Where the Wild Things Are
It’s been said that church technical artists are damage control. We find ways to implement any and all ideas dreamed up by pastors, creative directors, worship leaders, and anyone else who wanders by. Often, we don’t get a lot of notice before having to implement these ideas, which leads to a certain amount of chaos. How we deal with chaos will determine the overall health and success of our ministry, as well as our own longevity.
As a 20+ year veteran of the church tech world, I’ve seen my share of chaos. Entire systems have gone down 20 minutes before service; pastors have wanted complete videos edited in 3 hours; worship leaders have made up new songs on the fly; and many other things have happened that I’ve probably blocked from memory to mask the pain. Along the way, I’ve learned a few things that help contain the mess, while still serving those around me. Here are few of those coping mechanisms.
Plan for the Unexpected
You might ask, “How can I plan for the unexpected – something which by definition is ‘unexpected’?” What I’ve noticed is that most of the things we don’t expect are things we can actually anticipate. For example, a while back, our worship leader started using backing tracks to fill in instrumental parts. But we never knew if we were going have tracks until 30 minutes prior to sound check, and that often led to a mad scramble to set up the audio interface, DI’s, and check everything.
So, we built a custom shelf that securely holds the audio interface, two stereo DI’s, a laptop power supply, and the drummer’s personal mixer. It all lives on the drum platform and is always wired up. We added tracks to the baseline show files and input lists. Today, adding tracks takes less than a minute; plug in MagSafe and FireWire, and add the tracks fader to the surface. Done, crisis averted.
We did the same thing for extra keyboards and guitars.
Look back at the last few months of services and see what the “unexpected” requests were. Chances are, you’ll find a pattern. Discover the pattern and you can plan for it.
Technology is going to break. Get over it. We were talking the other day and considering the thousands of points of failure in a modern church A/V/L system. Given that we know things are going to go wrong – not if, but when – how can we plan for it? Come up with a plan now for how you’ll handle a lighting console failure. What will you do if your lyric computer dies on Sunday morning? What happens when your pastor’s mic doesn’t work as he heads to the platform?
These things, or something like them, will happen. So plan for them now. The more plans you have in place before something goes wrong, the easier it will be to recover quickly. Having multiple points of redundancy where it makes sense minimizes the distraction during the service. Plans also help you stay calm under crisis, which builds trust with your leadership and your team.
I like to say we should plan carefully for the 80% of the service that we know about so we can easily adapt to the 20% we don’t know about. If your plan is to wing the whole thing every week, you will be in a constant state of chaos. But most of the time, you can tell with a fair degree of certainty what 80% of the requirements are going to be for the weekend. There will be music, announcements, a message, and whatever else you normally do. Plan for that.
As technical leaders, we are in the service business. We have to always be ready and willing to adapt our plans to accommodate the needs of those we serve. We can expect life to happen – people get sick, a national tragedy strikes, the pastor hears something new from God on Saturday night. Plans change.
By staying on top of as much as we can every week, we have much more bandwidth to accommodate the last-minute.
Set Realistic Expectations, But Always Serve
When someone walks into the tech booth with a video on a flash drive – a WMV file on an NTFS formatted drive, no less – five minutes before service, that can cause some chaos. At that point, we may have to simply say, “We’ll do our best,” then set about trying to make it happen. If it happens once, do all you can to make it work. If it happens all the time, develop a system or have a conversation.
Sometimes, we are hit with requests that are actually impossible. But most of the time, if we pause for a minute to think about it, we can come up with a solution. Work hard to make your first answer, “Let me see…” instead of, “No.” We technical geeks are an incredibly imaginative and resourceful bunch, so lean into that. Talk with the team and come up with a solution. Sometimes, an easy and obvious solution will elude you until someone else says, “What if…”
What we do can be crazy and chaotic. But it can also be crazy fun when we overcome seemingly impossible odds and pull it off. Have the right attitude about it and you’ll find that thriving is actually possible – and enjoyable!