written by Bill Swaringim
I love the details of a weekend service. From creative elements, to cues, down to how the cables on the stage run to the stage patch. Nothing perks me up in a programming meeting like hearing some crazy element that will require planning, coordination, and exemplary timing to execute. I’m a control freak.
The other side of me despises details. I like to call myself a creative visionary. That’s someone who likes to live in the idea world and not get bogged down with logistics and details. It’s the guy who dreams it up and hands it off to others to see it come to life. I like to live in this world, because, well, who really likes details anyways? I told you, I’m a complex individual.
These two worlds collide in my line of work on a weekly basis. As I struggle to balance the creative with the control, I’m constantly reminded that only a few details are non-negotiable for both of my personalities.
As artists, technical artists, or creative artists, we want to present our work in the best light possible. We want those who experience our art to have the best chance to engage with it. We desire to remove all distractions. I know there are many times I’m so consumed with perfecting the final product that I forget what God has really called me to do.
A number of our church staff realized this last Christmas. The weekend worship experience at my church is a big deal to us. But Christmas ramps up much more. I’m sure you can understand. For the technical team that means triple the hours, quadruple the lighting cues, and double the input channels. Stage design gets scaled up a bit. Our creative elements become a bit more – creative. With 19 Christmas Eve services in four venues across three campuses, we get to serve a lot of people coming to celebrate Christmas.
Between services last Christmas, we saw something that needed to be tweaked. We were cleaning up our lighting cues and transitions when we got the call from our guest relations team wanting to open the room. It was twenty minutes before service. We felt we needed that time with the doors closed. So we took it. We ignored the request. I found out later that people came early to get their seat, and the lobby was filled to the point that people were leaking into the kids’ ministry areas. That blocked people who were trying to sign-in their children. There was a growing frustration throughout the lobby – not just among our guests but also with our guest relation and kids ministry volunteers. As hard as my team was working to remove distractions from within the service, we created one big one before our guests even entered the room. We focused on one small detail without considering the detail that really mattered – the people coming to worship.
We now ask a few questions when tweaking tech details between services. If we bump up against the time doors need to open, we ask, “Does the room need to go dark?” If that answer is no, the teams continue to work. We’re fine if ‘the curtain’ is pulled back and our folks see behind the scenes. And we’ve found that they really don’t even pay attention to most of that as they come in and find their seat.
When you become more concerned with a perfect final product than the people about to engage with it, we do a disservice to God. Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I want nothing more than to offer my best to God. He’s called me into His story. I want to help provide an engaging, distraction-free environment where others can encounter the Gospel. My team and I do our best to carry those details, but how do we balance those non-negotiable details with those details that you could or should let slide (when you have to)?
Preparation is 9/10ths of the Production Law. You’ll find sitting together with your leadership, planning the worship experience, and processing the negotiable and non-negotiable are important to you as a church tech leader.
You need to understand the expectations and vision of the service elements. Depending on your ministry environment that may require some effort – to implement meetings or have conversations with your programming director and worship pastor. It may be a total shift in the way your team operates. But to be totally effective in carrying those details, you have to know what you’re required to carry.
As we do our best attending to the details that make church go, don’t miss the small details most important to our job – the necessary conversation with a volunteer, that nudge from the Holy Spirit to do something, helping remove distractions before people even walk into your auditorium… Because, after all, God has called us to attend to the details that truly matter.