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).

Continue reading “When Our Tech World Is Turned Upside Down”

Church Etiquette For Parking Lots

 
Traffic flow can greatly influence how a ministry functions. Here are four keys to developing a parking lot plan to ensure a safe, timely and engaging welcome.

 

At an earlier point in my life I was on staff at a large church that at the time held 5 services on a Sunday. Three in the morning and two at night.

Particularly in the morning we had huge traffic flow issues.  If the first or second service went over in time by more than 5 minutes our parking lot would literally fall apart.

For that season our parking lot dictated a lot of our ministry, most notably the time element of ministry.

As I look back we did a number of good things to help minimize the problem, but it wasn’t until we expanded our sanctuary and parking area that we could really relax and not feel pressured to push people out right after the service was done.  I am sure this took a toll on the amount and quality of fellowship that normally occurred before and after the service.

Note that traffic flow and parking does not just impact a large church, but a church of any size.  How it is handled at every church leads to many perceptions that people form.

Why does parking and traffic flow matter?

When I visit different churches as I do 30 or so times a year, my first impression after seeing what the facility looks like is the parking lot and traffic lanes.

I usually have an immediate insight into a number of things about the church and its ministry based on what I see.  If the parking lot is full, I begin looking for clues as to how to navigate to find a spot to park.  If the lot is empty or sparsely filled I wonder if I am in the right place, or if the person that invited me inflated the number of people that attend on a given weekend.

Now I am going to make a bold statement.

Every church should have at least one parking attendant and yes they should be wearing a safety vest.

Why would I make such a statement?

Surveys say that the average church on a Sunday morning has 186 people in attendance. Additionally, 50 percent of church goers attend a church that falls in to the top 10 percent of churches based on size.

Another way of saying the previous statement is that ½ of all church goers attend a church that has attendance of 350 people or greater.

Using the figure of 2.5 people per car, that means that the average church has 75 cars in its parking lot on a Sunday morning.  That translates into 75 times parking attendants can share a smile, a warm welcome as well as help and instruction every week. For the top 10 percent of churches where ½ of all church attenders go, that first impression number is obviously a lot larger.

What does a well-trained parking lot attendant (or as I like to say, “parking greeter”) do?

  • 1. Depending on the size of the parking lot and number of parking greeters they are directing traffic. The goal is to keep traffic flowing, moving.
  • 2. A parking greeter helps keep the lot picked up and clean of debris. As traffic flow usually becomes an issue just before or just following the service a parking greeter has sometime before the people start arriving to canvass the parking lot and grounds and pick up litter blown in or left behind.
  • 3. Parking greeters provide a feeling of and actual safety and security.  I recommend that a parking greeter or two should remain present in the parking lot the entire morning.  This will ward off any opportunistic thief that might look for the easy score of the contents of an unlocked car.  It also wards off vandalism attempts and mischief of any kind.
  • 4. I believe that the most important reason that parking greeters are there is to do just that. Smile and greet people.  What an opportunity to make a first great impression on a guest.  Immediately upon arrival they are greeted and have connected with someone who can answer some basic questions that they may have.

Some additional things on parking and traffic flow.

If you are geographically located in the north, you should provide valet parking for those who need extra help and care during those months when the parking lot is covered in snow and ice.  I know a church where the Elders and Deacons run the valet service.  They view Valet parking as a way to connect and to keep watch on the elder community.  If they do not see someone on Sunday morning an Elder will give them a call just to make sure they are doing okay.

I have been at churches that have the Disney style golf carts that pick up people at or near where they park. I have also been to churches who’s parking lot only holds a handful of cars so most parking must take place on the street.

I contend that no matter the size of your church, you need a ministry of active and vibrant parking greeters.

 

The Art and Science of Audio

Just what is the real art and science of great audio? The author narrows the discussion down to a one-word solution.
One of my favorite sayings: “Audio is an art that everyone thinks is a science,  and audio is a science that everyone thinks is an art.”

There’s no doubt that delivering an accurate (not to mention good-sounding) mix without missed cues is the right blend of both art and science.

Knowing the science helps in setting up the mix and making sure that everything is routed properly and the right things plugged in to the right parts of the system.

Knowing the art
helps to creatively bring all of the various sounds from the instruments and singers together to deliver a pleasing sound without any distractions.

Sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Not so fast…

I love the title of the book written by audio’s beloved patriarchs, Don and Carolyn Davis, “If Bad Sound Were Fatal, Audio Would Be The Leading Cause Of Death.

If that title were true, I would not be here writing this, and the unfortunate thing is that I would be dead from self-inflicted wounds!  Over the years I’ve found that I can usually attribute the reason for the bad sound that I’ve mixed to one word: anticipation.

On the science side, anticipation means:

1) Being generally prepared, having the right tools, and being aware of what is going on at the event.
2) Check over the system to make sure everything is working.
3) Check all the inputs to make sure they are working and patched correctly.
4) Visually reviewing the board, making sure things are routed were they are supposed to be, the channel EQs are on and aren’t set too crazy, etc.
5) Having a backup emergency microphone on stage that everyone knows to go to if his/her particular mic fails.

And on the art side of things:

1) Thinking ahead, planning to boost the levels for solos.
2) Keeping my eyes on the stage to make sure mics are turned on ahead of people speaking.
3) Having my headphones handy so I can pfl channels to check anything, and quickly.

4) Being in tune with that is going on so I can react quickly to any changes that occur.
5) Having my cue sheet or order of service right next to me and then read ahead and mentally prepare for the next event on the sheet.
6) Listening to the worship songs ahead of time to hear what the original recordings sound like.
7) Knowing where the backup emergency mic is patched and being prepared to use it for any surprise events (unplanned testimony) or mic failures.

Obviously anticipation alone doesn’t guarantee a great mix – you still need to have the fundamentals down. But it does greatly increase the potential of having an error-free service or event.

So there you have it. The real art of audio, or, I mean the real science of audio, is… well, in both cases, it’s anticipation.

Worship Leader vs. Tech Director

 
I have been in sound checks and rehearsals where the tension in the air was so tight that it was palpable.

 

Worship Leader Vs Tech Director.  Who leads who?

At a Leadership seminar I attended, Bill Hybels was talking about what he calls his 360 Leadership idea.

In a nutshell, you lead down, lateral, up and you lead yourself.  Hybels expanded on the lateral leadership part by talking about how, at many church seminars, big churches assume more self importance. They would come in and talk down to small churches, thus alienating them.  The relationship is a lateral one and should be treated that way, it is Pastor to Pastor, Leader to Leader.

The Sunday morning relationship between musician and tech can sometime get a little, shall we say, heated.

I have been in sound checks and rehearsals where the tension in the air was so tight that it was palpable.  When this happens, it is often the case where the worship leader has “taken control” and everybody must listen to him and follow him or else.

This dictatorship style leading can work well in crisis situations like fighting a fire or engaging in warfare combat, where there is no time or place for niceties or questions.

Sunday mornings should not be like this.

There is also the case where the sound tech is so rude and controlling that musicians will live with a terrible monitor mix, just because they are afraid the sound tech is going to fly off the handle and yell at them if they ask for a change.

Sunday mornings should not be like this.

What is needed is lateral leadership.

My interpretation of lateral leadership is where both the worship leader and the production team look to influence, help and serve each other.

For this to take place these 6 key things must be in place.

1) Respect.
If there is not respect between the worship leader and production team someone must leave or radical change needs to take place for this relationship to work.  I have been around too many ministries where there is the tech click and the musician click and they are both at constant odds with each other.  They talk behind each other back, complain among themselves about the “other guys” and keep walls up so communication is stifled.  For a team to function well and exhibit lateral leadership there has to be mutual respect.

2) Listen first.
Everybody has opinions and that is great, share your opinion, but as a rule not before the other person has shared their idea or opinion.  When we are extremely excited about something it is hard not to blurt it out.  It is also hard to really listen to the other person as you just want to spit out your idea.  You need to listen, really listen to the other person before you speak.  Really listening means that you are seeking to understand the person not just hear them

3) Extend trust/be vulnerable.
Give the other person the benefit out the doubt and be willing to share how you are feeling about things.  Until you decide to trust the other person and to be vulnerable, chances are they will also not be vulnerable or trusting of you.  Without trust there is no real relationship.

4) Create a safe space.

Be proactive about creating a space where opinions and ideas can openly be expressed.  Never put down a person. Never dismiss their idea in a way that makes them embarrassed for bringing it up or belittled by your response to it.  For the worship team and production team all ideas and opinions should be validated and encouraged.

5) Do not move on without consensus.
You might have to say something like, “George, I know you don’t necessarily agree with me on this, but can we move forward and can you do it with 100 percent effort? I know that it is not easy, and I appreciate you doing this for the sake of the team” Note, if the consensus required is always to get people to agree and jump in on your ideas, you are really operating under a dictatorship.

It may be guised as a collaborative group, but if you have conditioned everyone to be yes-men and women, or you are always convincing (manipulating) others to get your way, face it, you’re being a dictator.  Maybe a nice one and a crafty one, but still a dictator.

6) Understand Each other. 
Previously I have written articles on this.  “What Techs really want from a worship leader?” and What does a worship leader really want from a sound Tech.  I recommend that Techs and Musicians read both of them.  In Stephen Covey’s book on The 7 Habits, Habit 5 states, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood. Learn what “the other” guys really want or need, before you push yours.

Lateral leadership really boils down to serving, supporting and encouraging each other.

This article probably should have been titled “The service between a worship leader and a tech director” instead of “Worship Leader Vs Tech Director, who leads?”

 

Evaluating Our Abilities And Starting Fresh In The New Year

As the new year draws near what challenges will you face?

 

I’m not rally a big fan of New Year’s resolutions, primarily because when I make them they tend to last about 1 – 2 weeks.

However I do like to take the opportunity at this time of year to re-evaluate, re-focus and re-energize what I’m doing in anticipation of the coming new year.

As I do this and reflect upon over a quarter of a century of experience of doing live production in some fashion or another, I find a desire to return to the absolute basics.

1. Just smile
No matter how frustrating, how intense or how upset I am at the time, just smile and walk away.

Every time I don’t do this I end up regretting how I act and what I say in the heat of the moment.

If I smile, listen and then walk away, I have the opportunity and time to process the information and take some of the emotion out of the situation.

2. Admit my mistakes
Every time that something goes wrong and I try to pass the blame on to someone or something else I end up asking myself “why didn’t I just own up to it?”

It can be difficult, because on one hand I want to be the leader, in charge, the one who makes thing happen. However, when things don’t go as planned, I don’t always want to be the leader and accept the responsibility. I want to blame someone or something.

In the end, it’s always best to admit our mistakes.

3. Build others up…all of the time
I have this habit of avoiding confrontation.

In doing this, I will sometimes not mention to a person that I am bothered by what they have done. That alone isn’t good, but it’s even worse if I were to go around and complain to someone else about what the person did to bother me.

I see this happen very often, and regrettably, have participated in it many times.

4. Improve my craft
Musicians rehearse, they practice at home and then with others they are playing within advance of a Sunday morning service.

What do I do to practice at my craft?

I do participate in some rehearsals but they are usually sound checks for the sound team and a quick run thru for the band.

One thing I can do is to get the music in advance, and actually listen to it, critically. I can listen and then plan and prepare as to how I can best reproduce what I’m hearing.

5. Further embrace digital
OK, I admit it, until fairly recently, I was a little intimidated by some of the digital consoles out there.

Part of the reason is that I had long used a premium analog console, so I didn’t have to mix on a ton of digital boards. I liked where I was and didn’t want to “embrace the change.”

Who would have thought that the kid, of so many years ago, that fanatically embraced digital processing would have been intimidated by a little ol’ digital console?

Eventually, I came around—in part, and perhaps a bit ironically—because of a New Year’s resolution a couple of years ago. If you’re in the same boat, perhaps this is the year.

 

The Importance Of Regularly Testing Cables

Why let one of the least expensive aspects of a system be its weakest link?

Operating the sound system from the mix position during a recent Sunday worship service, it all began when the first note from our grand piano was distorted. Hmm…

We’d checked the piano channel and sound prior to the service, and all was fine. My first reaction to the distortion being produced was to reduce the gain on that console channel, thinking perhaps the piano player was nailing the keys very hard. Yet the problem remained.

Next, I did a pre-fade listen (PFL) in my headphones – yes, it was definitely distortion on the piano channel, no question about it.

To capture sound from this grand piano, we use a magnetic pickup from Helpinstill Designs, which sends the original vibrations of the strings (the source of the piano’s sound) directly to the mixing console. (If you’re struggling to reproduce a full, natural piano sound, these pickups are definitely an option to consider.)

Anyway, my next thought was that someone had accidentally bumped the pickup so that it was hitting some of the strings. Oh well, nothing could be done until the service ended, so I just did my best to work around and minimize the problem. But a quick look immediately after the service showed that the pickup had not been disturbed.

Continue reading “The Importance Of Regularly Testing Cables”

Cut Down On The Noise—Simplify

“It’s been said many times but bears repeating: “Technology is best when it’s transparent.”

As I’m sure is the case with many of you, my life is quite hectic right now, packed beyond capacity with things to do. Most of them are worthy things that I want and/or need to do, but they keep me hopping.

In response, I’ve chosen a very simple motto: “Simplify.” I plan to live by this simple (pun intended) maxim through the end of the year—at least. Simply (pun intended again), simplify means removing some of the clutter from my daily life and the complications that go with it. Continue reading “Cut Down On The Noise—Simplify”

The Path To Worship Mix Success

A great mix is the sum of a whole lot of components in addition to pushing faders and twiddling knobs…

After mixing sound at worship services for more than three decades, and teaching dozens of others along the way, I’ve formulated these “10 steps to worship mix success” that have proven effective.

None of this is rocket surgery or brain science (or vice versa), but rather, a straightforward playbook that if followed will produce the results that you and other members of the tech team are seeking to deliver at every service.

And note that a lot of what I’ll be discussing is not about hands-on mixing. That’s because a great mix is the sum of a whole lot of components in addition to pushing faders and twiddling knobs.

Here we go…

1) Be prepared.  Being prepared means “being all there,” ready to engage and do our best. Sound checks and rehearsals can be tedious, but they present us with the opportunity to get off to the right start.

For example, it’s a great time to make sure all tools and “stuff” are available and accessible, right down to the board tape to label the console. And if you know you’re going to get thirsty, have a bottle of water handy ahead of time. Continue reading “The Path To Worship Mix Success”

Discerning The Reasons for A Building Project

Generally, a building project is birthed out of growth that is happening in the ministry. However, that excitement can lead to a desire to rush the process and, perhaps, a failure to take necessary time to ensure these three important things are covered.

EMBARKING ON a building project should be an exciting time in the life of a church.

Generally, a building project is birthed out of growth that is happening in the ministry. However, that excitement can lead to a desire to rush the process and, perhaps, a failure to take necessary time to ensure these three important things are covered.

Understand the Why

Growth may seem like it’s “the why” to a building project, but it’s possible it might just be “the why” for something else. For example, a crowded worship space could be “the why” for adding an additional service; a bursting youth ministry could be “the why” for repurposing and renovating some existing space; and a full parking lot could be “the why” for adjusting service times and programs so crunch-time does not come all at once.

When consulting with church leadership who are looking at a building project one of the first questions I always ask is, “What is the unique thing that God has for this church, at this time, in this location to accomplish?” You would be surprised at how many times I get blank stares or awkward silence from the group who I’m meeting with. Sometimes I will get a quick reply that is something like, “To reach the lost, of course! “ I follow up by asking them to define “the lost” in more concrete terms to get them to state who they are trying to reach. Again, often I get vague answers like, “Everyone!”

My goal in asking these questions is to try to understand the DNA of the church. What is their unique calling that God has placed on their fellowship? To me that is “the real why.” From that conversation and answer, we can then start to put a framework around what type of building would support their calling.

For example, for a church who is called to feed and care for the homeless, hungry and hurting in their neighborhood, a commercial kitchen might be one of the most important things that they need. Whereas a workout area and gym, probably would not make it to the top of the list. Another question I like to ask is, “Are these needs being met elsewhere by someone in the community?”

Again, if your calling is to help the homeless and there is a soup kitchen a few blocks away, does it make sense to build so that you can start another one? Find a unique need that you can specifically meet, and partner with the other ministries that are serving the same population. I’m familiar with a church that embarked on a building project to install a commercial kitchen.

Why? So that members could hold wedding and other receptions at the church. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. However, this church had recently funded and launched a ministry — just down the road — that housed a hospital grade kitchen that could be used for events. My question to them is why not get a “shuttle vehicle” with racks for the food to be brought from the ministry center, one block away, to cater events that are taking place in the churches existing conference space?

The shuttle vehicle, while a bit of an inconvenience, would cost $20,000 -$30,000 vs the $2,000,000-plus to build the kitchen facility. Again, I am not saying that what the church was doing was wrong. I just want them to fully understand the purpose for taking on a building project. An additional question that I will usually ask is, “Will the building you are proposing meet the needs of the community? “ I know a church that put in a beautiful park — with ball fields and a playground — because the nearest park was miles away, and their calling was to reach those within walking distance of their facility.

They used prime (read expensive) real estate to better their community, rather than building something for direct use by their church members. The bottom line for me is always fully understand “the why” of a building project and how it fits into the unique DNA and purpose of a church. Who are the Players Often in the rush to get a building project going, key players are left out. This might be staff or ministry leaders who are kept out of the project. It could be local city officials and authorities who could be of valuable help as the church tries to get the proper zoning and permits to take on a project. The members of the church themselves sometimes are left out.

The senior pastor has a vision, so he just plows forward figuring people will get on board. Members that have specific knowledge and could be very helpful in the building process are overlooked. Many times, the bank or another financing agency is not consulted until the process is too far down the road. The church leadership can then be put in the embarrassing situation of not counting the costs before getting started, bringing the process to a halt. Too often, key contractors are not brought on board early enough. Things like budgets for acoustics, and audio visual and lighting are either left out, or are woefully inadequate to meet the needs. It seems like the neighbors, those who live around the church building, are always forgotten.

Rather than consult and get valuable input and buy-in from those around the building, many churches plow ahead without giving consideration to what impact an addition or new building will on those who live right there. Getting the right people onboard right away — and building consensus — is one of the most important aspects of a building project.

How Do We Start?

I always recommend that the church partner with an architect or design/build firm to do what I call a, “phase 1 project overview.”

The phase one process should involve: 
1. A needs assessment
2. A programming/discovery meeting with ministry teams.
3. A feasibility study and code review (a quick look at the site and local zoning and construction laws) Can we build at this location?
4. Floorplan layout and site plan showing where the building fits into the site and a general layout of the building.
5. Rendering, 3D sketches or model that show the exterior elevation of the building.
6. Budget estimate for the entire project.
7. Proposed building schedule With this information, a church has an idea of cost, timeframe and scope of the project, along with some rendering perspectives of the proposed building for people to see what is being proposed.

A phase 1 is an investment (usually $10,000 to $30,000), but well worth it. Additionally, this needs to be done if the project moves forward. So, by doing phase 1 upfront you are not spending additional dollars. You are, however, potentially saving yourself from getting pretty far down the road and discovering something that could stop or delay your project. It’s painful to find out after you have construction documents underway that the site is not buildable, or that the project is going to cost way more than you anticipated. Invest up front and save yourself the grief. In Short Understand why you want to build.

Get the right people involved in your process. Take the time, resources and money to do the upfront work of ensuring you can accomplish what you believe God has called you to build.

How Often Should You Renovate a Church Facility?

Practical guidelines to help you determine when it’s really necessary for you to update or renovate your space.

Is it really an absolute necessity to update or renovate my 15-year-old building?

The working life of a building can and should extend well beyond 50 years, and I’ve personally seen buildings hundreds of years old still in use and functioning quite well.

The question deserves considerable thought, and begs a slew of additional questions:

1. Has your programming changed (are you doing more youth or children events, etc.….)

One of the biggest pressure a growing church faces is space.  As the ministry grows there needs to be a place where people can congregate, infants can be cared for, children trained and youth challenged.  Sunday is the crunch day.  As a culture, we have been conditioned that Sunday is the day where we as Christians head to church for a worship service and education.  Also, as a culture Sunday morning has become our social connection time.

When we come to church we often find ourselves getting a cup of coffee and connecting with friends that we just do not have the time or do not make the opportunity to connect with during the week.  The church has used many names to refer to this connection space.  Whether you call it a narthex, lobby or gather place, this space has become a very important part of a church. Traditionally this space was not given the importance that it is today, so you may find the need to expand, re-arrange or renovate to accommodate the social time that takes place before and after services.

Has your ministry experienced growth in a specific area of ministry?  Do you have far more infants in the nursery than in years past?  Is your youth ministry rapidly growing? What about the food pantry?  I believe that a growing church is almost always in the reuse, renovation or expansion process. A church that is growing is most likely engaging in culture and as culture changes, ministry changes and therefore facility needs change.

2. Are you filling up the sanctuary to more than 80% of its capacity?

The “80% rule” is commonly thrown around.  The “rule” is that if you are more than 80% full seating wise you are full.

The logic behind the “rule” is that if the space feels to full, guests and visitors might feel like there is not a place for them.  So, what happens when you hit 80% do you add another service?

Do you set up a satellite overflow room?  I have mixed feelings about the 80% rule.  Millennials will more quickly spend money for an experience and thus I believe they are attending church for an experience.  Does a full sanctuary give them the rich experience they are looking for?

Millennials also long for intimacy and connection so would a smaller venue serve them better?  What about the rest of the congregation, what are their preferences?  There is not a right over arching answer here, However, there is a right answer for your congregation.  My suggestion is to be aware of the 80% rule and make decisions with that knowledge in hand.

3. Does your building look dated?

By dated we are not talking about a neo-classical or some other look that is time-less.  What I am referring to is the purple, mauve other dated colors from the previous few decades.  I also want to differentiate from dated vs not kept up.

Dated means it is out of style.  It doesn’t mean that there are tears in the carpet, chips in the walls or dust covering the kickplate on the walls.  Those things are things that are not kept up or cared for.  Something that is not kept up is not acceptable in any style décor.

When I visit with churches that have that dated look, I think to myself why do they not just refresh the paint and change out a little bit of furniture?  The cost would be minimal and the impact would be great.  What I have come to realize is that people who attend the church on a steady basis do not even notice it.  It is just like your home you become accustom to it and do not even notice what it looks like.

I suggest that you find the person in the church that has “the eye” for design and have them take a fresh look at your space and give some ideas.  If there is not someone in the congregation, hire an interior designer and give them clear direction as to what you are wanting to accomplish and the budget that you plan to spend on improvements.

4. Has the expectation of your congregation changed?

If you say no to this question you are most likely not in a church that has engaged modern culture.  Expectation are always changing.  Just think how technology has change our expectations.  We expect immediate response and answers.

Thanks to amazon prime we expect it in 2 days without shipping charges.  As culture changes expectations definitely change.  Let’s go back to the discussion above on the Lobby.

In previous generations people were regularly engaged and connected to their neighbors and surrounding community.

Church was just one of the many places that people would see each other and have meaningful conversation and connection with each other.  Today church is often the only spot where we connect with people and stop and talk rather than just saying a quick “hi” as we pass each other.

5. What is the expectation of people who come and visit your church?

A big red flag here if you do not know at least something about the expectations of the people that visit your church.  Unfortunately, most people who visit have low or wrong expectations based on their history or exposure to church.  In this case I believe it is the churches responsibility to blow up and change the expectations.

Shouldn’t people have an expectation when they come to visit your church of finding a warm, well cared for functional building filled with warm welcoming people?

Is it necessary to update or renovate a building every 15 years?  My take as I stated above is that you should always be renovating, updating, changing and/or expanding.  Doing this on a consistent basis keeps your facility looking fresh and helps to support the ministry areas that are experiencing the most growth.