Volunteers – 12 Days of Christmas (Posts)

Volunteers are the life force behind any successful church. Without them, not much of anything could happen. While having staff is great, I am not aware of any churches that survive solely on the use of paid staff members. With this immense need for volunteers, it’s important to show them that you acknowledge their sacrifice of time. I’m aware that they are giving it to the Lord as an offering, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care for them.  A happy, appreciated team gets much more accomplished than one that’s run out of guilt and pressure.

This Christmas Season, make sure you go out of your way to encourage those that serve so faithfully along side of you.

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Feed Them

Everyone works better when there is food involved. Plan a hospitality area for the team and include their families if you can. Christmas Eve services require a lot more of a time commitment than the average weekend, usually covering dinnertime. Having a place to grab a soda (Pop, Coke, whatever you call it) and a snack goes a long way to keeping volunteers happy.  There is no right or wrong way to setup a hospitality area, just make sure to pamper your volunteers. It really is more the thought that counts (and cookies).

Communication

Communicate early, and often. Just like with rehearsals, volunteers are not always in all the meetings leading up to the service. You have to continually bring them into the loop. A well informed volunteer is much more effective, and may even think of an overlooked area. As soon as I have times for the Christmas services (usually sometime in August or September), I send out my first round of emails letting the group know; that way they can begin looking at their schedules and planning to serve.

Respect Their Time

Volunteers have families, jobs, and other commitments. Christmas is a huge ask, so look for ways to lessen the load for them. One idea is to split serving opportunities when possible. I divide our camera operators up between the services: as long as the video director is on their game, and the camera op has been part of a rehearsal or run through we tend to have very few mistakes.

Most of the time, volunteers will bend over backwards for you if you treat them right. Make sure you’re loving on them extra this season.

In an effort to respect your time I purposely kept this post short.  Join the conversation though and share if you’re doing something special to honor your volunteers this year.

 

Rehearsal Plan – 12 Days of Christmas (Posts)

The holidays are the time of the year when larger productions are being put on. With these larger scale services, it is important to establish a rehearsal plan.

It’s essential to start early working with all the different groups involved. Many times Christmas services are comprised of choirs, dramas, and large worship bands with more vocalists. This requires separate group rehearsals before the technical and dress rehearsals even occur.

Separate Group Rehearsals help vocalists and choirs workout their parts without taking time from the band or production crew. The lighting and video team should walk through the service together, making sure lights are complimenting video and that people who need to be seen are not standing in the dark. These types of one-on-one rehearsals help save time and allow for a smoother technical rehearsal.

Technical Rehearsals are a critical step in the production process that often times get overlooked. They are choppy – and that’s okay, they should be. Lights are adjusted, microphones moved around, and new camera angles tried. For years I have experienced Christmas Eve service rehearsals that are just a copy of the typical Wednesday night run-through. During these times, the band gets a chance to rehearse, but no thought is given to the production side of things. As ministry staff members we have to remember that while we have dreamt about this event for weeks (possibly even months), the volunteers and musicians may be seeing/hearing everything come together for the very first time at rehearsal.

Final run-through/Dress rehearsal should be conducted just as it will be for the service. Practicing it exactly the way it needs to happen, especially the transitions, helps solidify it in everyone’s mind.

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As someone who has been through more Christmas productions than I can count, here are three things I stand by when it comes to rehearsing.

Rehearse Early:
Rehearse early enough to make changes. Even the dress rehearsal should be done several days in advance. In school, our dress rehearsals were always the day before our event … I can only assume it was because the teachers were afraid we’d forget everything if we had a day off. But this isn’t an elementary school Christmas program – production at this level is intense, and “going dark” (to borrow a theatre term) the day before a performance gives everyone a chance to calm down, allowing for a smoother performance. The other thing this provides is a day to make any necessary adjustments. While I do not approve of changes after the run through/dress rehearsal, sometimes they cannot be avoided, and this downtime allows for that.

Be Prepared
When working with volunteers, the worst thing you can do is waste their time (well I guess you could kick them in the shin, but I digress). Have music, flows, and all other required materials printed out and ready to go ahead of time. Also, consider staggering arrival times for your teams. It doesn’t benefit the choir to hear the band warm up and sound check. At Northview, a typical non-Christmas weekend rehearsal schedule looks like this:

12:00pm – Staff
1:00pm – Volunteer Sound and Lighting operators
1:30pm – Band
2:30pm – Vocalists
2:45pm – Camera Ops
3:00pm – Service run-through

Know when it’s “Good Enough”
It hurt typing that.
I know as a creative, good enough should not be in my vocabulary; but at some point we have to force ourselves to stop tweaking, step back, and say it is finished. Always remember you’re working with real people, most who have a day job that has nothing to do with what you’re asking them to do during the service. Sometimes the camera shakes, and the lyrics come up late; or a vocalist forgets to turn their microphone on (why they turned it off in the first place, I’ll never understand). These people are giving their time, and their best for Lord, and we need to accept their offering of service and know when to end the rehearsal, so people can get home.

Last Christmas I wrote a post about adding tech rehearsals to Christmas Eve services – check it out here.

Also, be sure to check out the Christmas Resources Page.

How do you approach rehearsals? Join the conversation and share below.

 

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.

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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:


Know your gear…

We recently upgraded our analog monitor console that had an emotional breakdown for the last time. Earlier this year, just before rehearsal on a normal saturday afternoon, it began pouring out the magical blue smoke. This causing two of us to carry it, running across the stage to the loading dock trying to get it outside. Turns out it was still salvageable, and a few weeks later back into the mix it went.

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Life was fine through the summer, until again, during a Saturday rehearsal the board had another break down. This was proving to become a common occurrence for the 12-year-old console. The decision was made to finally replace it, and a week later the new and improved digital console was in. But that is not the point of this post.

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This weekend, through a minor configuration change, I manage to wipe the output settings to the band’s In-Ear monitors, not once, but twice. Sending me into an internal panic. See, I didn’t setup the board. I let one of my guys do it, so that he’d get experience and frankly he loves that kind of stuff. This left me out of the loop, which was my fault. Now with the band and vocalists looking over my shoulder, I had to keep calm and patch the board, all 32 outputs.

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Because of the great work Kyle did setting up the console. I was actually able to re-patch everything quite quickly. However, it got me thinking what a risky move it is to have gear that plays such a vital role in our weekend service and to not know it inside and out. As tech people, whether on staff or a volunteer, we must make time to learn our equipment. If you’ve been around technology for any length of time, you’ll know how frustrating it can be at times. Knowing how it’s supposed to work, will help move troubleshooting along when needed.

Take a lesson from my faux pas this weekend spend some extra time learning your gear inside and out. I know I’ll be cracking the manual of our monitor console at Northview.

Morale of the story: Know your gear.

Guest Mixing

I had the awesome privilege to fill in for a fellow sound engineer at another church this past weekend. I rarely get to mix anywhere other than Northview anymore, in fact I can’t remember the last time I have since coming on staff. I need to get out more – I really do, I realized this weekend that my mix had become complacent in a way.

Guest Mixing at MPCC
Rehearsal at MPCC

I know exactly how the sound system at Northview sounds, and things have become so dialed in and digital (meaning everything’s saved) that I don’t have to do much more than just push faders it feels like. It’s like going to the gym and not adding any weight to the machines. While yes I am “working out,” I’m not bettering myself.

Guest mixing over at Mount Pleasant Christian Church (MPCC) this weekend was a big shot in my arm, and a bit of a smack across my face. It woke me up and inspired me to make some changes at Northview.

Three Takeaways:

  • You don’t know everything. Getting outside your circle of influences can really open your eyes to some new ideas.
  • You’re in someone else’s house. Be polite, and remember you’re there as a guest. Don’t try to fix everything, and ask before you do try to change something.
  • Network with their team.  Be careful not to cloister yourself away. Get to know their team, talk about their victories and celebrate them. Who knows you may get an idea to steal, I mean “borrow.”

I would urge all church sound engineers to get outside their auditoriums and mix at other churches. I guarantee it will open your eyes and make you a better sound engineer. If only to teach you other kind of equipment. I was fortunate enough to get to mix on the same model console as I have at Northview. However it was setup completely different from how I would run it. That’s not a bad thing, I’m not where the buck stops for sound board layout. The great thing with digital is, I was able to save their settings and lay it out like I wanted it. Then after the last service Sunday, I recalled what I saved at rehearsal and they’ll never know I was there.

So get your ears out there and change-up your surroundings. How often do you mix outside of your normal auditorium?

 

 

Always Test It!

A few weekends ago, I made a mistake. Granted, I make a lot of mistakes, but usually only I see them. Not this time though, everyone saw this fail. Not to sound overly dramatic, and to put it in perspective, no one lost their salvation, and most people didn’t pay much attention, but I did. It was one of those things that as soon as it happened, I knew what was wrong and that I failed to test it ahead of time.

At Northview, we use a 50″ TV on a cart that’s positioned just behind the pastor. This is for the sermon notes at our satellite campuses. Using the TV we don’t have to cut away from the pastor’s face to show the notes.

Normal protocol is to test the TV during Saturday’s rehearsal, and with everything else going on that day it just didn’t happen. I know that had we properly tested it, I’m sure it would have worked. But since we didn’t karma was working against me. The pastor began his message with the TV still on stage flashing “No Signal” and the call was made to get it out of there and the problem was quickly rectified off stage for the next service.

Like I said in the beginning, no one was eternally harmed by this mistake, it did catch the pastor by surprise since he was counting on interacting with the TV during the sermon. It did however make me reevaluate my internal checklist and rule that nothing untested makes it into the weekend service. Putting the time in, and making sure all the little details are accounted for makes the bigger picture of the entire service come together.

Once we have made it past the first run through, things need to be set. No more swapping mics, or trying anything new. It is time to do it, just as it will happen. Plan for the unexpected, such as, I always have a backup mic ready to go, (that gets tested as well.) That way if something was to go wrong, we already know what to do. So the moral of this story: Always Test It!

Always Test It!
Stan standing next to TV with no Signal

If you were at that service a few weeks ago, and watched that TV roll on, then back off, I confess. It was my fault. I add that to the list of mistakes that I can now laugh at like the helmet-cam (another story.) We all make mistakes, and things happen. It’s how we handle it moving forward that defines us.

Have a funny mistake that you’ve learned from? Share it with me!

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!

Live Webinar – Media Servers: They’re Not Just For Big Churches Anymore

Want to add projected environmental elements or digital scenery to your services? Want to take your church’s multi-media production to the next level? At some point you’ll need to consider a media server. As technology progresses, prices are dropping, and these once expensive units are no longer just for mega-churches.

– From Church Production

REGISTER HERE

I encourage any church looking to add projection or displays to check out this webinar on Tuesday October, 23rd at 2pm. It’s presented by Digital Projection International and Church Production Magazine –  to register Click Here.

Greg Wallace – Creative Arts Pastor at Northview Church (you can find him at Creative Worship Ideas) will bring real world examples and uses for implementing media into your worship services. I will be available to answer any technical questions you might have.

Churches of any size find this Webinar useful especially in their Christmas season preparations.

I hope to see you there!