Have you heard the expression “Stuff expands to fill the space available?”
It was true in my life. When we lived in our first, tiny little house, we didn’t have that much stuff. In fact, it all fit in a single moving van when we bought our next, larger house.
After 10 years there, however, we had a lot of stuff. In fact, the once empty basement was full. It took an interstate move to a smaller house to clear out the clutter.
I think the same concept applies in the technical and worship arts. We are always striving to make things a little bigger, a little better.
And therein lies the challenge. Not with getting bigger necessarily, but in outgrowing our capacity. Let me explain.
A few years ago, we began a new ministry in our church. The program included weekly meetings that would have a worship component. As a general rule, we do worship really well, and it’s very much in the contemporary style — full band, great vocals, lighting – the complete package.
It also takes a small army of volunteers to make it happen. In fact, there are upwards of 70 people participating in worship in any given month.
For this new ministry, it was supposed to be simple—pre-packaged PowerPoint slide shows, split-track CD for music and a few vocalists. They would use the youth room, which has a capable but simple lighting rig (30 or so fixtures). At least that was the plan.
The first week there were five vocalists on stage, two guitars and keys. They wanted lights, four monitor mixes and big sound. To support this “simple” set-up, there was one guy who is one of our best lighting people, but new to Media Shout & Sound, and another tech who was completely green. The next week, they added drums and some more vocals. Oh, and that week there was only one tech.
Now, I’m all about doing things right, even big. “Go big or go home,” I often say. Yet in this case, it’s a clear mistake. Without sufficient technical support, the music team must scale back. If it doesn’t, both the techs and the musicians will be frustrated, the techs will burn out and the whole thing will collapse.
This is a classic case of being only as strong as the weakest link. In this case the weak link is the tech team (a lack of trained multi-disciplinary techs), and thus that becomes the limiting factor of the program.
And understand it’s not for lack of trying; the techs we have in our church are the best I’ve ever worked with. But not every one is trained yet in all disciplines, and it takes a lot of years of experience to cover two or three roles in a tech booth at once.
I would like to propose a radical concept – simplify down to the level of excellence. What does that mean? Look at it this way; design your program (worship, new ministries, that big Easter musical, whatever) around whatever the weakest link is, and do what you can do with excellence up to that point.
If you don’t have enough musicians to pull together four different full on bands for a month of worship services, make one a simple acoustic set. If you can’t staff the tech teams to do a wild musical production, simplify it. Once you simplify to the weakest link, you now have the ability to be excellent.
Too many ministries think that bigger is better. It’s not. Better is better. Excellence should be the goal, not getting bigger. Putting more bodies on the battlefield before they’re ready simply results in more casualties.
Do what you can do really, really well. Then stop. Raise the bar when all the elements are in place to do so. Want to do a huge musical production that requires 20 actors on stage with wireless mics? You’d better own (or be able to rent) high quality mics that are frequency coordinated, a soundboard with automation capability, and have a couple of high quality sound guys.
Miss any of those elements and you’re asking for trouble, and you will not have an excellent production. If you can’t accommodate that, scale back until you can do what you do really well. Stretch the crew, yes. But if you push too hard, things break. Don’t do it.
So what was the solution for our new ministry? It’s easy—simplify. Go back to a split track CD for music with one or two vocalists. Stick with simple PowerPoint presentations. Continue to recruit and train tech volunteers. Once they are ready, we can add musicians. It will happen, but it needs time. Failure to pull back will ultimately result in failure of the ministry. That benefits no one.
Those that come into our ministries deserve excellence. God wants our best, not our biggest. We can get bigger as we get better, as we add volunteers and the equipment to support them. But we should never get bigger before we get better.
Mike Sessler is the Technical Director at Coast Hills Community Church in Aliso Viejo, CA. He has been involved in live production for over 20 years and is the author of the blog, Church Tech Arts . He also hosts a weekly podcast called Church Tech Weekly on the TechArtsNetwork.