Changing Focus – Creating A Thriving Culture

17 01 2014

I have a confession to make. Over the last 15 years of being involved in ministry, I have often felt used. Whether I’ve been on staff or served as a volunteer, I’ve often gone through seasons where I’ve just felt used by the leaders above me. As someone who serves in ministry, I’m guessing you’ve been through this season at least once or twice as well. We show up before everyone else, diligently perform our tasks and then are one of the last to leave while rarely receiving a “thank you,” or a word of encouragement. In fact, for many artists, we get the opposite; someone letting us know that we really didn’t do our best work that day. You feel alone. You feel unappreciated. You feel used. After 15+ years involved in ministry, I still often feel this way after weekend services.

Well, I have a second confession to make. I’ve been the ministry leader that has been a user of people. Not intentionally, mind you, but I’m guilty nonetheless. And it wasn’t until I realized what I was doing and started changing my approach that the teams I led began to grow. My guess is my story might be similar to yours.

My first couple of years as the appointed Technical Director were spent running around the building accomplishing as much as I possibly could while bringing along anyone who was crazy enough to follow and help. It wasn’t a large group. My first three years there, I had one part time assistant and our team generally hovered around 12 people, sometimes gaining one or two and at other times losing a couple. With two services every Sunday morning, one every Sunday night and one Friday night service per month, there was way too much work for only 12 people. We were desperate for more help, and did everything we could think of to recruit people and plug holes that needed to be filled. So our faithful 12 kept plugging away, working hard and rarely getting a break.

In 2005, we began heading into a remodel of our Sanctuary. It was decided that technology would be a big focus to upgrade our look and feel. This is what we had been dreaming of for a few years, but it also meant stretching our team further as our services would go from needing 4 technical positions to 8-10 per service. We were headed into trouble and began really looking hard at what was holding us back. Unfortunately, in every scenario I ran, the common problem was me. I was spinning my wheels so fast trying to make sure everything got done that I was spending little to no time investing in our team. I was frantically plugging holes alongside our people as the lead tech, not leading and encouraging them as a tech leader. Our volunteers weren’t being fulfilled in serving, and frankly neither was I. If we were to be fulfilled as 12, let alone grow, we had to right the ship and do it quickly.

One of the biggest challenges we have in churches is that we create so much work to do and another weekend is six days or less away. Whether it’s intentional or not, we often create so many programs and/or perceived needs that our staff and volunteers often feel used from week to week. Think about it for a moment: Do you regularly have to plead or beg people to help out? Do the people on your team consistently show up late for call time or skip out on rehearsals? Do your people know more about the tools you use (guitar, sound board, computer) than the people serving next to them? If you really think about it, too many of us often fall into the trap of using people to accomplish tasks without paying much attention to their well-being.

Recently I was watching the show “Elementary” and the main character, Sherlock Holmes, said something that could sum up what I so passionately wanted every volunteer that served under me to say:

“I feel as if I’ve thrived here, not because of who I am but because of whom I’ve come to know.”

I desperately want to experience that reality in the community in which I serve. I can only imagine that’s the same experience those serving with me long for as well. We all want to be connected to people and committed to a great cause, and we were letting them down. Pre-2005, we weren’t helping people thrive as we served together. We simply showed up, got the job done and headed home until next week. There was no ownership, little connection to each other and no one was thriving inside our ministry.

Eight years ago this is where our team was. I’ll never forget the day a few of us sat in my office and made the decision that we were no longer going to be “that ministry.” We made the decision to clearly and intentionally value people more than what they accomplished or the technology they used.

It wasn’t until we shifted from asking people to do something to asking people to belong to something that our ministry began to grow. The best part of all is that as our teams began to connect to our cause and each other, they began to thrive and other people naturally became interested in coming alongside us. But this time, when people would express an interest in joining us, the first question from our leaders became “who do you know,” not “what do you think you can do.” As intentional as we had become in creating a connected culture, we made sure to give new recruits a leg up by trying to connect them to teams where they already knew people.

We long for connection, desire to be valued and want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We naturally want to thrive, both individually and as part of a team. If you can create that type of culture for your team, you’ll grow by leaps and bounds and, who knows? You may begin to thrive again yourself too.

Originally published in Worship Tools at www.ccisolutions.com





I Can’t Hear Anything

25 11 2013

Recently I had the opportunity to mix a concert with an incredible band, half of whom are on our worship team at church (including our Worship Pastor), the other half flew in for the weekend. The rented speaker system sounded great and the band was tight. It was an amazing experience for me until I went backstage after the show to connect with the leader only to hear, “Man that was hard, I just couldn’t hear anything from my stage monitors.”

Many sound techs have been in those shoes before, getting up early, pouring every ounce of Sunday morning energy into getting a great mix, only to hear the band was frustrated with their monitor mix. In my situation, we had 6 mixes on 6 wedges on a 24′ wide by 12′ deep stage, so it’s not that there wasn’t volume on stage. It just wasn’t good volume. It was hard for them to clearly hear the detail of what they were playing. I suspect a lot of the problem with hearing the mix at our concert is similar to what many churches experience: lousy monitors.

It’s said that the two most critical pieces to good sound are the first piece (the microphone or source) and the last piece (the speaker). At my church last year, we got 5 new wedges as our team wasn’t happy with their personal monitor system. You see, most of the people who used the personal monitor system would use $30-60 ear buds, so while the whole personal mixer system cost closer to $1,000 per person, it was being negated by cheap consumer ear-buds. So we did the next most logical thing you can do: we bought cheap wedges. While we did a nearly $100,000 sound system upgrade a year and a half ago for our 1,500 seat auditorium, we spent $200-250 per wedge for the musicians creating the music.

Now don’t go thinking I’m venting about my church, I was involved in the decision to purchase these monitors. We had a tight budget and we picked the best thing we could for the money we had. But it seems to me that there is a fundamental problem when we’re willing to spend thousands of dollars on each speaker for the audience, and only hundreds for the piece that allows our musicians to create art for that audience. It seems to me that speaker fidelity and quality should matter as much, if not more, for the creators than the consumers. If the artists can’t hear the detail of what they’re creating, why should we expect it to be any good.

Great race car drivers have cars that go fast and handle well. Great chefs have great ingredients, knives and cookware. In order for your musicians to produce great music, they need good instruments and the ability to hear what they’re doing clearly. If you constantly hear things like, “I can’t hear the monitors” or “the whole stage sounds muddy”, get up on stage and give it a listen. If what the musicians are listening to isn’t at least as good as what the audience hears, it’s time to get them the tools they need to do their job. Low cost monitors can have their place, but know you’re lowering the bar for your artists by using them. And if you’re using personal mixers or wireless in-ear monitors, please do not use any ear buds you can buy at Walmart or Best Buy.

Great artists are capable of producing great results with average tools. They have to work a lot harder to do so, but they can. The challenge most of our churches face is that most of our artists aren’t professional musicians and singers, so they need help raising their game to produce great results. If you’re ok with mediocre results, give average to good musicians good tools. If you want your musicians to produce great results, get them great tools, starting with the instruments they play and the monitors they use to hear





To Wire or Not To Wire, That Is The Question

18 11 2013

The other day I was talking with one of our Systems Engineers and we came across a picture of a church vocal team on their stage. Many things struck me about this picture, like seeing 7 vocals crammed in maybe a 12′ wide by 5′ deep space (on a large stage) and seeing each singer with their own music stand, mic stand and personal monitor mixer. But the thing that stood out most was the fact that each singer, surrounded by all of this stuff, was using a wireless microphone instead of a wired microphone.

We all know wireless microphones provide a high level of convenience and flexibility, and they certainly can keep a stage looking clean. If your setup features the vocalists out towards the front of the stage and you want to keep wires at bay, I’m totally in favor of wireless mics. If your guitarists don’t need access to any pedals and need to be able to move around the stage, wireless connections totally make sense. Too often people think wireless mics and guitar systems will clean up the look of the stage. That’s true, if you don’t have a bunch of other wired gear in the same space. As most touring guys will tell you, if you don’t have to use wireless you shouldn’t. In this edition I want to look at some of the advantages that come with sticking to wired microphones over wireless

Wired Microphones Might Sound Better
With a wired microphone, what you put into it is what you get out of it. A high quality mic capsule well matched to voice or instrument is the best possible way to get quality sound. With wireless equipment, you are often limited in the selection of mic capsules, limiting your ability to try different mics to find the best match. Many wireless mics use companding to compress dynamic range into a small frequency allocation. While this processing is less noticeable on higher priced wireless systems, there can be a noticeable difference between vocals and instruments on a wireless setup versus a wired one.

Reliability
One well-known microphone manufacturer (of both wired and wireless microphones) had an engineer that used to start off his classes by holding up a microphone cable and saying something like, “The most expensive wireless mic in the world is ALMOST as good as using this.” Wireless technology is not perfect, and even a really great wireless has a higher rate of failure than its wired counterpart. In the world of production, where so much can go wrong, wireless introduces one more finicky area of possible failure. Wireless interference, intermodulation distortion and drop-outs happen for a variety of reasons and can kill a moment when you least expect it. As long as your cable is of decent quality, a wired microphone just won’t have these issues. If you want to go wireless, invest in a well designed antenna and RF distribution system to give your wireless mics the most reliable signal possible.

They Don’t Require Batteries
If you mix audio with wireless equipment for any length of time, you’ll run into the dreaded situation of someone’s batteries dying while on stage. Even for those particularly diligent about replacing batteries, it will happen at some point. Whether it simply has run its course or maybe it came with bad cells, batteries can and will die without notice where a good microphone cable typically won’t. And there is a significant ongoing cost to the batteries you use for wireless equipment. At the first church where I was on staff, we ran something like 10-12 wireless microphones for 3 services per week and had a battery budget in the neighborhood of $1,500 per year! Add a few more wireless microphones and some wireless in-ear monitors and the cost of your batteries per year can double. Do you know how much ongoing expense your wired microphone has? Maybe $25 if you need to get a new cable? It’s not even close. For those situations where you are using wireless, get a professional rechargeable battery and charging system designed for professional wireless microphones like those available from Ansmann.

More Economical
Last but not least, wired microphones simply cost less. Average wired microphones often amount to 1/3 the cost of their wireless counterparts if you compare apples to apples. I don’t know about you, but if I don’t need the mobility, I’d much rather buy two good microphones than one average wireless.

Wrap Up
Make no mistake, I like high quality wireless microphones and love them for many applications. That being said, I think too many churches today go to wireless first when a wired microphone would actually fill the need better. Wired microphones generally sound better, are more reliable, don’t require batteries (saving money and increasing reliability) and are significantly more cost-effective up front. I’ve said it many times before in this newsletter, and I’ll say it again: before you buy anything, really weigh out what features you need in order to be successful, then buy the equipment that will meet those needs. My recommendation is this: don’t buy wireless where wired will do just fine. Take those funds and add versatility and diversity to your wired mic selection. We have wired mics designed to bring out the best in female vocals, male vocals and a wide variety of instruments.

As published at www.ccisolutions.com under Worship Tools





Building Community With Your Team

11 11 2013

Last Worship Tools newsletter I took a chance and poked the bear a little bit. Many techs, and frankly many musicians tend to go at this thing alone. When we do both we and our work suffer for it. But talking about the issue of how we personally relate to others on our team can be uncomfortable for some, so I was prepared to get some emails of disagreement. Instead, every response I received not only agreed and supported the idea, but some asked me to go further into how to best approach building a community of tech servants.

Changing the Focus
I’ve found that as leaders, when we focus first on the task at hand, our teams often miss out on the concept of community. The task master model of leading people says one person is in charge of tasking people for a particular time and task, plugging holes as needed. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never enjoyed leading or being led with this type of model. I want to be a valued member of a team. I want to be equipped and empowered to do something that matters with people who matter. And as a leader, I am fulfilled and happy when helping people find community and purpose. THAT needs to become our focus: helping people find a community they can connect with and service that resonates with the gifting God has given them.

Fostering Community
One email I received from David Dyer out in Michagan said this: “It has been my experience after a lifetime in worship ministry that concluding each rehearsal/practice with a time of prayer and sharing (Bible study or just what’s been going on) allows everyone to have input and develops a true team spirit.” I couldn’t agree more! One of the changes I made years ago as a tech director that I believe had the biggest impact on fostering community was starting every Sunday with 30 minutes of breakfast, connection, a quick service walk-through and prayer. Additionally, we added another point of contact after services, asking everyone to meet for 5 minutes or less to debrief. We talked about the good and the bad from the day, encouraged everyone and prayed a blessing over the team before they left. People could no longer sneak in, serve and sneak out. They had to become a part of a committed team who connected with and prayed for each other.

Be Picky With Who You Recruit
Over the years I’ve had some really talented people come my way who I’ve encouraged to not serve on my tech teams. What?!? Turn down talented people? If they’re not people who want to fit into our community of technical artists, or only want to do things their way, absolutely! Some people are just meant to be solo artists and others are stuck in what they think they know and aren’t teachable or are unwilling to bend to the good of the whole team. Both types of people will quickly destroy team morale and eventually cause your core team to break apart. With any potential new recruit, I lay out the vision for community and serving one another before even talking about their craft, and if they can buy into those pieces, regardless of their skill level, I welcome them to the family.

3 Key Attributes
I want team members who are faithful, available and teachable. Being an artist in the church can be very demanding and requires us to be selfless and flexible, and I’ve found these three characteristics above all else will determine whether or not someone will be an effective artist on our teams. Of course, I want people who are extremely talented and experienced too, but a poor attitude will never supercede talent for me. And I’m not just talking about personality quirks, but like the Three Musketeers, do they buy into the idea of “All For One and One For All?” At the end of the day, people who are faithful to each other and the call of service God has on their life, are available to serve a reasonable amount and are teachable regardless of their experience, are people who will build an incredible team of artists who will go to the ends of the earth together to serve their God and their church.

Summary
Getting a bunch of selfless servants in a room is not enough to build a great tech team. In order to build great teams we must shift the focus to community over function, intentionally foster times of community building, say no to the wrong kinds of people and welcome those who can buy into the vision and mission of what your team is about. Essentially, as leaders it’s time we shift the primary focus of what we do to who we are. After all, it’s when we are connected, fulfilled and happy that we tend to do our best art.

Originally published at www.ccisolutions.com under Worship Tools





No I In Team

28 10 2013

Over the years I’ve noticed an interesting tendency among techs: most of us prefer to work alone. I have met so many techs that fit the “techie” stereotype of being quiet, awkward and hard to work with. And many tech leaders have a worse reputation for being controlling, uncooperative and trying too hard to get people to follow their leadership. This seems to be especially true in smaller churches, which means the tech team often ends up being one or two people serving every week, often on the edge (or way past the edge) of burnout.

We Need Each Other

Here’s a simple truth that we techs (and especially tech leaders) need to be reminded of often: We need each other. In the world of professional sports, no successful athlete goes it alone. Even in individual sports such as tennis, golf or swimming, no athlete competes without coaches and training partners. We need people to help us see what we don’t see in ourselves, and people who will nudge us towards better versions of who we can become. We need people who will stand with us as we fight the good fight. We need people who want to be in community with us, not simply do something similar nearby. The Bible says it like this: “As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens another friend.” (Proverbs 27:17)

Two techs in the booth monitoring many computer screens during worhipThe “Tech Team” is a moniker I don’t really like, but nevertheless it clearly communicates the fact that those who serve with technology should in fact be a team. Too many of us go at it alone, because it’s either too uncomfortable to interact with others, or, as is more often the case, we’re unwilling to give up control. And it’s wrong. By not connecting with and involving other people, you’re holding back people God has called to the same ministry you have been called to. You’re also holding yourself back, because you’ll be stretched too thin and may be missing the work that God has truly called you to do.

I know these things to be true, because early on as a Technical Director I fell into many of these traps. I felt usually it was easier to do it myself than it was to empower someone else to do it. I often believed that in order to maintain a certain level of quality, I couldn’t let others do it. I was exhausted, overworked and often felt alone in my ministry. And much of it was my fault. Focusing on ourselves and our own work will get us nowhere fast. It is not and never will be about me or what I do, but about who we are together.

“What’s the difference between people who stick in church and those who don’t? Friendships and prayer.”
Pastor Mark Driscoll

It All Comes Down to Community

We need each other in order to grow and learn in our craft. We need each other to help shoulder the load and spur one another on when times are tough. We need each other in order to grow and learn about ourselves, our friends and family, and our God. We need to get the focus off of what we do and onto who we are and who we are collectively. I often teach classes about building great technical teams, and the quote by Pastor Mark Driscoll echoes my key point. General recruiting rarely works, and plugging people into tasks doesn’t create a committed team member. It all comes down to community.

A Challenge for You

If you’re tired of fighting the good fight alone, can I challenge you to take a good look at how you serve and begin intentionally making room for other people in your world? If you’re leading a tech team and having a hard time building and keeping team members, can I challenge you to change your focus to building strong communities of people who serve instead of trying to recruit to cover tasks? Can I challenge all of us to remember that it’s not about us, it’s about the One we serve and those He’s given us to serve with? After all, there is no “I” in team.





Ask The Right Questions

22 10 2013

Originally posted under Worship Tools at www.ccisolutions.com 

Seven years ago the folks at RT Creative Group started Echo Conference, a place to bring together people who are involved in the intersection of media, technology and the Church. These guys have done a phenomenal job growing a conference geared for church creative folks, and this month I had the honor to lead a few breakout sessions at Echo 2013. I met lots of people there and spent much of the conference connecting with people outside of the main sessions, answering as many questions as I could to help them maximize their effectiveness with technology. As the conference went on though, I was noticing a common thread among nearly every conversation: people kept asking the wrong questions.

“There are no right answers to wrong questions.”
Ursula K. Le Guin

The most common question I received after the lighting class I taught was, “I’ve got a tight budget, what LEDs do you like?” Each and every time my answer was the same: it depends on what you’re trying to do. A question I found posed on Twitter last week was similar: “What PAs do you like right now?” These questions both have something in common: there is no way to get a useful answer. The answers we get with questions like these aren’t helpful towards reaching a goal, but are simply popular opinion. If we want answers that are going to help us get somewhere, we have to ask questions that point to our target.

You must be able to target the goal of your miinistry
Painting A Target
A few years ago we began reviewing our initial design meetings with the churches we partnered with. Our team always strives to give churches what they want, yet we increasingly have churches who ask for things that won’t really help them hit their ministry targets. Often the focus is on certain pieces of gear or something seen in another church. Unfortunately, many churches don’t develop a vision for what they hope to accomplish first, resulting in purchasing tools that are wrong for the job. For this reason, we’ve reshaped our design process to begin with a time of vision casting; a time to dig into the vision, goals and culture of the church in order to target what the technology is to accomplish. Very intentionally, before we ever look into the what, as a collaborative team we dig into the why.

“We thought that we had the answers, it was the questions we had wrong.”
Bono

Reaching People
So often we get fixated on the cool things new gear does and forget to ask the right question: how does this help our ministry be more effective? This is one of the reasons that senior leaders often get frustrated with tech people. By nature, most techs are doers, so we think primarily about all of the cool things new gear can do. But as people committed to helping our churches grow, we need to remember we are in the business of reaching people above all else. Instead of focusing on what the tools do, we must focus first on the amazing things our people can do with the right tools.

Fall in Love with the Purpose
Something that Michael Buckingham said at the Echo Conference has really stuck with me: “Don’t fall in love with the idea, fall in love with the purpose.” We have seen many ministries over the years base their identity on what they do or what they have. When we do that we’re missing out on what God has for us. Our ministry is not about programs and the tools we use. Every time we step behind a console, computer or camera, our service should point towards reaching people for Christ and helping them grow. But often we fall in love with an idea or the cool features of gear and forget about the purpose it serves. If we’re to serve better, to help reach more people, our passion must be first in our purpose instead of our ideas.

Wrapping it Up
We need doers who are focused on purpose before function. As we dive further into our purpose and vision, our questions shift from “what is new and cool” to “what will help us accomplish __________?” Before asking for money for new gear, ask your senior leadership what things they’d like to see accomplished first. Get a clear understanding of the purpose God has for you and your ministry. Invest as much time into understanding why as you do how, and you’ll not only start naturally asking the right questions, but you’ll see more growth than you probably have ever imagined.





Techs: You Are A Worship Leader

9 09 2013

As originally posted as a Worship Tools Newsletter on www.ccisolutions.com.

As I fly home from the National Worship Leader Conference in Kansas City, I’m reflecting on many conversations had over 4 days with old friends and new. CCI Solutions was honored to be a sponsor for this conference, getting the opportunity to meet many of the people we serve and try to help them be more effective with technology. I LOVE spending time with those who are charged with leading our congregations in worship! So many of these people are incredible musicians, singers and song writers, but it was exciting to me to see how many attendees were technical artists trying to learn how to better lead people in worship from a console or computer.

One discussion with a few leaders really struck me this week, and it started with a simple question: “How do we get the men in black to realize they are not just behind the scenes, but are as much a worship leader as those of us on stage?” I’ve long believed that every tech in the booth plays a key part in helping a congregation engage in worship, but this is one of the first times I’ve had a Worship Pastor attempt to convince me that the tech teams lead worship as much as he does. Little did he know I already agreed with him, I was just gathering some intel for a Worship Tools newsletter.

Image of a sound and video tech booth at a large church

Pleading The Case

As I meet with churches, I often make the case that technical artists have just as much influence over the atmosphere of a worship service as anyone else in the church. Traditionally, musical worship leaders have been the main curator of the worship environment, but I think the day has come where the environment receives more impact from the techs than it does the music. I’m not saying one is more important than the other, but we’ve grown accustomed to calling the musicians and singers the worship leaders without including those who serve in the roles of tech. The artists who operate the sound, lighting and video control some of the biggest and most powerful elements in a worship service. We must begin to approach these roles as having the influence on our worship that they do. They also have the biggest potential for distraction; a critical reason to take their roles as worship leaders seriously.

The Catch

The argument that gets made by some of my Worship Pastor friends is these artists aren’t really worship leaders because THEY don’t treat their role that way. Those Pastors are absolutely right! Traditionally, these roles have not been given the respect and attention they deserve, and it often starts at the source: the artist. Many technical artists today still mistakenly believe their role is to push some buttons for a few hours and go home, letting whatever happens happen. We need this mentality to shift in our technical artists. We need our artists to approach what they do from the perspective of leading people into worship.

Simply being a Christian artist doesn’t make you a leader of worship. So how do you as a technical artist know if you are treating your role as a button pusher as opposed to leader of worship?

You are a leader of worship if:

  • You approach serving with love and adoration for God and hone your craft in order to help bring others to the feet of Jesus.
  • You care more about engaging an audience in worship with your mix than making it sound like a CD.
  • You are passionate about getting the right words up on time to make it easier for every one to be able to follow along as the congregation sings to the Lord.
  • You diligently work to create a visual environment that helps create moments of awe and wonder in our Creator.
  • One of your goals is to do your best to minimize any distractions from worship.

 Worship keyboard players on stage at a church during worship

It Starts With Me

As the role of technology in our worship services continues to have a bigger presence, we need technological artists who are willing to step up and become leaders of worship. The difference between being a role-filler and a worship leader is all about the heart. It starts with preparing your heart for worship, which prepares the way for others to join you. It continues by intentionally planning how you carry out your role, taking great care to choose methods that will invite your congregation to participate. It involves rehearsing your role in a way that will help more people engage with the Creator of the universe; and culminates when your worship, planning and preparation leads to the moment of a room full of people joining with you to love the Lord our God.

There is nothing wrong with being a button pusher. We certainly need people who want to fill a role behind the scenes and go unnoticed. But I promise you, the extra work as a technical artist is worth the planning and preparation time when, as you’re worshipping our God, hundreds of people sing out to Him around you and you realize that you’re helping those people connect to our Father. It’s an incredible feeling to help lead people to that place, and it’s yours to partake in. So as one of the men and women in black, you have a choice: help lead people to Jesus in worship or simply push buttons? Your congregation needs you to start looking at your role differently. It’s time to be a leader.








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