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Church Sound: The Benefits Of Being A “Tech Ninja”

"The unseen, completely unnoticed, highly trained tactical team of secretive, slightly mysterious warriors..."

By Gary Zandstra August 9, 2019

A few years ago I was visiting with my friend Chris Walker,  the worship leader at Covenant Life Church in Grand Haven, MI, when he dropped the term “tech ninja” on me.

I laughed and thought of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I imagined a green shell-clad sound guy with an assortment of weapon stashed in his belt. (Not to mention the shell would be nice to be able to hide in when something goes awry.)

Chris went on to give this definition of a tech ninja: the unseen, completely unnoticed, highly trained tactical team of secretive, slightly mysterious warriors that lurk in the booths, catwalks, and backstage areas without anyone knowing who they are or what they’re doing.

I laughed again. But as I reflected on his humorous definition, I saw some real truth that’s both positive and negative.

As we all know, the best tech team is the one you never realize is there. No cues missed, no feedback, and smooth transitions are the mantra of any good technical team. For that matter, the technology is transparent.

The result is an experience where the focus is on the message – not the method.

Marshall McLuhan famously said, “the medium is the message.” While I agree that the medium does shape the context and impact the cultural element, I disagree that it is the message.

The message is the message. The medium just delivers the message, and the more transparent the medium, the clearer the message is received.

So the job of the tech ninja is to use and exploit the medium in a way that allows the message to come thru unfiltered.

I look at it this way…

Most of us are involved in the planning of the worship service. The worship leader and creative team are also usually involved along with the pastoral staff. All of us share the goal being to deliver a cohesive worship service, where each element builds upon the previous.

To keep the message building on itself, there must be a flow to the service, the elements must all tie together, intertwine is some way – and for this to happen, distractions and disruptions must be absent from the experience.

When feedback occurs or cues are dropped,  the flow of the entire service is interrupted.

My good friend Marty O’Connor (original technical director at Willow Creek) passed this thought on to me: it only takes a moment to ruin the moment.

This statement is so true.

A powerful, deeply moving song can lose its punch when there is screaming feedback in the middle of it.

A prayer can lose its meaningful reflection when it is interrupted by the acoustic guitar player plugging his guitar back in (and the sound guy not having the channel muted), causing a loud cracking sound to come out of the sound system.

As a tech ninja, your calling and best performance is when you truly are totally invisible,  and to be invisible you must be highly trained.

So take time this week to raise the level of your ninja skills and enhance your invisible qualities!

About Gary

Gary Zandstra
Gary Zandstra

Consultant, Dan Vos Construction, Writer for Worship Facilities and ProSoundWeb
Gary Zandstra has worked in church production and as an AV systems integrator for more than 35 years. He’s also contributed numerous articles to ProSoundWeb over the past decade.


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