Article Art by Carrie Grant

Get Out of the Booth

Posted by Todd Elliott on March 01, 2013.

Author: Todd Elliott

Aside from the fact that we’re all technical artists for the local church, we all come from very different backgrounds and situations. Although they may have different names: a Sanctuary, a Worship Center, a High School Theater, a Cathedral; the list could go on, but we all practice our art in a space of some kind.

Regardless of what you call the main gathering place in your church, there is one constant for all us production folks: The Booth. Now, you might put a different name in front of the word “booth”, like A/V or tech or audio, but “booth” is part of the universal vernacular for the tech people. The shape and size of each of our booths can vary wildly – from a space right in the middle of your [insert name for auditorium here] to a closet with a small window to the [insert name for worship center here].

For technical artists, the booth is the epicenter of the service. Everything comes to the booth, then is ordered, mixed, lit and shot, there upon leaving the booth in a way that allows for people in our congregations to engage in worship and listen to God’s word taught without distraction. The equipment and people in the booth facilitate pretty much everything that happens in our services.

This isn’t a false assumption, but it does ignore the vital fact that much of where we need to do our very best, happens outside the booth – that place called the stage, the platform, the altar ­– yet another space with many different names.

Now, the physical distance between the booth and the stage is different for all of us, but many times it’s the same vast chasm – a divide that separates two very different worlds. This distance not only separates functions and roles, but points of view and values on what makes a service great. Often times this gap is tolerated, even expected; dare I say assumed. “Oh, that’s the stage for you!” (Eyes rolling.) Or, “Yeah, the booth is grumpy today.”(Knowing nods.)

This distance between booth people and stage people seems so great, that it appears almost unbridgeable. Not to over-spiritualize it, but Satan would like nothing more than for us to ignore this gap and proceed like nothing is wrong. Well guess what? Something is wrong and the distance does exist and it won’t be filled in or crossed by itself. God designed his church in such a way that booth people and stage people have to work together. Getting out of our chairs, leaving the booth and taking responsibility for bridging the distance to the stage ourselves will provide many solutions to the challenges we face.

So, why do most of us stay in the booth, fuming about all the problems we face? Why don’t we get out there and come up with solutions? 

Do your job so I can do mine.

As technical artists, the only way for us to do our jobs or to create art is for others to do their jobs and create their art. We sit behind the soundboard, and someone else makes the sounds that we then mix. Someone sits at a piano, we aim lights on that person. A pastor references the Bible, we put the corresponding graphic on the multimedia screens. Nothing we do is done in a vacuum, and we expect others to deliver the goods to us.

I have this theory, that we in production are so conditioned to sit back and receive what we need, that we tend to wait for someone else to do everything for us. If I am not getting what I need, I expect you to change it. If something isn’t working, then you should fix it. Of course, you should just know this and do something about it.  This mentality is very consumerist. You create something for me to consume, so that I can do my job. It’s a very selfish perspective and can be very anti-team.

When you don’t have what you need, or if something needs to be fixed, maybe it’s time to leave the booth and see how you can help solve the problem.

When you don’t have what you need, or if something needs to be fixed, maybe it’s time to leave the booth and see how you can help solve the problem. How can I help make this work?

I know you need more of yourself in the monitor, but what about my needs?

When the booth and the stage are communicating during rehearsal, it tends to be one directional – from the stage to the booth. The people on stage have the microphones and are telling us what they need. As a result, we are very familiar with their needs and very rarely is anyone asking the booth what you need. Since there isn’t a great communication path from the booth to the stage, our needs tend to be unknown and unmet.

This is a perfect reason to leave the booth.  Go talk to the drummer about how all the cymbal work is burying the rest of the mix. Explain face to face to the vocalist why it would be helpful in rehearsal not to have their back to the cameras. Announce why rehearsal won’t start for five more minutes because a problem is being worked on. If you never explain your needs to the stage people they may never know, and you might always feel like no one cares.

If you never explain your needs to the stage people they may never know, and you might always feel like no one cares.

Since booth people and stage people think about things in completely opposite ways, it’s no wonder they don’t understand what you need.  One other key to communicating your needs face-to-face reminds me of something my wife says. She claims that 80% of communication is non-verbal, and by leaving the booth and engaging with people face to face, we are taking advantage of much of the non-verbal parts of communication – facial expressions, body language, and conversational tone. So, get out of the booth and let someone in on your needs.

I know you said you needed more of yourself in the monitor, but what do you really need?

On the flip side of your needs, leaving the booth to talk to people in person about their needs is a great idea. From the stage perspective, the booth people are distant and somewhat unknowable. When was the last time you engaged in conversation with the band members? When did you last leave the booth and ask someone on the stage what he or she needed or if there was anything you could do for him or her?

From the stage perspective, the booth people are distant and somewhat unknowable. When was the last time you engaged in conversation with the band members?

One of the things we try to do at Willow is meet the band and vocalists on stage when they arrive. We help them get set up. We ask how their week was. We see if there is anything they need. One of the goals is to set them up well so they can focus on what they are there to do.

Being proactive and asking people how you can serve them goes a long way in building relationships – from being at opposite ends of most situations to feeling like you are on the same page and trying to accomplish a similar goal. The goal is this: joining God in facilitating life-changing moments for your congregation, together.

While we might have different names for our booths and our stages, the gap between the two naturally exists everywhere. Stop waiting for someone else to build this bridge and leave the booth.

About the Author

Todd Elliott | T w
Todd is a writer, speaker and all around great guy in the world of church production. Formerly the Technical Arts Director at Willow Creek Community Church, he now strives to leverage his experience for the benefit of technical artists in the local church through coaching, blogging, and the First In Last Out Conferences, a gathering for technical artists in the local church.

2 Comments

  1. This article has a lot of what I have done and are doing within the ministry of my church, New Life and Awakening. This also has caused me to shift my perspective on the relationship that our teams need to have with each other. Great article!

    1. Thanks for your comments. So glad you and your team are already doing some of these things. For us to feel like one big team, requires us to take a step out of our comfort zone…the booth…and reach out to help build the team into one.


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