Time For Updates

30 06 2014

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future. – President John F. Kennedy

Change is a funny thing. When asked if they are in favor of change, I think most people will say, and maybe even believe they are in favor of change. But if you look at their actions, the fear and uncertainty that generally accompanies change too often holds people back from moving forward. And if that doesn’t hold them back, often the cost of change, whether time, money or some other precious resource, is the thing that keeps the change from taking place.

I have the honor of traveling the country and meeting with leaders from great churches on a regular basis, and of course we’re quite often discussing their technology. One of the more common questions I get from senior church leaders is, “how do I know when it’s time to upgrade our systems?” Usually when I get asked this question, the inquirer is looking for a range of years in the answer, such as, “you should replace your audio system every 10 years.” Master planning for your budget is great, and industry wide it’s pretty well accepted that you can plan on 7-10 years for most audio, video and lighting systems with the exceptions of projectors and moving lights, which may only last 5-7 years. But that answer is very short sighted, as it really only answers when your existing systems may cease to function at all.

Knowing when it’s time to upgrade your systems is a deeper question, one that requires some knowledge of product longevity sure, but more so requires some introspection on what you’re trying to accomplish with those systems. In fact, I believe that the answer I’ve developed to this question could be applied to just about any aspect of your life, though for this article we’ll stick to it’s application to your AVL systems. So, how do you know when it’s time to upgrade your systems? When your systems no longer equip you to do what you’re trying to do, or when they can’t equip you for where you want to go, it’s time.

“When it becomes more difficult to suffer than to change… you will change.” Dr. Robert Anthony

Many leaders in our churches today prove Dr. Anthony’s theory correct. Instead of changing their systems (or staffing, policies or programs) to accommodate where they want to go, they hang onto what is easier, what has less resistance, what costs less. I understand the natural gravitation towards the easier path, but if we are truly growing and trying to make an impact, what we do will change. And it’s critical that your systems change with you in order to equip you for this new work.

Waiting until something is broken before bringing change is certainly one approach. Ultimately though, it’s the harder route and may not even matter by the time what you’re doing breaks. Legendary basketball coach John Wooden said it like this, “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.” Your church should be saving for, and planning on systems replacements within a 5-10 year period of time. For some, your systems may serve you well for 10, 12, maybe even 15 years if your needs don’t change. For many churches though, your growing or changing need should dictate change much sooner than that. The success and health of your organization may depend on you being “all in” with your growth, meaning EVERY resource you have (programs, people and the tools they use) must be reconsidered as change is implemented. Because when it no longer gets you to where you want to go, it’s time for a change.


Ignore The Crutches

25 06 2014

When I first started out as a technical director, I was young, had big dreams, and worked with a great church that was doing some amazing things in our community. But it wasn’t all roses. I inherited dimmers that were dying, a failing sound board, a PA showing its age, and don’t even get me started on our video system. But you know what? We did a decent job for what we had. Still, I believed it could be better. I knew it could be better.

If we could only get our soundboard replaced with a new digital console, our mixes would improve and be much more consistent because we could save settings from week to week. If we could replace our speaker system, our band and pastor could be heard more clearly, and we could produce a warmer, more even sound to the house. If our lighting system included LEDs and moving lights along with a new lighting console, we could create dramatic lighting that drew people in. And with a proper video system, everyone in our 1300-seat auditorium would have a great seat and connect with what was happening on the stage.

If you’ve been serving in a church for any length of time, you already know the odds are slim that you’ll ever have enough people, time, or gear to do everything you want to do. The tragedy comes when we use that lack of resource as an excuse for not improving despite the challenges. It’s a trend I’m seeing with many production folks today, especially those just starting out; and it’s a trap I fell into often as a young TD. With the challenges I mentioned above, it would’ve been easy to settle for less and put an asterisk on our work, “helping people understand” why we came up short. And frankly, there were times I did. There were times when I’d grab these excuses and walk them around like crutches, using them to hold up my lack of fight. I’m thankful that I’m a fast learner though, as hanging onto these crutches would’ve meant never running ahead and learning what I know today.

Here’s the thing great artists know: The quality of your art is determined more dramatically by your skill and talent than by your tools. Great artists can take mediocre resources and still make something great out of them. Do you really think Peter Frampton or Phil Keaggy couldn’t take my cheap, beginner, acoustic guitar and play something amazing with it? Of course they can! They could do so much more with my $100 guitar than I could ever do with any of their much more expensive ones. Having good resources can help you make the leap from good to great or even great to legendary, but they are not what determines your ability to begin with.

If you can’t create a good mix on a Behringer X32, you’ll never create a great one on the SSL Live. If you can’t shoot good video with a $300 GoPro, what makes you think you’ll be able to shoot great video with a $30,000 Hitachi Z-HD5000? If you can’t create an engaging worship space with a dozen LED fixtures, you won’t be able to do so with 2 dozen LEDs and some moving lights either. Your resources don’t determine your level of ability; your ability determines how well you’ll use your resources.

My best learning experiences came when I’ve had to work extra hard to produce great results because my resources were less than awesome. When you strip away all the bells and whistles, it’s easy to find out what you can do vs. what your tools can do for you. That’s when you really learn how to EQ a vocal. That’s when you figure out how to create a great worship environment. And that’s when you find out what you still need to learn.

The church needs artists who are great at their craft. We need you to struggle and fight your way through at times, because that is how you learn and grow in your skill. We need you to persevere when resources are less than awesome, because that’s how you learn to persevere when the challenges are bigger and the stakes are higher. But in order to get to that place, we have to be people who fight through adversity to do big things for God. We have to be willing to take the harder road and ignore the excuses, even when they’re legitimate. Let’s decide today, and every day, to be people who will ignore the crutches we could use and try to do great things, despite the limitations we see. We all might be surprised at what God does through us if we do.

Keys To Getting A Yes For Your Project

8 05 2014

No is a reality in many of our lives, especially when it comes to making pleas for upgrades to your audio, video and lighting systems. In this case, it’s great that “no” isn’t about you personally. In fact, often times a “no” isn’t even about your proposal specifically. In over 15 years involved in church tech, I’ve found that a “no” often actually means:

A) This Isn’t An Organizational Priority Right Now
Organizations have a lot going on at any given time and sometimes your proposal isn’t near the top of the list. It’s not personal, but sometimes a newly paved parking lot, replacing a dying air conditioner or even making payroll is a more pressing issue.

B) Your Proposal Doesn’t Alleviate Your Leader’s Pain Points
If you are pitching a new sound system and your leaders are fine with your sound, it’s probably not going to be approved. If they’re fine with your sound and feel your lighting isn’t up to par, they may be frustrated that you’re fixated on the wrong problem.

C) You’re Overreaching Your Leaders’ Value Bar
If you’re proposing a top of the line sound system and your leaders would be happy with the quality of their home stereo in the auditorium, your “no” may have come because you overreached on your value proposition.

Keys to Yes
We all have projects on our list; upgrades that need to be made to help our ministry be more effective. I think there are some specific things we can do with our proposals to increase our chances of moving a project forward. Some of the keys I’ve found in getting a “yes” are:

1) Keep Your Proposal Impersonal
Other than a brief recommendation, “I” should rarely be seen or heard in your proposals. The more personal you make your pitch, the more questions generally get raised. Leaders are generally looking to increase the impact of what they’re doing, not just get you the latest toys. Making it personal endangers your mission. It also makes it painful to hear a “not now”.

2) Make It About The Benefits
Leaders tend to focus a lot on cost/benefit analysis: does this new thing benefit us more than what it costs. Most leaders don’t care about what something does, but they care a lot about how it would impact their capabilities. Focus on how your proposal will enhance their ministry, and then throw in how it will enhance yours.

3) Know Your Leader’s Pain Points
If you know there are some major expenses up for consideration (new parking lot, AC replacement, etc.), be wise enough to know your church sound system proposal might be seen as unimportant and hold off if you can. More importantly, listen to your leaders and know what their biggest priorities are concerning areas you oversee. If you constantly hear frustration expressed about your audio and you keep proposing new lighting, it’s only a matter of time until your leaders stop listening to you too.

4) Set Your Bar Appropriately
I have a friend who has very high standards for what he’s associated with, which in itself isn’t a bad thing, except he’s losing his voice with his leadership because he’s always pushing them way beyond their quality (and in turn, their budget) bar. There are times to fight for higher quality options, but pick and choose those times based on the priorities of your leadership. If they’d be happy with a sound system that ranks a 6 out of 10 and you constantly push a 10, you’ll lose your voice. Sometimes meeting, not exceeding, expectations is the best thing you can do for your credibility.

5) Doing Your Homework and Getting a Second Opinion Will Go A Long Way
Leaders generally want to know that you researched all reasonable options and did your homework. If you simply run with the first idea you have all the time, you’re likely to let people down quite often with half-baked choices and lose your voice. Do your research, cover the options and when possible, get outside opinions to corroborate your plan. There is power in agreement.

As a leader in the arts, it’s part of your job and likely in your nature to continue pushing your team towards improving your effectiveness. Using the keys above, I believe you’ll see more success in moving your ministry forward with the right tools. Our team would love to help you understand your options, discuss the pros and cons of what you’re looking at and discuss whether a solution is right for you. With our team of veteran worship and technical staff and volunteers, we put our nearly 40 years of experience to use helping you make the right choices to help your ministry be great.

Engaging The Chaos Early

22 04 2014

Exhale. Go ahead, take a moment to breathe and recover from what I hope was an amazing, albeit exhausting, weekend of ministry. Most of our friends serving in worship and technical ministry worked countless hours last week, spending days and even weeks preparing for Easter services. We’d like to bless and honor you for all of your hard work. Please know it doesn’t go unnoticed and because of your efforts, many people likely heard the story of Jesus for the first time. You did awesome!

For many though, Easter was a crazy time with lots of last-minute needs and it certainly could have been easier had it been more planned out. We know this very well as many of our friends called in with last-minute needs and paid for rush shipping in order to pull off some last-minute ideas. We love serving you in this capacity, but the stress and chaos of the last-minute approach can really wear on you. And, of course, the unfortunate result for many of us after a chaotic Easter season is that we don’t engage in the opportunity to reflect on what Jesus did for us. We help others engage in the truth of the moment but miss it ourselves.

The good news is it is possible to pull off incredibly impacting services for holidays like Easter and Christmas without running yourself so far down that it takes everything you have to keep your head above water. I’ve lived both sides of that coin and my physical and spiritual (not to mention my family’s) well-being is much better off when I engage church holidays well in advance and work ahead. Easier said than done, right? I know often programming for these services is done last-minute and you have no control over that, but what do you have control over?

Summer is project time for many churches and I want to encourage you to really reflect back on your Easter and Christmas services from the past few years and think about common things you end up having to spend time and energy on. Do you regularly have to set up a temporary overflow venue? Do you tend to rent lights every holiday? Do you do a big set change? Look at those temporary things you seem to spend time on every time big services roll around and start looking at how you can minimize the impact of those tasks. Some possible ways you can engage your big services ahead of time are:

  • Run a permanent cable for your overflow venue so all you have to do is put a rental screen and projector up quickly.
  • Put in convenient power and DMX drops where you often need lights so you don’t have to run temporary wiring every time.
  • Develop a more user-friendly, faster way of rigging sets.
  • Install your Easter sets a few weeks early in order to have plenty of time for configuration and programming.
  • Save wireless frequencies of successfully used rental wireless so you don’t have to start frequency coordination from scratch next time.
  • Buy a few regularly rented items every year (projectors, wireless, lighting fixtures, etc.) so you don’t have to install the same rental gear ever time.
  • Start asking questions before the next big service way ahead of time.

We greatly appreciate all you do for your church, especially when it comes to big services like Easter. We know what it takes because, just like you, our people spend countless hours with our own churches trying to create impactful services for our own communities. This summer, let’s all commit to working smarter so this Christmas (you have 35 weeks) you can pull off big services and still have time to reflect on all Jesus did for you and your family and perhaps enjoy some of the day. Sometimes it’s as easy as running and leaving some cables in place for those regular rentals and for others it means maybe stocking up on some extra wireless systems or random accessories. Whatever it is, think about how you can engage these bigger services well in advance and make your life a little less chaotic as the big days approach. And, of course, our team would be honored to help your team get there with whatever you need.

Congratulations on a great Easter and many blessings to you and your family!

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.”

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.

Opening Your Gift

20 12 2012

Last year, something very strange happened at my house at Christmas. The house was decked out with Christmas lights. Our tree was full and shining with all kinds of sentimental ornaments saying things like baby’s first Christmas. Decorations that my wife and I have collected over 12 years of marriage were distributed throughout the house. And the gifts, oh my, the piles of gifts, to my kids from us, from my parents and from my in-laws. It was like one of family scenes you only see in paintings.

Here’s where our story takes an interesting turn. When it came time to have the kids open their gifts, we couldn’t get them to stop what they were doing to come to the tree. My son was off in another room coloring Christmas pages while my daughter used glitter glue. “Kids, do you want to open presents?” I asked. “No, we’re busy right now,” they’d reply. This went on until bed, so we skipped presents that day.

This story keeps getting stranger as the next day the kids woke up and went right back to being busy. “Do you guys want to open your gifts now?” I’d ask. “No thanks,” they’d reply, heading off to do more Christmas crafts. This pattern continued as the kids kept busy doing Christmas things but never stopped to take the time to open the gifts my wife and I, my parents and her parents had bought and wrapped up for them. Would you believe that this continued for a week before the kids finally stopped doing Christmas crafts and took the time to open their gifts?

You shouldn’t. That whole story is made up. At the first mention of gifts my kids ran into the room to figure out who was going to open presents first and which gift it would be. Waiting wasn’t even a possibility, they couldn’t want to see what their parents and grandparents had gotten for them. You see, even though my kids are young, they know that Mommy and Daddy are going to give them good gifts, and so are the Grandmas and Grandpas. They know when a gift is there for them, they are going to be blessed.

So what inspired me to make up this story? In some ways it really wasn’t made up, the names and stories were just changed to protect the guilty. You see, it’s a story that I see happen nearly every Christmas with worship and tech people in the church. We spend a month or two working long hours and running around crazy with the fun things of Christmas. And they are good things! Our mission of proclaiming Christ’s birth to those only open to hearing about it at Christmas and Easter is a critical one. But often times, I see us get so wrapped up in doing Christmas that we forget to stop for a few moments and unwrap the gifts God has for us. For me. For you. I find at Christmas that we often keep ourselves so busy that we miss the very gift God has for us.

The goal and mission of the church at Christmas is a good one, and one that I’ve been honored to serve multiple churches with over the past 15 years. But it’s scary to me to think back to how many of those Christmas’ I’ve sort of put God’s gift of peace, rest, family and love on hold until I was done doing Christmas. It breaks my heart to see worship and production folks dread Christmas and celebrate when it’s all over so they can finally go home and open their gifts. Most of all I can only imagine what God thinks and feels when he keeps asking us to come sit down for a few moments to open the good gifts He has for us and we tell Him, “Not now, I’m busy.”

In the midst of the great work we all are doing to proclaim the Gospel, let’s all commit to taking moments to go sit with our Father to open the gifts He has for us. I need this reminder this Christmas, and frankly often throughout the year, and I’m guessing that you could use it too. I want to be like a little kid, super excited to be with my Father and open the gifts He’s lovingly prepared for me. We are so thankful for your faithfulness in serving your community, and I know without a doubt God will honor the sacrifices that you’ve made to serve him. But I sincerely hope and pray this Christmas season that when your Father calls you to tell you it’s time to open His gifts, that you’ll joyfully drop everything you’re doing and run into the arms of your Father. He gives great gifts. Take the time to open one.

This Christmas:It Matters

13 12 2012

Note: Originally published as a CCI Solutions Worship Tools Newsletter here.

About this time 3 years ago, I vividly remember entering one of the most intense Christmas seasons I’ve ever had as a Technical Director. We had to finish the set up for our church’s first Christmas production, spend dozens of hours programming lights, get through a handful of rehearsals, 3 performances and continue to pull off weekend services in the middle of all that. It was the church’s first Christmas in the new auditorium so everything was being created new from scratch. And to top it all off, I got horrifically sick with the flu.  I’ll spare you the details but despite having a pretty extreme bug, over the next 8 days I spent upwards of 80-90 hours at the church with our team as we ran through the gauntlet of Christmas production and two sets of weekend services. It was grueling and often times physically painful, and there were plenty of times I wanted to quit. But I pressed on. Our team pressed on.

Our young team lifted and carried a huge load and come time for our three performances, the house was packed beyond anyone’s expectations. In fact, for the final performance, the 2500 seat auditorium was standing room only. Each night as the performance came to its conclusion with a short message and altar call from our Pastor, I never once thought about how sick I was all week or how exhausted my body felt. It was the furthest thing from my thoughts.  I distinctly remember coming away from each night with a beaming mixture of pride and humility. For 8 days and 3 nights of performances, our team came together and came up huge. At the time, it was one of the biggest productions the church had ever done and each and every person on our team stepped up to the challenge. To this day I feel so proud of that team, and it set the stage for bigger and better things to come even after I left.  But more importantly, I felt so honored to play a part in what God was doing in our community and in reaching all of those people who responded to His love that weekend. God certainly didn’t have to use me, the people on my team or anyone else from our church for that matter in order to change the lives of hundreds of people and touch thousands of others. I am so thankful that He did though. Seeing people respond to His love and Gospel is probably one of the most humbling experiences we can have as people who serve in the Church, and Christmas is a time when people are more receptive to the love that Christ has for them.

For those who serve the church in worship and production, the Christmas season often brings crazy schedules, a chaotic pace and often exhaustion and/or sickness. It’s a time that can stretch us both as artists and people, mentally and physically, often times past what we think we’re capable of.  Despite the stretching, I want to take a moment to remind you in advance that what you do matters. Whether you lead a song, put the lyrics on the screen or even clean up the auditorium, you are helping to serve the people of your community and it makes a difference. As you put in the blood, sweat, tears and/or sickness that often come with the long hours of Christmas services and production, remember that it is for the greatest cause that we can serve, to share the love of Jesus with those who don’t know Him.

This Christmas season, as you plan extra elements for your services and work tirelessly to create moments of wonder for those who will walk through the doors, we would be honored to serve and support you in your efforts. Perhaps you need to find some last minute choir or orchestra microphones or a lighting fixture to pull off a specific type of effect. Maybe you need to get some lamps replaced in your lighting fixtures or a projector so everything is at its most effective. Regardless of your need, we are driven to help your ministry be effective. Why? Because we know what you do matters.

Blessings to you and your ministry this Christmas. We’re rooting for you!