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Church Sound: Planning Christmas Without A Plan

The most meaningful holiday can become the most dreaded season without proper preparation.

By Andrew Stone November 22, 2017

Image courtesy of sskies
This article is provided by Church On The Move.

Let’s face it, Christmas for a church production team can be a rough deal.

In fact, I dare say in some situations, one of the most special holidays in Christendom can become one of the most dreaded seasons for a production crew.

When I was young, Christmas was the best time of the year, no discussion needed. Presents, home-made treats, excitement, splendor, no school, even some snow perhaps! What wasn’t to like?

And even as I grew older and became aware that we were celebrating the birth of Christ, it became even cooler and more meaningful.

But I’ll level with you, as I progressed farther into the world of production, one of the most special and meaningful holidays in Christendom had somehow became one of the most dreaded seasons for someone working in the production world. This sound familiar? I’m sure I can’t be the only one that’s ever felt like this.

Perhaps I’ve laid it on a little thick but sometimes it’s a bit daunting looking at the front-end of an event that holds as much importance to the church as Christmas. But like it or not, those of us working in a church have no choice but to embrace this season of the year. Determined to not let myself abhor Christmas nor miss the meaning altogether, I’ve laid out a few pointers that help me keep this in perspective. Hopefully these may be of some value to help you rough in a decent strategy. So Deck the Halls and read on!

At Church On the Move, our Christmas events have definitely covered the gamut. Sometimes there is a common creative thread running throughout the shows, other times it turns into a type of Christmas variety show embracing themes that are traditional, edgy, or even Michael Jackson-ish. Regardless of the creative direction we eventually arrive at, having it figured out way in advance isn’t something we’re really all that good at. Occasionally there may be a general direction we’re headed in, but other times, it may not come together until way into December—like dangerously way into December. Not knowing how each year will turn out has led me to embrace the following idea: Make a plan without having a plan.

Make Plans Without a Plan

Yes, I realize this sounds absurd, but hang on for a few minutes. While you’re waiting for some creative direction from above, take the opportunity to get organized. Analyze where you stand with supplies. Stocked up on batteries? How about commando cloth? Gaff tape? Printer cartridges? Or on the personal side, did you pick up a gift (or place an order on Amazon) for that special someone? Trust me friends, do this one first!

How about putting together a preliminary schedule? No matter how sketchy your details are, you can start lining out a schedule even before there’s a theme, plan, or creative directive. As soon as I find out the dates and times of our Christmas events, I start rocking the plans. A calendar can be a great place to start formulating a plan that can temper the chaos that is to come. I’ll be honest, even though I might not have ANYTHING else figured out, at least establishing a preliminary schedule gets me in the right headspace to operate to my strengths.

Being the savvy church operators that I’m sure we all are, it’s usually fairly easy to determine most of the other church events during the holiday season that aren’t going to change: regular weekend services and rehearsals, kids programs, staff functions, and the like. Even though this can be daunting to plan around, getting your production calendar organized by planning what options are available for load-in, set changes, production builds, band rehearsals, and full cast rehearsals isn’t as hard as it sounds.

Trust these truths: the calendar doesn’t lie, the event dates won’t change, the countdown clock in the production office (don’t even think I haven’t put a matching one up in the Creative Department) will not stop counting down to D-day. Laying out a schedule can literally start establishing a plan when there is no plan.

Book Your Staff

Even without a solid plan or design in place, you can even start booking your crew and key staff positions early. Give your volunteers the chance to serve at their highest capacity by sending Planning Center invites EARLY.

Strategizing your personnel is another outstanding way to start stocking up your resources without having to provide too many details.

You can almost always find some time to make time and day adjustments to your “guestimated” calendar as the event gets closer, but finding another A-team of qualified comrades late in the game — maybe not.

A few times, I’ve put off staffing up all my positions until we had the stage designed, the lighting plot laid out on CAD, and the music all mapped out only to realize that some of my most talented and needed volunteers had gone off and made other plans. How dare they!

Never underestimate how busy this time of year is for those who are not immersed and committed to the daily church grind: school programs, office parties, family obligations, travel plans, and the like can be pretty tough to work around the later in the season you get.

If you run a large enough operation to utilize riggers, BOOK THEM EARLY. Safety is a non-negotiable line item and having licensed riggers locked in is one of the smartest things you can do. Establishing a relationship with your local stagehand steward or your local crew provider can not only help you out during the holidays but all throughout the year.

The coolest part about booking your staff early is you can rough in almost every category, from cameramen to lyric operators, all without establishing any type of creative plan.

Get. Your. Gear. Secured. Early.

This needs to be stated again, this time with emphasis. GET YOUR GEAR SECURED EARLY! It’s almost as if I yelled it—pretend that I did.

Now even though I brought this up, do not think that I’m one of those church guys who obligates himself to renting a bunch of gear and then decides to dump it at the last minute citing it’s a God-thing or something. Nada. That being said, there is absolutely nothing wrong with having the professionalism and foresight to secure some potential rental gear early on before the holiday crunch time hits.

But hear me say this: don’t let yourself and the church you represent become known as that ones who abuse the trust of the local vendors. Consider establishing a solid business relationship with your vendor(s) of choice so they know where you’re coming from and what type of event you’re trying to pull together. You might find that as the holidays get closer, they may be open to a relationship allowing you to either confirm or release your reservation if another opportunity arises for them to rent it elsewhere.

Coming from many years of renting gear both while touring and in the church market, respecting these business relationships and the livelihood these guys are trying to protect can go a long way to making your own situation better.

Bottom Line: Thou Shalt Get Organized

What do schedules, calendars, stocking up on supplies, booking your staff, and securing rental gear do for you? It helps gets you organized. This is the underlying theme here: if you place a high value on getting your production situation organized before the plan comes together you are better suited to effectively handle the last minute nature of the chaos that is to come.

For us at COTM, the chaos, the rabbit trails, the last-minute nature of our process is how the really great ideas come together. THAT’s when we seem to work at our best. So why not dive in and embrace that reality and find a way to work within those constraints?

Of course, I could ignore all this and remain committed to the impending dread of the Christmas season. Focusing on how little sleep I’m going to get, how my team may very well get worked into the ground, and how most of the Christmas season may blow right on past while I toil to pull our production together.

Or I could utilize the skills God has blessed me with in organization, planning, and logistics to serve my team and make a plan before a plan ever gets laid out in front of me. What a fantastic way to be prepared!

No matter how or when the creative vision for Christmas finally gets to us, choosing to employ these strategies only helps to put myself and our production department in the absolute best position to carry the torch to the finish line.

 


About Andrew

Andrew Stone
Andrew Stone

Audio Director, Church on the Move
Andrew is the Production Manager and Audio Director at Church on the Move in Tulsa, OK. His 25 years of touring experience have brought a unique, and sometimes unorthodox, perspective to his approach towards production in the church. He has been a key part of changing the culture behind COTM’s live events and he loves sharing his knowledge with other churches. He’s been married for 19 years, rarely wears anything but black, and genuinely loves to rock. You can find him on Twitter (@stone_rocks) ...
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