. In reality these areas often are where deep ministry takes place.  People are more open if they feel safe from being overheard or interrupted.

Community is about Gathering Space

There is something exciting about a crowd.

The noise, the closeness and sometimes what feels like chaos gives off a strong energy of “something is happening here”.  A lobby is great place to be seen and to see people and make a quick connection.

This might be as simple as doing some of the above. Moving or creating new coffee stations, creating seating areas, adding tabletops can all give clues to where people should go and connect with each other.

Another way to help in traffic flow is to have key people that set an example or politely encourage people to move to s specific location.

If someone is lingering in front of the coffee station having an extend conversation blocking the area often someone simply coming up and saying excuse me as they walk towards the coffee station with give a social cue that the people in conversation need to move.

Your facility can most definitely facilitate community. 

Your challenge is to do the work and figure out what you can do to help make this happen.

Wayfinding, Which Way is Which?

One of the most difficult tasks for a church is making visitors feel comfortable. Here’s what you can do to help visitors – before and after – they enter your doors.

I believe one of the most difficult tasks for a church is making visitors feel comfortable.

The difficulty lies in the fact that every person is unique in their needs and desires.  Some want to be warmly welcomed and shown around.

Others just want to slip in an out unnoticed until they are ready to reveal themselves.

However there is one commonality that can make every visitor very uncomfortable. That is the feeling of being lost.

For most people anyplace that is new and different can be, and often is intimidating.  If the experience is visiting a large unfamiliar church – that visit can be overwhelming. And even being a guest at a small local church can be scary.

So what can you do to make that visitor feel more comfortable – before and after –  they enter your doors?

Give them an experience before the visit.

People feel more comfortable if they know what to expect.

A number of churches do a good job on their website, explaining what attire is expected and giving a little narrative about what to do or where to go.  But why not give people more of an experience on your website?

A church that I am working with is putting together a visitor experience for their website that includes a fly thru with a drone. The drone video will take the visitor from the parking lot thru the entrance, show the visitor center, coffee area, restroom locations and children’s area.

The idea is to stage it so it looks like a Sunday morning. So there would be people in the building, making it look as life like as possible.

I love this idea!

Now if drone footage is not possible for you to get on your website, add a floor plan and pictures.

The more comfortable you can make someone feel the more likely they are to walk thru your doors on a Sunday morning.

Guide their Sunday church experience

For me one of the frustrating things in life is not knowing where to go when I walk thru the door of a building.

The problem for the person designing the wayfinding is that they do know where I want to go or what my level of “knowing” about that building or similar buildings are.

So to make signage work well, the designer of the wayfinding system must take a lot of different variables into account.

Even though there are a lot of variables some very simple truths hold true.

The first is to keep signs clear and concise.  Don’t make people have to think or interpret what the message is.  One of the many great laughs I had at the last WFX in Louisville, KY a few months ago was over this conference center sign.

One of my friends saw the sign and called me over and said, I guess no miracles allowed here because they won’t let Jesus walk on water.  Thus we created the meme

Really wayfinding is a pretty straight forward proposition and with some thought and planning it doesn’t have to be subpar.

What is good wayfinding at your church facility?

Wayfinding is really a simple problem solving exercise:

1) The person needs to know where they are at (i.e. main entrance)
2) They need to know where they want to go (i.e. childrens ministries)
3) They need to find out the route that will get them there
4) They have to be able to correctly follow the route
5) The have to know when they get to the destination

To solve these simple problems with the use of signs:

1) Keep it simple
2) Show only what is needed, don’t overly complicate directions or maps
3) Give clues along the way to keep people on the route.

In addition to having good signage there should also be a person at the welcome area that is very good at giving directions.

The person giving directions should have some simple nice looking floor plans printed on paper.  The direction giver can then draw on the map and point out landmarks along the way.

Another great way to solve the problem of giving directions is to have someone available that will lead the person to where they want to go.

In numerous churches I have been at the children’s check in area is usually the most difficult to find and the most difficult to figure out what to do when you get there.

So having an advocate (guide) that can take a family to the children’s area and then walk them thru the check in process would help make a lot of first time visitors feel much more relaxed and comfortable.

Wayfinding really doesn’t have to be a frustrating, difficult thing.

With some good signage and some people available to assist newcomers. You can easily make all of your guests feel comfortable.

A Word To The Wise When Thinking DIY

I’ve seen and heard some really scary things done with a “do it yourself” AV systems approach

Often when I’m working with churches (particularly smaller congregations), the issue of installing things themselves comes up. It usually revolves around the church purchasing the equipment (hopefully from me – on occasions churches have taken a design I’ve done and then gone online and purchased all of the equipment to install, and then to top it off they call me and ask for advice when it doesn’t work) and then pulling the cables, hanging the loudspeakers and hooking it all up themselves.

I’m all for having volunteers working alongside a qualified contractor. By doing a project in this fashion, the volunteers not only learn a lot about the system, they also get some real “skin in the game” and thus some ownership.

However, based on a lot of years of experience, I’m not a fan of a church doing an installation without the assistance of a professional. Under this scenario I’ve seen and heard some really scary things.

Recently I was at a venue where the ownership had obviously decided to try and save some money on the design and installation of a sound system. It has two loudspeakers that must have been purchased from the local music store – they were a portable design with handles for lugging them around.

To install these loudspeakers, someone came up with the great (not!) idea of throwing a tow strap over a beam and tying each end of the strap to the handles (see the photo above).

In a way, it’s somewhat amusing, but it’s also disturbing and more than a little frightening, because these speakers are hanging 20 feet above an area that people travel heavily, thus creating a huge safety issue. A qualified contractor would never install anything in a fashion that would resemble these hanging weights ready to fall.

Further, the coverage is awful. The loudspeakers are almost 80 feet apart, and as I walked through the coverage, I also determined that they must have a 40-degree horizontal coverage pattern (as I traveled into coverage, then out of coverage, then back into coverage…).

And the sound coming out of these loudspeakers resembles a total “frown face” EQ setting – harsh midrange and not much else.

So, how can you make a DIY successful rather than something resembling this example?

1) Don’t do any part of an installation that you’re not 100 percent confident that you can do correctly. This seems rather obvious, but a lot of folks do not seem to be able to correctly determine if they are competent enough or not.

2) Pay for and use the advice and instruction from a professional. Don’t just try to pilfer information – be up front with them and ask them to provide you with a price to consult you on the project. Note not all contractors will be willing to help with advice only because they’re not used to doing business this way.

And perhaps more importantly, they may be (rightfully) concerned about the liability issues involved by dispensing advice on how to hand loudspeakers. My suggestion is that any part of an installation that could potentially lead to a safety issue should be left for a professional to do.

3) Select a qualified professional that will act as a partner. Choose a contractor that will work with you in dividing the tasks and responsibilities for the project. For example, the volunteers at a church could pull in all of the cable, with the contractor doing testing and termination.

Saving money and having some ownership in the installation of the system is a good thing, just make sure that you can competently (and safely) perform all of the tasks that you set out to do.

 

Getting A Handle On Church System Maintenance, Upgrades & Lifecycles

Get people on board, start the discussion early and have a plan.

Do you replace production/system equipment based on it being worn out or for new features and functionality?

When we get a new system or new piece of gear, often the last thing on our minds is repairs or the life cycle of the system.

In my view, churches are getting better at understanding professional A/V systems. I find that in general the market is more aware of the cost versus the expectation of the system, along with the willingness to spend the dollars to get it right (or at least as right as they can afford). I’m grateful for the improvement.

However an area where I see little or no improvement is in operation, maintenance and lifecycle replacement expectations.

It’s not uncommon for a church to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a great sound system and then never think about who is going to operate it, and just as importantly, who is going to be responsible for maintaining it. In fact, too often I see churches balk when one of the sound techs asks for a few hundred dollars to attend a tech training conference.

Another factor is the short(er) lifecycle of today’s equipment I don’t mean that stuff fails sooner; it’s more that technology keeps surpassing itself.

The church that I serve has been in a new sanctuary for only seven years. When the technical systems were designed and installed, digital consoles were in the early (and generally pricey) stage. HD video was being discussed but not widely adopted. Line arrays for permanent installations had just recently come into fashion.

All that said, my church has a great-sounding left-center-right main loudspeaker system, a premium 56-channel analog console, and a 12 x 16 rear-projection system that works well. Even so, we’ve started discussions on replacing some of our equipment. (Well, actually “repurposing” is more accurate, because the current stuff will be utilized elsewhere in the church.)

Part of the push to replace is based on age. The console is starting to have some minor issues (although nothing yet that can’t easily be repaired). But in reality, the big push is based on changes in both technology and expectations. We’ve started hosting concerts in the space, and the main system has a hard time getting over 100 dBA.

So with technology moving so quickly, what should you expect when purchasing a new system?

One.) Don’t expect it to perform at its best without having qualified and trained personnel operating it.

Two.) Do expect it deteriorate without regular maintenance. I suggest having systems checked annually by a professional contractor, even if there are not any apparent problems.

Three.) Don’t expect it to last forever. Be realistic about the life expectancy of the equipment, and more importantly, recognize that the technology in most cases will become obsolete before it fails. I’ve read that the average life expectancy of an A/V system is as little as three to five years (especially when you’re talking about video projectors).

Four.)
Do expect to need to educate the leadership at your church as to how and why the technology needs to be updated. Actually, this is an activity that needs to happen on a consistent basis – no one likes to be surprised with a big ticket purchase that was not anticipated.

How can you go about it?

1) Upgrade as you go, a piece or two at a time. This can be a great way to keep a system current. As new, beneficial technology becomes available, cycle out the older stuff.

For example, the system is working fine and sounds good, but the mixing console is coming up on 10 years old. So it could be replaced with a newer model, and at the same time, you can be planning similar transitions for loudspeakers, amplifiers and so on.

The main problem I see with this approach is that if the leader of the technical area is not the same person for a number of years, the upgrade process can suffer from lack of consistency.

2) Take the “big leap” and do an overhaul every 7 to 10 years. I’m currently working with a large church on a significant upgrade that has taken almost five years to come to fruition. Over that time span, the design has changed and the cost estimate has increased, but what has stayed consistent is the accumulation of money to do the project.

The key thing in making a significant upgrade happen is to have a vision, backed by a concrete plan to have the money available to do it. By outlining the project at the outset and then accruing a bite-sized chunk of the cost, year after year, the church has been able to do steadily accomplish its vision without having to do the typical fund raising, committee meetings and deacon approval.

To me, both ways work – it’s just very important that the discussion gets started early and that people are onboard in their commitment to technical system excellence.

A 5 Step Framework To Building

 
Five key points are involved when a church is ready to embark on a building program.

Often I find myself consulting or giving advice as to what steps a church should take when they are ready to embark on a building program. In general, there are five key points involved in a building project.  Each of those points could be an article, or book unto themselves.

My goal is to introduce to the steps and give you a basic overview of what each step entails.

Each congregation is unique however by following these steps you can head down the road of building with confidence.

Vision

This obvious step is often over looked. As American’s we love to jump to the what.  What are we going to build?

We really need to spend much more time at the Why?  The why is not just because our ministry is growing and needs space. The why is, what is our DNA, what has God purposed us, this fellowship to do at this moment in time.

Additionally, what vision has God given us as it relates to what our future ministry will look like.

Brushing over this initial step has led many churches to build something they either didn’t need or ends up not meeting the true needs of their ministry.  I currently am working with a church that is building small.  They average around 800 and are building a 450 seat auditorium.  That means that immediately as they move into the new facility they will be doing multiple services and in essence be packed out with 2 or 3 services.

This church knows its DNA, they don’t feel called to be a mega church, they believe God has called them to impact they neighborhood he has placed them in.

So they are referring to this first building as an incubator.

They Plan to grow a vibrant congregation and in 18-24 months spin off 75% of that congregation to a new location just across town.  The 25% that remain at the incubator location will then start fresh, new staff and everything and seek to grow a vibrant church that can be spun off in 18-24 months again leaving 25% at the incubator to do it again and again.

This church gets who they are called to be, a local church that makes a difference in the neighborhood where they are planted. So their plan is to have multiple fully functioning, self-supporting locations that infiltrate the town in which God has place them. This determined the size and location of the facilities they are building.

Feasibility

At the firm I work for we do a significant amount of what we call Phase 1 work.  A phase one is really a feasibility and needs study that is done to provide budgeting for the project.  This process where we come in and sit down with your leadership and ministry teams gives direction to what is going to be built and how much it will cost.

This second step should be done only after they vision part is complete.  It is vital that you know who you are before you embark on what to build.

The Phase 1 process allows the vision of the building to take shape and form.  After sitting down will all the stake holders in the project a conceptual drawing is completed as well as a floor plan.

From this a budget for the project is determined.  What is great about this process is that the church now knows how much money they need to raise and they also have tools, the 3D renderings, to share with the congregation.

The nominal cost of a Phase 1 keeps churches from embarking and spending a lot of time and energy on something they can’t afford to build.  It also protects them for wasting a lot of money on design work as they go thru the process.

Financing/Fund raising

Now that budgets have been determined and hopefully also with the renderings, the congregation is ready to move forward.  Now the question becomes how.  Do you take on debt, do an extended fund raising campaign, break the project into phases and build as money is available?

Fundraising is also an area where you have to know your DNA and what direction your congregation would like to pursue in raising funds.  I suggest at this point that churches contract with a professional fund raising frim.  Yes, just like the Phase 1 study, it will cost money.  In this case it is really costing you money to in the end raise significantly more money.

A well run capital campaign can greatly shorten the building process by securing funds quicker.  A good professional fund raising firm will use the 3D renderings done in the feasibility study to help communicate, inspire and call to action your congregation.

Kick off/Full design

Somewhere during the capital campaign, it will be time to give the project the go ahead.

At this point, an architectural firm, or a design/build firm takes a really deep dive into programming. They will get into the nitty gritty of what is the precise square footage that each ministry needs, what the fit and finishes are going to look like (this is likely to be determined by how successful the capital campaign is).

Depending on the delivery method you choose, construction may also begin at the same time you are finalizing the design.

The key in this phase is to revisit the phase 1 process with all of the stakeholders to ensure everyone is still on the same page and has agreed on the same priorities.

Construction

This can be the most exciting time of the entire project. it can also be the most painful.  Likely it will be both.  There is nothing more exciting than to see your dream and vision literally come up from the ground. There is also nothing more painful that having to put a project on hold because the funds are not available.

One of the most important aspects of a construction project is cash flow.  I have seen churches that have had to put a hold on their project because they did not plan the important element of cash flow well.  Yes, they have the money committed but the bank may temporarily cap a construction loan until a certain percentage of that pledged amount is in the bank.

Construction overruns can also bring a project to a halt.  There are many infamous stories of projects that were delayed or never were completed because the change orders during the project emptied the bank account.  This can happen because the owner keeps changing his mind, or finding out as you are building that some major element has to change because the design was faulty. Rarely if ever does it happen because of extenuating circumstance, like material increases.

To ensure that your construction project is more exciting and painful it is important to be sure of your design before you break ground, or be sure that your design and construction team are in sync to bring your project in on time and budget.

Following the framework above, in particular understanding the why, and what your DNA as a church is will lead you to a successful building project.

 

Can A Small Church Be A Great Church?

Why is it that large congregations seem to garner the majority of attention and accolades? Are small churches any less valuable to the Kingdom’s efforts?

Our culture often gets caught up in the bigger the better and that numbers are the most important thing.

We think that more $$, bigger houses and faster cars are the ultimate yardstick.

In a lot of cases pursuing those things ends up causing pain by breaking up families, bankrupting people who risk to much to achieve that status, and by causing despair in people when they either reach their goals and find them empty – or see those things as out of reach and fall into depression.

So then smaller is better right?

Well one can be lazy, have no purpose, squander what resources they have and be just as miserable as those who have the $$, bigger house and faster car.

As churches do we fall into this same trap? 

Do we view the big churches as more successful? More important?  Are small churches considered not as good or as important?

I contend that all churches are important and can be great – big or small.  It really boils down to the heart of the church and living out the mission that God has called them to fulfill.

So how can a small church be a great church?

1. Live out the mission that God has called you as a church to fulfill.
Just as God has a unique calling and role for individuals, He has one for each church.  Discover that calling, focus on it like a laser beam and live it out.

2. Do not try to look and act like a mega church.
That is not what people expect from a small church.

If that is what some people in your church is looking for they probably are not going to last long because they are not part of the DNA of your church.

3. Become Great at who you are!
If local outreach is in your DNA become great at it. Set up a daycare for the single moms, run a fantastic food pantry, have people in your congregation be present in the community. Be true to your calling and make the largest impact that you can!

4. Refuse to settle for anything less than Great.
Just because you don’t have a big budget or huge numbers does not hold you back from being great.  You may have to be creative, put in some blood, sweat and tears but your church can be great!  Stop making excuses, dig in and be great!

5. Keep at it!
Being great is not a single one-time event.  The church is an institution and people expect it to be around for the long haul. They may enjoy a onetime super cool event, but without follow-up and consistency you will become a one hit wonder and not a great legend.

For a small church to be great, it’s really pretty simple.

Discover who God has called you to be as a church, become great at it and then keep it up.

Do the simple stuff, keep the place clean not cluttered. Strip the 80’s wall paper and splash on a fresh coat of paint.  Make sure that the worship team and pastor are well prepared on a Sunday morning, do the work!  Put your main effort into people not programs.  Focus on friendliness not just facilitates.  Always give people the space and time to meet Jesus when in your church’s care.

Go Be Great!

 

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.