Know Your Capabilities – 12 Days of Christmas (Posts)

As a production director, it is my job to make sure the dreams of the creative team come true. If they want a car on stage, I make sure we can do it. When they ask for snow, my team makes it snow. That’s what we do. However, it is crucial that we – the production staff – are part of those first creative meetings to help steer the conversation into the realms of reality. (See Yesterday’s post about Planning Teams.) I am all for “blue sky” dreaming, but at some point you have to land the plane.
Christmas services are a time to pull out all the stops. But you have to know what your realistic capabilities are. Here are three things I do in preparation leading up to each Christmas season.

Communicate:
A few years ago, I was part of a production where the music minister had scheduled the band, singers, drama, and a choir before knowing what the system capabilities were for that year*. By the time I found out, rentals were hard to come by and a stressful production ensued. Simple communication with all members of the team can help avoid problems.

The following year, I was prepared.
I worked ahead of time (before songs were picked and a band was selected) to secure extra equipment.

Know What You Have:
Every year I make an “inventory” spreadsheet containing the following information:
– # of available wireless microphones along with their frequencies
–  # of wired vocal mics
– # of instruments mics and what instruments each mic can accommodate
While these categories are important and it’s essential to know what equipment you’re working with, that last one is crucial; it allows the worship leader to know how many special instruments he can schedule.

Rent Early:
Christmas is that wonderful time of year when us production guys get to max out every piece of equipment the church owns. We use all the lights, all the audio channels, and A LOT OF ELECTRICTY; but lets face it, pushing the limits of our equipment can cause major problems. I have found that working with a local production rental company early enough in the year can greatly reduce stress not only on your system and your team, but also on your wallet.Clark Grisswald Even if in July the only specifics we have are that we are in fact having Christmas services, I still give the rental place a call. There are always going to be certain givens: I’m going to be lighting up at least 100 trees with lights, we will need more audio channels, and some unknown “special opener” will require additional lighting.

If you call and rent these “given” pieces of equipment WAY in advance, you can usually get a great price. Plus, you know you aren’t going to run into the issue of not being able to get what you need because everyone else has gotten first dibs.

Moral of this post: PLAN EARLY.

What do you usually rent for Christmas Productions? Join in the conversation below.

Planning Team – 12 Days of Christmas (Posts)

Christmas is a big deal, especially in the church. It’s when congregations see the largest increase in attendance, and it is the best time of the year for us church programmers to make a big difference.

Critiquing_Meeting
Northview Planning Team

We are joyously proclaiming the birth of Christ: God making good on his promise of a savior. That kind of event requires the biggest party of the year! We also welcome many non-regular churchgoers that feel coming to church during the holiday season fulfills their Christian duty for the year.

Because churches are catering to two very different groups during Christmas, you have to plan for these services with a little more finesse than you would an average Sunday. No matter your approach to Christmas, it is imperative to tell the gospel story in such a way that it remains fresh and engaging to your most knowledgeable attendee, but is also easily understood by the guest who has no idea that God came to Earth in the form of a baby. There are many video clips you can use or drama pieces that can do just this. (Check out the Christmas Series Resource page for ideas.)

It may even be as simple as just reading the Christmas story:

 

As I mentioned before, reaching such a variety of Christians and non-Christians alike requires planning and skill. It is critical to form a committee or group and to plan out your holiday services as early as possible. (July is not too early).

 

Here are some general tips that can help you get started:

Who should be on your planning team? 

That is entirely up to you; there is no right or wrong answer. I have been involved with teams that were large and encompassed most every staff member, as well as small two-person teams where we nailed down a plan and presented it to the senior pastor. At Northview, our team is led by the creative arts pastor (Creative Worship Ideas) and involves a rotating group of staff and volunteers.

In short: whether your team is made up of 2 or 15, the key is choosing people who want to be there and who come prepared!

How long should you meet?
Set a time limit. That way there is pressure to perform as well as well as light at the end of the tunnel. I suggest setting up a series of two-hour meetings. Spend the first-hour brainstorming a new service idea, and the second hour working on the implementation of the service that was brainstormed the previous week. Never leave an implementation meeting without action items for the team.  Try forming subgroups at the brainstorming meeting to run with the main elements of the service, and present them back at the implementation meeting a week later. Doing this saves on time as a whole, and gets deeper involvement from the entire team.

Feel free to leave a comment with any planning team questions you have, and make sure to check back each day through November 12th for more ways to keep your Christmas planning on track!

Christmas Series

Tomorrow starts my first series on this blog and I’m very excited. I’ve wanted to do a series for a while and began planning a few months ago, with the prodding (and support) from my (extremely successful blogging) wife Samantha – I figured this was the perfect time to release it. I love the Christmas season, and so what better way to kick things off than with a Christmas Series.

I’m calling it the “12 days of Christmas (Posts) ” clever, I know. I’ll cover a range of topics related to the biggest time of the year in the tech/production world. I can’t even count anymore the number of Christmas productions I’ve been apart of, and I hope that my experiences over the years can illuminate an idea for you to share with your team.

Christmas Series @ Northview

Nothing I have to share is earth shattering, I wouldn’t be that full of myself. However this is the season where we in the church get to begin telling the greatest love story ever written, and that my friends is earth shattering.

Please sign up for the updates, I promise I’ll be real with you just as I have in all my earlier posts. Learn from my mistakes, and go make your own, (that’s the best way to learn, isn’t it?) you have my permission.

Day 1 starts tomorrow. All the content is ready, and I hope you’ll share it with your friends that are in church ministry. You can sign up for updates here:


Bad Experiences

I saw this video posted on Imagine Church‘s Facebook page last month and thought it was brilliant.

What are you doing to avoid giving guests at your church a “Bad Experience?” I remember when I was dating my wife, I attended church with her family while visiting them on my off days while on tour. I sat next to my fiancée in the hard wooden pews, while waiting for the service to begin. The pastor took the stage after worship and asked if anyone had brought a guest. I was quickly identified as a guest and asked to stand. This was a horrible first impression. I was a pastor’s kid, I had been in church all my life, but this went too far.

There is a fine line in church between making a guest feel welcomed and making them feel awkward. Like a sales person at a store, some people want left alone while they shop, while others would like you to lead them around and show them what they want. It takes a special group of greeters/ushers to tell the difference and allow people to feel comfortable. I am one of those people who would rather find my seat in the back than have an usher escort me to a spot in the middle of a row down front. That is just me, there is nothing wrong with asking for help either. The key as church leaders is to train our welcome teams to be helpful and not overbearing. Allow new guest to get acclimated on their own terms.

I have seen churches with multiple levels of greeters, allowing people to seek out the kind of welcome that makes them feel the most comfortable. Many people are coming into church with preconceived ideas about what they’ll experience. Whether that comes from years of being dragged to church as a child, or seeing it done poorly at another church, people bring their bad experience baggage with them. Help them to leave it at your doorstep this Sunday. Give them an experience they’ll tell their friends about.

What’s a bad experience you’ve had? Share it with me below.

(The video above is property of Imagine Church; they own all rights to it.)

Creating a Strong Production Team

As I talk with fellow technical leaders I am often asked, “How do I grow my team?” Beyond bulletin announcements, ministry fairs, and just talking with people. I have found that you have to build a healthy environment in your existing team first. Then they will be your best recruitment tool. Here are the three things I have learned the hard way in building a healthy team.

[box] Communicate – Keep your team in the loop. Often times as staff members it’s easy to forget that our volunteer leaders aren’t in all the meetings you are. Like the hallway conversation, where sudden changes get made. I try to send out a weekly update to the entire team. Sometimes I video it, other times I don’t scare them with that and just type a newsletter. Then if there are any service order changes I know of by Friday I sent a message through Planning Center to the team that’s serving that weekend. [/box]

[box] Be Honest – Nothing makes a volunteer run from your ministry faster than being lied to. Now this doesn’t have to be a flat-out, deceitful lie, but they don’t know that. I have messed up in the past, forgot to schedule someone, forget to program a video, or not tell someone they don’t need to come in. All seem little, but human nature is to save face, make a quick excuse for why something happened. Honesty is always the best policy when working with volunteers (or anyone for that matter.)   [/box]

[box] Be Dependable – Follow through with what you say you are going to do. Show that you value the time they are giving. I have told people I would have the schedule out by a certain day, or host a training time and just failed to follow through. That hurts your team’s confidence in you. They are looking for reliability and want to know their time matters. [/box]

With your existing team running smoothly, new members have a better time getting involved and staying active. No one desires to be a part of a dysfunctional team.

Check out my post on Recruiting Volunteers Here 

Want to talk about more ways to build your team? Contact me!

Planning Center Online

Planning Center Online is a little gift from above for those of us who schedule church services. Now this post is in no way endorsed by them, I’m not receiving a kickback, the people at Planning Center Online do not even know I exist. This post comes out of years of experience, and a want to help churches get better. I remember back to when my tech team schedule was a Word document, or when I upgraded to Excel (those were the days.) Trying to keep my list straight and make sure that I really did have coverage. My reason for this post comes from many churches asking for advice out of frustration with their current way of organizing their teams. When I ask if they’re using Planning Center Online (PCO) I often hear  two things, the first being no and the second, is that they only use it for one thing. Maybe as a team database, or for simple scheduling. I can tell you from first hand experience, only half using this solution is a frustrating world for all parties involved.

Planning Center Online

So what does Planning Center Online offer?

  • Entire team database. All production, vocalist, choir, and band are quickly accessible in the search features.
  • Service flow. Build your service, add times and notes. Print off a run sheet for the entire team, and everyone stays connected.
  • Rehearsals. Upload mp3 files of the worship songs along with the chord charts/sheet music for the band to rehearse too. No more coming in mid-week to pick up their song book for the weekend.
  • Scheduling. Takes some of the hassle out of scheduling with multiple ways to get people plugged in.
    • Block Out Dates
    • Team Scheduling
    • Signup Sheets (allows team members to sign themselves up)
    • Auto Scheduling

Those are the four big features of PCO (in my opinion.) There are some other cool things like Music Stand, Projector, and Resource Calendar. I have not personally needed to use the other features but know that others really like the Music Stand feature for using their iPad on stage. For my team, I have people who want to serve the same time each month setup into “Teams” that I schedule as far out as we have services listed for. Then I use the Signup Sheets to allow those with more flexible schedules to fill in where they can. If someone declines, PCO will show you who else is available. The whole thing makes scheduling a lot easier (unless you start pushing buttons like I did that one time.)

In the service flow, place as much information as you can to help your team. I normally look to see who is leading each song, what key it is (setting audio plugins) and if there is a fill track. Other info I have seen people put here is dress code, call times, and a general checklist for the entire team. Use this sheet to keep everyone on the same page. The service flow is also where I have seen churches give up. They don’t feel the need, or maybe do not know where to start. I can tell you the need is there, keeping your entire team on the same page is crucial in today’s media driven services.

To help you get started here’s a sample service order from Northview: August 31 & September 1, 2013  I blacked out last names for privacy, as well as leaving the team list off, but that is normally printed at the bottom.  Hopefully this can give you can get an idea of what these look like (at least for us.) Often times my copy at the sound board is covered in handwritten notes by the end of the weekend.

I purposefully kept this post brief. Wanting to just give you some ideas, I would love to talk to you more about how to implement PCO into your service flow. Feel free to contact me here: CONTACT and let’s talk.

Finding Focus

Recently I had the privilege to hear Bob Goff, author of Love Does, present at the 2013 Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit. (This year’s summit drastically impacted my life both at home and at work, so expect to see several posts coming from that as I process all that I heard.) One point in his presentation that really stuck with me, he said every Thursday he quits something. Knowing that his life are already busy, he stops doing something or delegates a task each week and challenged us to do the same. I wish I could do it justice, but hearing him talk about this was very funny.

Thinking at first that it was only a funny punchline, a segue into the real point he was making, I brushed it off.  I later began to think it was a great idea, and a way to regain focus in my life. I figured it couldn’t hurt to start finding things in my life that I can quit. I knew right off the bat the first thing I could stop doing, so I am trying it…TODAY.

I shut down the second computer at my desk, cleared off the three monitors I like to hide behind and am quitting the idea that I can effectively multi-task. I kid myself thinking that I’m getting more work done having the computers, monitors, laptop, iPad, kindle, and iPhone on my desk. The reality of the situation is that I have the attention span of a squirrel on a sugar high. I bounce from one thing to the next, not really finishing anything. When people come into my office, my eyes are always drawn back to that email that just came in, or something shinny that I thought I saw on the screen. With just my laptop and a piece a paper on my desk, I can free my mind to stay on task a little bit more. When someone comes in, I can close my laptop, and give them my full attention.

This seems like a great idea, however, just in the time that I started writing this, I have distracted myself and wanted to start something that just popped into my mind. I am having to force myself to mentally stay on topic and task. Admitting I have a problem is the first step correct? I should try to find a multitaskers anonymous meeting somewhere. I have decided to end the charade, and come out from behind my LED radiating monitors. To embrace who I am and play to my strengths instead of enable my weaknesses.

What is something you can quit to bring breathe back into your life?

On a side note, I wrote this post by hand which I haven’t written more than a post-it notes worth of content since high school. It was quite freeing and I look forward to how I can rely less on technology and be more intentional.

My Thoughts on “The Bible – Part 1”

Last night, the History Channel premiered Mark Burnett’s epic mini-series, “The Bible.” Leading up to the showing last night, there seemed to be quite a bit of hype – especially since it was showing on the History Channel. There were questions as to how accurate it would be and if it would be uplifting to christians or make a mockery of faith.

My initial impression of part one leaves me impressed for the most part. I had my Bible open on the computer and was able to follow along for the most part. I realize, like with most movies made from books, not everything makes the cut. There are things that have to be removed, as well as things that require some creative license. One aspect I really appreciated was the director’s viewpoint. I feel the producers did a great job with expressing the emotions of those surrounding the main characters that the bible doesn’t address directly.

My only real disappointment was the overall scale of the re-enactments. It became most noticeable during the scenes depicting the crossing of the Red Sea. Millions of Israelites left Egypt, yet “The Bible” only shows a few hundred of them. Maybe I have the old Ten Commandments movie stuck in my mind, or I’m thinking of an epic battle in Lord of The Rings. It doesn’t ruin the show for me by any means, it just stood out as a break in the realism.

The History Channel narrator caught me off guard at first. I quickly got over it, I think I was expecting more of a made-for-TV movie than a documentary, so I won’t hold my misconceptions against them.

The trailer starts off with what I assume is Noah’s Ark, however the series started last night showing Abram post-flood. I’ll be interested to see if there is a flashback, or if that scene was simply cut. I’m curious as to why they started where they did.

All-in-all I’ve really enjoyed it so far; “The Bible” has potential to be a great evangelistic tool, leaving those who are unfamiliar with scripture wanting more.

I am looking forward to part two next Sunday.

 

It Takes Two – Preparing for Christmas

Sometimes you learn from other’s experiences, but sometime’s you learn by making the same mistake twice. This year we thought our Christmas eve service would be rather “simplistic” and therefore there was no need for two nights of rehearsal. Typically we would dedicate a night for Tech and Band to work out their various areas, then the second night would be run throughs. This is really how it needs to be, regardless of the production intricacy level. However this year, we thought because the service was on the “easier” side, we could do it in one night. 30 minuets into the rehearsal it became evident that, that was a poor decision – one we won’t make again.

Having time to work through lighting cues, lead guitar parts, and video timing without the pressure of getting the transitions down right or feeling stressed really helps the whole service come together. As an audio guy, I really need this time to tweak and dial in the mix. The lighting guy has free rein to make adjustment and finalize his cues (as long as the band has their music stands lit up.)

So, do yourself a favor and don’t under estimate the time it takes for everyone to just get their minds around their part of the service. Give them adequate time, then when it’s time to actually see it all come together you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Merry Christmas and Happy Services!

Keeping the Christmas Spirit

This time of year, I quickly find myself becoming Scrooge, “Ba-humbug” -ing the season. I used to live for Christmas: I love the lights, trees, and snow. To me there was no such thing as too much “Christmas.”

Now with deadlines, guidelines, and long hours, I can become grumpy – sitting in the corner losing my reason for the season (loosely based on REM’s Losing My Religion).

For those who work in church life, you know – this is our busy season. Some of my extended family  still don’t  understand that this is my job. I’m not just going to church [5 times on Christmas Eve] because I feel like it. I can’t blow off the services to come to Uncle Franks house for the holidays. The stress builds among family and co-workers, and if not addressed in a timely manner, someone may Vesuvius all over the place.

So, going into this season, I just want to encourage all of you who are gearing up for a busy holiday season, to do 3 things:

  1. Take a deep breath – You will get through it. Even though I am convinced that some difficult-to-setup artificial trees should be charged for crimes against humanity.
  2. Remember why we do this – Christmas Eve may be the only time a person steps foot inside a church. Keeping your mind focused on the end game will make that 70th box of ornaments being carried up three flights of stairs, not so heavy.
  3. Christ is Love – He would not want this time of year to lead to anger and frustration with your brother or sister. Everyone has times of frustration at work, and I have found that it helps to deal with the situation immediately. Allowing it to fester only makes it worse…much worse. I have been known to yell out, “SAME TEAM” when arguments are brewing; everyone needs to be reminded that we are all working together towards a common goal.

I pray your season will be merry and filled with joy & peace.