When Our Tech World Is Turned Upside Down

Sometimes things can be going so well and then when something goes wrong. well…

Most of us who have been involved in church production have had at least one mistake or failure during a service (I have many), where you just want to disappear in the booth.

One of my most egregious mistakes took place a number of years ago. It was so significant that I still wear the scars from it.

Back in “the day”—when video projection was almost nonexistent because of the huge cost of projectors—I was serving on staff at a large church that used 35 millimeter slides for the visual presentation elements of the service. All of our worship songs, hymns and even the sermon notes were made into slides and projected on a large rear projection screen centered on the wall behind the worship platform (we didn’t dare call it a stage in those days).

On special occasions a slide presentation would be put together to tell the story about and highlight a ministry opportunity or special church event. For the mission conference that year, I put together a 4-projector slide presentation that highlighted the churches involvement in bringing to a remote group of people who had never heard the gospel a special radio program in their native language.

On the first Sunday of the conference we showed the video, I mean slide presentation (the senior pastor always referred to slide presentations as videos). The mission’s pastor liked what I put together using charts and graphs to visually tell the story. He liked it so much that he asked me to transfer it to VHS video tape so he could have it duplicated to give to other churches that he was planning on asking to partner on this project.

I was flattered and quickly set about transferring the slide show to video. In “the day” we were so high tech (not) that we transferred slides presentations to video via projecting the slides on the wall and recording them to video tape. No editing (we had no video editing equipment) or anything special, just tie the audio track into the camera’s audio input and let it rip. So I went and flipped all of the slides around in all 4 of the slide trays (to record to video we projected via front projection on a white wall as it provided better color saturation than our rear projection set up).

The mission conference continued on all that week and was a great success. The mission’s pastor was thrilled with the VHS copy of the slide presentation, and I have to admit I was feeling proud of the work that I had done.

If the accolades from the mission’s pastor were not enough, the senior pastor asked me about 10 minutes before the start of the closing Sunday night service of the conference if we could show the “video” (I knew he meant slide show) again. He went on to say how he also, was impressed with the nice graphs and charts that made up about 80 percent of the slide presentation. I was totally flattered! Wow, he liked it enough to have it shown again!

Additionally, I could not believe he was going to add it into the service, because at the conference time was always at a premium! We were committed to keeping the services to about 1 hour in length, and with missionaries giving updates and the recognition of the missionaries in attendance time was always a precious commodity.

Glowing with pride, just being affirmed for my work I immediately put together a plan to show the slide presentation during the service.

First I had to find someone that could go up in the projection room to switch the slide trays after the praise and worship section. This would be about half of the way through the service.

The drummer for that night was also a tech volunteer—this was perfect! After the praise and worship section and during the announcements he could go up in the projection room and switch the slide trays.

I even thought ahead enough to double-check to make sure the sync track on the audio recording was sending signal up to the slide presentation controller.  Everything checked out, the plan was in place and I was beaming!

For some reason the praise and worship that night seemed richer than normal, I was feeling blessed. As the announcements started I saw the drummer quietly slip out through the worship platform door as he headed to the projection room. Great, I thought, all is going as planned.

The missions pastor concluded the announcements and began setting up the video (I mean slideshow) encouraging everyone to pay careful attention to the numbers on the charts and graphs as they really told the whole story. As he wrapped up the announcements I had the lights beginning to dim, the audio channel open on the sound console and my finger on the 4 track reel to reel play button.

As the lights hit black I hit play and looked down at the audio board to make sure my finger was on the right audio channel. It was at this moment I heard the first chuckle, followed by many more and quickly some outright laughter. In my head I thought this is not a funny slide presentation, in fact it was particularly technical with all the charts and graphs. 

This was much different than the typical slide presentation I put together where the focus would be on the human/emotional side and, often used very close up shots of people’s faces. As my brain was processing the laughter I confirmed with my ears that the audio level was good. I now could take my hands and eyes off the mixing console and look up to see what the laughter was about.

As I looked up and saw the screen reality hit me like a ton of bricks…I had never flipped the slides around from when I transferred the slide presentation to video. I was projecting slides set up for front projection on a rear projection screen!

Translated, all the slides were backwards. Every chart and graph and every number that the missions pastor asked the people to watch carefully was being projected backwards! I realized my only options were to either stop the presentation and not show it or let it roll and hope people would get enough out of the audio track to understand it.

Needless to say that was the longest 5 minutes and 37 seconds of my life.

When the presentation finally ended, the senior pastor (the one who asked me to play the “video”/slide presentation) got up and saved the day. His comments were along the lines of the early church turning the world upside down, and he loosely quoted Acts 17:6, and then went on to say how we were about the business of turning our world inside out.

Laughter once again filled the room and as it died down he quipped, “And oh, by the way, we’re taking applications for the position of director of technical ministries.”

Thankfully I knew that he has a great sense of humor and was just shooting a jab at me. In fact later during the week he told me that he wondered if perhaps the slide presentation was even more effective because people had to pay such close attention to it.

He quickly followed that statement telling me I better not ever do that again. I never have, but at least at the moment when all was awry and I wanted to disappear from the tech booth, my world had been turned upside down and inside out.

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