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.

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

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.

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.

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.