How sound is our upgrade plan?
Church techs: you know what it’s like, you turn up early to set things up, then you begin to discover step by step that things have changed since you last were on duty. You can’t find enough XLRs and all the batteries are dead.. It’s going to be one of those days. You spend the whole rehearsal running around whilst trying to keep the musicians happy. You finally get a chance to stand at the desk and mix for 5 mins before doors open, and you manage to get everything working and it sounds ok. Phew.
But then it’s the first song and your vocalist gets nervous and doesn’t hold the mic properly and sings quietly.. you crank the gain.. it feeds back. As you’re sorting that you realise the electric guitarist has whacked his amp to 11. You’re battling with everything and why on earth is the snare drum so loud?! Cue the glance from congregation members that oh-so-clearly means “you’re letting us down, fix it” and the little talk with the pastor after the service.
Things need to change.. the gear needs fixing, techs need training and everyone needs encouraging.
Not all churches find themselves in this situation every week, but I don’t think it’s wrong to say most churches want their technical arts to improve. While churches will prioritise it differently, we all want our pastor’s message to sound clearer and our music to sound full, clean and more comfortable to sing with. For the smaller church, it is to be expected that with fewer resources the final outcome will be of a less ‘polished’ and ‘shiny’ production standard. But knowing our equipment and using volunteers to their full potential will move us away from the situation above, and help us to use the technology and resources we have to aid ministry and worship.
If we want our quality of production and tech to improve, should we just be looking to our inexperienced (but very servant hearted) volunteers on duty to just “fix it”? I think the key questions we should all be asking is ‘’how?’’ and ‘’what do we want to achieve?’’ There have been far too many occasions where churches have answered the ‘’how?’’ by going straight down to the local AV store and buying whichever system their budget has made available. Two weeks later when the system is set up and used, has it improved the intelligibility of their pastor’s mic or made the band sound any easier to worship with? I would expect not. I expect the unfortunate volunteer has found themselves tangled in a pile of cables, being shot scathing glances from the congregation as they battle with the faders. I would argue that this isn’t our best approach to raising the church’s level of production quality and is definitely not supporting the ever-faithful volunteer.
So if not with splashing out on the latest gear.. How?
Good question. I reckon it’s about making three thought-through investments.
Invest in the heart
It would be rare, unusual, and just down-right weird if the first training session for a visual or sound volunteer was an hour sitting in a coffee shop for a bible study. Should that be surprising? I think we need to be encouraging our volunteers to look at why we serve, and how their role will help proclaim the gospel. Serving from the tech booth is not just about making equipment work, it is an important ministry. Is it time we move our thinking forward from viewing technology as an expensive hobby for the ‘trendy’ churches, to seeing it as an important tool for enabling and reinforcing what our pastors/worship leaders are trying to communicate? If we see tech like this, it raises this question: are we allowing just anyone to operate these controls without the appropriate training? As with all roles in the church, I believe we need to start approaching mixing in church from the heart. If technicians are ministers, we are responsible for providing the ‘heart-training’ required as a priority. They’re serving the church with long hours, hard labour and very little encouragement. They need to know why.
Invest in skills
Once our techs have a richer understanding of their role in the church, it’s worth training them up with skills in their respective tech area. If you have an experienced engineer serving in your team, use them to train those with less real-world experience. Set up a shadowing rota and make opportunities for learning and relationships to build. There’s also some great guys running training sessions specifically for techs in the church; contact Music Ministry and consider it. These are a worthwhile investment and they’re great for strengthening your team. I promise you’ll notice a difference by Sunday morning.
Invest in equipment
While it is somewhat true that a good engineer can make a bad PA sound ok, we shouldn’t be making our volunteers battle with the gear while layering on pressure to improve. Ask around and get in touch with a recommended, experienced company that has worked with churches before.. and use their advice! Don’t choose a system based on what you can afford, but design a system that will do a great job and then work out how and when you can afford it.
There’s that old joke that churches don’t buy the right gear once, they buy the wrong gear three times over. Wouldn’t it be great if through thoughtful stewardship and planning we stop this joke being funny (and sad)!
Let me just add; everything we have discussed so far is completely pointless if it isn’t for the glory of our Father in Heaven. Psalm 127 beautifully puts this in perspective for us:
‘1 Unless the LORD builds the house,
the builders labour in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the guards stand watch in vain.
2 In vain you rise early
and stay up late,
toiling for food to eat—
for he grants sleep to those he loves.’
Unless the LORD blesses the work of our hands, we work in vain, but what a joy it is to work together, under God, for the glory of our risen Lord Jesus Christ! Small steps make big improvements. Pray pray pray.
Bertie Styles- Christ Church Mayfair