Designing and Maintaining Church Buildings of Excellence

In many ways Churches are very unique buildings and they need to be designed to meet a myriad of functions.  How can you maintain buildings of excellence.  Take a fresh look at your building, or an eyes-wide-open view of one that you are planning. Will it inspire or meet at mediocrity?

In many ways Churches are very unique buildings.

They need to be designed to meet a myriad of functions.  From private one on one counseling, to corporate worship, a church building has many activities that take place.  Churches are also unique in that there are a plethora of stakeholders as well.  From the staff to the constituents, many people are invested in both being financially tied to the building as well as users of the space.

Back when I was in college and pursuing a business degree, facilities management was a new discipline being offered.  I took of a number of facilities classes as I was intrigued by how buildings and space influence and support business in tangible and intangible ways.  I eventually decided on getting my general business degree (this was after achieving my broadcasting degree) but my intrigue and love for facilities would always be somehow interwoven through my career.

In my days as a technical director at a mega church, that intersection was primarily on Sunday mornings as I made use of AVL (audio/video/lighting) systems to help support and enhance worship.  As I moved on to AVL system design and sales I learned how to integrate these systems in what seemed like a constant battle between form and function. Today as I work in business development for a design build firm in essence my world revolves around buildings.

As I look at the uniqueness of a church building 5 important things come to mind.

Form

I remember it like it was yesterday sitting in a facilities class in college with the professor going over a handout/spreadsheet (computer spreadsheets were new and there were no projectors in the classroom, just whiteboards) on how to determine what was needed for an office space. To this day I have a love hate relationship with spreadsheets.  They provide great data but I believe can be overused to manipulate that data to get the outcome you desire.

The professor emphatically repeated throughout his lecture/rant that form follows function.  The phrase “form follows function” according to Wikipedia is attributed to Louis Sullivan.  I believe that Sullivan’s was conveying the idea “form follows function”, as opposed to “form follows precedent”. In other words what the building is going to be used for, in Sullivan’s case a skyscraper, required a different form than what was being currently used in construction.

However, what I took my professors lecture/rant to mean was, who cares what it looks like as long as it is efficient.  I have seen many times, where an architect will have an inspired vision and a desire to create beauty in his design, only to have a committee shoot his idea down calling it too grand, even ostentatious. The committee would always seem to come back to function alone as the driving factor. Often a beautiful design was squelched even before price or feasibility came into the equation.

Lest you think I long for gaudy, ornate and the somewhat cold architecture of the past. I believe a church building should somehow reflect tradition as well as contemporary culture and at the same time be inspiring and inviting.  Not an easy task, but it can be accomplished.

Function

If the space is not useable for its intended purpose it is useless. For some reason it always seems to be that acoustics are the thing that is consistently overlooked.  The results usually end up on the opposing ends of the spectrum.  They either seem to be overly reverberant or exceptionally dead. There never seems to be a healthy balance where congregational singing is carried well and at the same time have the programming (music and the spoken word) work well.

As Sullivan stated, the true form of a building is dictated by the function.  This I agree on. After all, if you want to create an intimate space that seats 1,000 people with the furthest seat 60’ away from the platform, a great deal of the form has been determined.  Most likely it will need to be a wide seating area that requires a balcony.  It could also be in the round or steeply raked seating like a movie theater.  The point is that function obviously has a huge impact on form.

I would argue and I am sure you agree that the function does not have to impact the beauty of the space and in common use of the phrase “form follows function” I see beauty as the “form” that everyone seems all too eager to sacrifice on.

People

Another often used phrase is, “The Church is really the people”. Yes biblically and hopefully practically this is true.  The church building is really just a place where we gather together as believer (and no believers) to explore and grow in our faith and in community together.

Where the people part of the equation comes in for me is twofold.  First is the space inviting and inspiring? Secondly the practical side, do we all fit comfortably in the space and is it functional, enough bathrooms, appropriate heating cooling, lighting to make the space comfortable.

The best experiences I have had at church usually happened because the building supported people in the proper way.  It was not too warm or cold, the seat was comfortable, all the tech worked without creating distraction and the bathroom was easy to find, it was clean and also I did not have to wait in line out into the hall before using it!

So when a building functions well and supports people properly it frees us up to concentrate on the purpose that we are there for.

Perception

I have been in buildings less than a year old that screamed mediocrity, just because they were not well-maintained.  Simple things, like a door not working properly, or a picture or signage that is crooked on the wall or the aforementioned stains in the carpet – all said in a subtle way, we don’t care.

I have also been in century-old buildings that are inspiring. The heating and cooling was up to date, the technology fit the space and worked well, and there were no dreaded stains in the carpet or evidence of great wear to be found.  Building that are well maintained convey a message of overall excellence.

People notice things and quickly form opinions. What are people’s perception and opinions of your building?

Purpose

With almost every project I am involved in, purpose has to continually be driven to the forefront.  As humans our personal interests become what is important, we push for things we want. Also, it becomes so easy to get focused on the process and the actual building, that we forget why we are doing it.  By understanding and keeping purpose the primary factor, helps bring clarity and also can keep us from getting hung up in the details.

Ask yourself these questions:
Is your building currently serving your needs?
Do you need to look at the form and function?
Does your building project excellence or an old worn-out shoe?
Do you know and understand the purpose of your building?

Take a fresh look at your building, or an eyes-wide-open view of a proposed building that you are planning. Work to make sure that it’s not just functional, but will be a facility of excellence which has the capacity to inspire, and brings beauty to all those who enter it’s doors.

 

Why Your Church Needs An Ambassador of the Throne

Nobody likes to talk about restrooms, but they are a very important statement about the church and the perceived quality of the ministry. Here are 5 steps to bathroom perfection.

Something that I have noticed at some growing churches I have visited is that they have really clean restrooms. From the door handles—-to the sink—-and mirror, everything is clean.

In fact, the room sparkles.

No, nobody likes to talk about restrooms, but they are a very important statement about the church and the perceived quality of the ministry.

One of the negative experiences a guest or casual attender can have is visiting an untidy restroom.

Imagine Mary’s (first time visitor) reaction when she enters the restroom and sees paper towel on the floor, cobwebs in the corner, water splashed on the counter and a mirror which has not been cleaned in months.

Top that off with toilets that have yellowed in color over the years and stall partitions that have rust spreading on them. Obviously, Mary would not feel good or welcomed by this experience.

5 things to make your restrooms sparkle.

1) Deep clean the restroom monthly. Most of us are familiar with spring cleaning, that time of year when you open the windows and wipe away the cobwebs.  With your restrooms, every month should be spring cleaning month.  Check them out to make sure all of the corners are clean, all of the smudges are removed from the wall and ensure that everything sparkles.

2) Fragrance can be your friend.
I say can. If you are trying to use fragrance to cover up a bad odor, then people will smell what you are trying to do a mile away.  If there is a bad odor, first find the source and eradicate it.

What a light amount of fragrance can do is give a fresh clean smell to the room.  I would recommend staying away from floral scents and anything that is to over bearing.  Really, what you want is to have is that just been cleaned smell.

3) Fully Stocked. Have you ever washed your hands and then went to grab a paper towel only to find the dispenser empty?

Yes, that is frustrating. Even more frustrating is when a stall is out of toilet paper and you have to look for another stall that has toilet paper, praying the whole time you will find one that is stocked.

Really it’s simple; Check your restrooms before services or events and top off anything that is needed.

4) Lighting and sound.
Proper lighting helps everywhere.  In a restaurant we may desire low level lighting (mood lighting). We like the atmosphere it creates as we don’t want to go to a restaurant and have it feel like you are in a surgical center.

On the other hand, in a public restroom you do want to see that everything is clean so surgical level lighting will also help give it a clean look and feel.  Another thing to consider is background music.  Again this creates a nice atmosphere and let’s face it, it can also mask some of the noises created in a restroom.

5) Keep up appearances. Before and after a service or event your restrooms get a lot of traffic. This is where the Ambassador comes in, the Restroom Ambassador.

Assign a gender appropriate person to keep tabs on the restroom, wipe up water when needed, pick up paper on the floor and make sure everything is stocked.  Doing this will ensure that throughout the event or service everyone will have a positive experience.

One note of caution here, the Restroom Ambassador should be invisible, just randomly entering the restroom to make sure thing look good.

If the Ambassador hangs out in the restroom waiting to take action or continually goes from stall to stall checking supplies, people will become uncomfortable with the Ambassadors presence.  People really do like privacy in the restroom.

A lot of ministries get the first 4 steps, but miss out on assigning a Restroom Ambassador.  To make sure that everyone has a positive experience having a Restroom Ambassador is a necessity! So go and clean, put in a fresh scent, get the proper lighting and make your restrooms sparkle.

 

Simple Steps to A Fantastic Guest Experience

Offering those who visit your church a great guest experience really is as easy as 1 2 3.

Years ago I was the opening manager for the first location of a brand new movie theatre chain.  One of our mottos was “Being #1 is as easy as 1-2-3

1. Welcomes, pleases and thank you’s
2. Next in line service
3. Suggestive selling at the concession stand.

We wanted our cast members (employees) to have something simple, tangible to grab on to that expressed what we felt was important.

We posted signs in the back hallways, the locker rooms, the employee room (basically everywhere we called “backstage” yes, including the restrooms).

Another thing that we did in training was to talk about the “Zone of Influence”.

The Zone of Influence was a designated area around each employee, that when a guest entered into that zone, the employee either needed to engage them in conversation or at least offer them a greeting.

To help put this policy into action we took an 8’ piece of PVC conduit, painted it orange and put a rope that would go around the cast member’s neck so the PVC would hang at about knee level and extended 4’ on either side of the guest.  In training the cast member would walk around (back stage) wearing this contraption and teaching each employee where their “Zone of Influence” was.

I am sharing this as I recently had a flash back to that experience.

It happened while I was attending a business/ministry seminar.  The experience started when I walked up to enter the building and someone was there to open the door, welcome me and give me directions as to where I should go for registration.  As I hit the registration table I was greeted with a hearty “Welcome, we are glad you are here”.  After receiving a name tag, the person at the table told me where the complimentary snacks were located and where I could purchase a book that the presenter had written, if I was interested.

Leaving the registration table and heading towards the snacks I walked into the “zone of influence” of someone else that was working the seminar.  As I entered their “zone” I was again greeted and was asked if I had ever been at this place before.  What transpired was a couple of minutes of great conversation with this “ambassador” of the church.

Turns out we knew some of the same people and he ended the conversation with a welcome to come back and visit on a Sunday.

It was a no pressure, kind invitation.

It was as I sat down for the seminar that the flashback from my movie theater days came back. I thought it really IS as easy as 1-2-3!

1) I was politely greeted, everyone was polite and engaging
2) It was well staffed (there were about 1000 people attending the event) I never had to wait at registration, snacks or when purchasing of the book.
3) I was appropriately “sold to” by suggestion.  The person at the registration table sent me in the direction of the book table.  Also, the ambassador from the church softly sold me on attending on a Sunday morning.

To top off the great experience I had getting into the room for the seminar, the presenter was outstanding.

So the challenge is for you and your church to do this on a Sunday morning.
How?  It’s as easy as 1-2-3

1,2,3

1) Great people at the door, tell, show and take them to the places that they need to go. For example, if they have children take them to a special express lane for visitors where they can check their children.  Show them where the coffee is.  Tell them about unique things.

Remember they do not know your culture.  Tell them if they can take coffee into the sanctuary, tell them that is normal for people to be talking in the lobby until 1 minute before the service.  Explain to them that your pastor or members of the pastoral staff would like to meet them after the service, and point out the location. Very important, show them where the bathrooms are.

2) Make sure you are well staffed in the greeting area, coffee area, children’s area etc. Set up special lanes or stations that you can take the visitors thru –  and remember they do not know the culture or routines that are so comfortable to you.

3) As your guests return, tell them about special events and opportunities that might be interesting to them.  Best of all invite them to lunch, get to know them.

This is not just the job of staff, but it really is the job of everyone in the congregation.

Go and do it! It really is as easy as 1-2-3

Getting the Biggest Change in Sound Quality for the Smallest Investment

“How do I get the biggest change in my sound quality for the smallest investment?”

I’m often asked this question from cash-strapped churches that need a sound system upgrade but don’t have the funds to accomplish it all at once.

If it’s the sound operator who approaches me first, his goal is usually to get a new mixing board. If it’s the worship leader, he’s usually focused on microphones and/or monitors.

Then there’s the pastor, who’s most often interested in the solution that will get everybody else to stop bothering him.

So what’s the answer?

I go about solving this dilemma by looking at the number of people who can potentially benefit from each upgrade. With that in mind, what follows is a suggestion of how you can determine your next “best” upgrade.

First, look at what I call the “heart” of the system. That is, loudspeakers, amplifiers and signal processing. Not only are these usually the biggest ticket items (though the mixing console may compete), they’re also the items that in most cases will bring the most significant improvement to a system.

In surveying the heart of your sound system, first check out the loudspeakers to ensure that they’re working properly. Are there blown drivers? Hear any rattles or other strange noises?

Do some research to find out the coverage pattern of the loudspeakers, and map that coverage over your seating area. Is the coverage adequate or are there zones that are being missed? (You can also hear this by slowly walking through the coverage area with the system playing tracks.)

Continue your research and determine the frequency response of the loudspeakers. If they roll off at 180 Hz, it’s not likely that they’re producing the nice “thump” out of the kick drum or any of the deeper lows from the bass guitar.

Next, find out power handling of the loudspeakers and match that up with the power available from your amplifiers. If you don’t have enough “headroom” (available “extra” power), the system will always sound mushy and like it’s being “pushed.” (As in pushed too hard.)

Finally, give the signal processing a good look. If it consists of a number of analog devices (EQ, crossover, delay, etc.), it could be time to upgrade to a quality digital processing unit. Even better, have a new digital processor implemented by a qualified professional who knows how best to use it to maximize the performance of your loudspeakers.

And that leads me to an important point. If you find any of the above aspects lacking during your research, consider bringing in a qualified professional to help make the most of what you have.

While you may be able to address some of these aspects adequately, it’s not a game for amateurs. Quite often, the use of professional assistance, combined with a new component or two, can make all of the difference in the world while still fitting within the confines of a tight budget. And it’s almost always money well spent.

Once the “heart” of the system is taken care of, feel free to move on to mixing boards, monitors, microphones and other accessories.

I look at it this way: the best sounding microphone is only going to sound as good as the loudspeakers reinforcing it.

Biggest Facilities Failures

Often in life it’s the little things that can make the biggest difference. As we enter the season of higher church attendance, be sure these little things don’t ruin the experience at your facility.

Often in life it is the little things that make the biggest difference.

As related to a facility this can be so true!  Listed below are somethings that I have experienced that have made my visit somewhere less than pleasant.

While none of the items are cardinal sins they did make an impression, not a good one on me.

Dirty bathrooms

Okay I said that none of these were cardinal sins.  Yes, that is true but in my opinion dirty bathrooms come awful close.

I have written about and often talk about the need for bathroom ambassadors. It really is not that difficult to keep bathrooms clean and presentable.  Someone just has to care enough to make sure it gets done!

Strange odor/aroma

I am sure Proctor and Gamble, the makers of Febreze could do well if they marketed to churches.  I have run into or should I say experienced the strangest odors at some of the churches I have visited.  The scents have ranged from enticing but poorly timed to just plain disgusting.

The enticing, the smell of a chicken dinner being prepared in the kitchen during the message had me so hungry that I couldn’t wait for the service to be over as I was literally drooling.  The bad, the smell of raw sewage in a bathroom where the floor looked like the drain had been backed up for weeks and the crusty state of the floor was giving evidence that it had just dried up.

Now if the sermon had been on the satisfying taste of good food and how God provides and blesses us with good things, the chicken dinner smell could have been a great illustration! Provided that we would get to partake of it after the service.

Inappropriate or outdated décor.

Through the years I have seen my share of well shall we say it, bizarre décor or too old to be retro finishing’s.  I know that interior design is a form of art and also very subjective.

So yes our tastes can differ, but I will say that when done well and appropriate there is a wide range of acceptable interior designs.  One strange case that I experienced recently was not even church related.

A new restaurant that opened in our town I am sure took its decorating and design cues from the Apple Store. Yes, white, clean, really clinical looking works great for the Apple Store, I will attest to the fact that it does not work that well for a restaurant.  There is something unsettling eating food in a place that is lit up and feels like a surgical room.

Crappy coffee…area

Like the bathroom, this example really bothers me.  Why can’t someone be the coffee ambassador and simply make sure the counters are wiped clean of coffee drips and spills? It’s also important to make sure the cream and sugar containers are filled. Also, while they are at it, could the outside of the coffee pot and handle be clean and dry?

One more thing, not facility related, why does church coffee also have to taste so crappy? There are plenty of hearty coffee roasts to choose from. Why not make your morning cup-of-joe one that’s eagerly anticipated?

Bad signage

Why is signage so difficult?  Just put it in a visible area, keep it simple and use common names for things.

When we use names like narthex, gathering area, the commons… how is someone not familiar with church supposed to know what that is?  Why not just call it the Lobby?  The Sanctuary? The Gym?

KEEP IT SIMPLE…I suppose one good thing about bad signage is I may not be able to locate the bathrooms, which could save me from a potentially stomach-turning experience.

As I said at the start, it’s the little things that make a big difference.

Plus, in this case the little things come with a little price tag. It doesn’t cost anything additional to keep the bathroom tidy, keep the coffee area clean or freshen up the smell.  Additionally, décor updates and signage can be done well on a very modest budget.

As we enter the season of higher church attendance, be sure these little things don’t ruin the experience at your facility.

What Makes A Great Church Building?

In the pursuit of worthy facility, what elements must come together to create a sacred space?

There are some facets that go into what makes a church building great and they all intertwined together.

It’s really the collision of form and function in an explosive manner that brings greatness.

Form can be looked at and described in many ways.  I would prefer to call it design rather than form.  Design in our modern vocabulary congers up ideas like beauty, inspiration and engagement.

Good design actually also includes function.

If we look at the iPhone most people would give it compliments on its design.  They would say, its sleek, classy, beautiful and it works great.

Shouldn’t our church facilities be referred to in the same fashion?

In my home town is Hope College, on its campus sits Dimnent Chapel.

The beautiful Gothic structure was completed in 1929. The construction cost was $404,000 (about $5.6 million in 2016 dollars).

At the front of the 1150 seat chapel is the beautiful rose window, a gift from the Hope College Class of 1916 and constructed at a cost of $4,000, it contains three rows of petals.  When the sun shines thru this magnificent work of art it is absolutely breathtaking. The tall walls and beautiful wood work gives you a feeling of awe and wonder as you sit inside and gaze around the structure.

There are two organs in the chapel, a four-manual Skinner organ in the chancel and a Dutch classic tracker organ in the balcony, built by Pels and Van Leeuwen in the Netherlands and installed in 1971. The Skinner organ with its 2,932 pipes was installed in 1929. Both organs sound fabulous in the space.

Yearly the college does a Christmas Vespers service. The program of Christmas carols and anthems features more than 200 performers. The choir with minimal acoustic instrumentation along with the Skinner organ is a thing of sure beauty.

For me the Chapel as the locals call it is a great building.

It is engaging.

Just looking at it from the outside calls you to want to enter to see what the inside is like.  The soaring 108’ tower makes the approximately 175’ long by 60’ wide structure appears larger than life.  Once inside all of the elements I mentioned above, particularly the stained glass windows personally draw me through their beauty closer to my creator.

It is inspiring.

Just as it is engaging, drawing you in, its beauty inspires you.  The magnificence of the marble floors, the deep wood colors and colors splashed about by the sun penetrating the stained glass windows brings light and hope deep into my soul.

It’s functional.

Hosting events like a student lead chapel service that features modern music, an organ concert, a choral vespers service as well as bachelorette.  The building is well used and services multiple different types of events extremely well.  There have been modern elements and conveniences added to the building like Air conditioning, modern restrooms, a performance sound system along with production lighting and video screens.  But all of that has added to the function and comfort of the building without taking away from the beauty of its design.

Really what it boils down to is that the experience that you have attending an event there is enhanced as you walk up to the building and then as you participate in the event that takes place inside.

Today what are we doing in our worship spaces to bring design and beauty into the facility? Think of ways, like bringing in artwork or creatively using projection and lighting that you can use to bring beauty.

 

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?”