Be Authentic

Image courtesy of Dee Bamford

Image courtesy of Dee Bamford

This is a topic that I’ve been thinking about for a long time. It came up last week when I had the opportunity to attend at the Seeds Conference at Church on the Move. I heard it in several of the sessions, and I experienced it all week long. Everywhere we went on campus, people were overwhelmingly enthusiastic about helping us out. There is a joy in serving at COTM that seeps out like the fragrance of a flower. We all know that everything rises and falls based on leadership, and this joy in helping others clearly comes from Pastor Willie George himself. Throughout the week, I saw him sitting and talking with various pastors and church planters. Unhurried and undistracted, he encouraged those guys with no expectation of anything in return.

The creative elements of the conference were also authentic. If you look closely, and talk to the team, you will find out that much of the production elements are based on something else. Whitney George said in his session that there is nothing new, but there are new things through you. Those guys are masters at taking something they saw somewhere else and adapting it to their situation. 

Don’t Simply Copy

One of the big mistakes I see churches doing is going to another church or a conference, seeing something cool and trying to straight-up copy it. That seldom works out well, mainly because the church doing the copying usually doesn’t have the resources of the big church or the conference. 

The other problem with simple copying is that everything looks different. The people who are best at adapting ideas will make sure that whatever it is they are doing fits the ethos of the church. When you try to copy without adaptation, your people will feel the disconnect between what the church should be and what it does looks like

Know Who You Are

Of course, being authentic presupposes that you know who you are as a church. I feel like many churches today suffer from multiple personality disorder. The lobby was lifted from one church, the sanctuary from another, the set from another still, the kids area from still another. Because all the ideas came from different places, there is no consistency. And when the various ministries are silos unto themselves, there is no consistency of message there either. 

As the technical leader, you may not be able to solve all your church’s split personality issues, but you can be sure that everything you do on your stage matches the mission and vision of the church. This means adapting ideas to suit your church’s culture. 

For Example…

Andrew Stone and I both grew up in the ’80s and share a fondness for lush, rich reverbs with long tails. Having heard his mixes and talked with him about his process, I set about to take the essence of his technique and apply it to my church. Now, you have to know that there was not a fondness for long reverbs at my church. In fact, it was more like whatever the opposite of fondness is. 

Thus, I couldn’t just layer up three or four reverb units with 5-8 second reverb tails on them like he does. But what I was going for was the essence of his technique. The thing I found so intriguing was the layering effect of stacking multiple reverbs, each to deliver part of the frequency spectrum. So that’s what I did. I stacked up a few reverb units, played around with the high and low pass settings, and pretty much everything else until I came up with a great sounding reverb that didn’t sound like too much reverb to my leadership. 

Had I simply insisted on copying the technique with the justification of “this is what COTM does…” it would not have gone well. But as it was, everyone loved the sound, and I was able to create a more expansive vocal sound that still fit with our church’s ethos. Was it my own personal preference? Not necessarily. Was I happy with the result? Yes. 

Of course, being authentic takes time, energy, thought and work. Which is probably why so few bother. But if you’ll put the time in, the results will be worth it.

Today's post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.

Lousy Church Sound--Another Perspective, Pt. 3

This week we’ve been unpacking some concepts that appeared in a post on another website titled Trend: Lousy Church Sound. As I said Monday, I don’t disagree with much of what that author said. At the same time, I thought it would be helpful to bring some context to it. Monday, we talked about the need for a professional to at least manage the increasingly complex production systems that are being installed in churches today. Wednesday, I proposed that when led well, volunteers can do a bang-up job running even complex systems. Today, I want to dig into the costs of production. 

The author of the original article said this of a new PA system:

One church spent $125,000! [Emphasis in original]

Here is where some context can come in handy. The exclamation point indicates to me that he thought that was a large figure. And to be sure, $125K is a lot of money. However, it may not be excessive for a PA. In fact, depending on the room, that may be a good down payment. As church auditoriums get bigger, the amount of PA needed to cover the area well and with sufficient level gets expensive. In fact, spending $300,000-500,000 on a system for a 3,000-4,000 seat room would not be out of line. 

Now, $125,000 might be a lot of money, especially if the room in question is 200 seats. On the other hand, $125,000 is about right for a 700-800 seat room. Unless of course, you’re simply amplifying speech. 

Church Leaders Don’t Realize How Expensive Technology Is

I talk with churches nearly every day about technology upgrades and very few have a clue about how much it really costs. After we walk them through the process, they get it, but few do at the beginning. This problem is compounded by the fact that during a building project, the AVL integrator too often gets left out of the budget process. The architect might put an allowance in there for technology, but again, most times it’s way low. When the integrator is finally brought in, they have to either work within the inadequate budget (more likely) or the church needs to raise more funds (less likely).

Back to our original $125K budget proposition, the author talks about how bad such a system sounded when he heard it. I wonder if he considered that perhaps it’s because the church spent only $125K, instead of the $200,000+ it may have really needed? While I agree that spending $125K on a PA only to have it sound “ten times worse than before” would be disappointing, perhaps the fault lies with the church that in an effort to “save money” didn’t spend enough. I’ve seen more than one system that wasn’t done well due to lack of funds, and we usually take it out to put in a good one. As the saying goes, churches that can’t afford to do it right the first time will almost always find the money to do it again. 

Good People Should be Paid Well

Another comment the author made that I’m not sure about is this one:

I know of one megachurch that just hired an excellent soundman away from another megachurch – they’re paying him $60,000 a year and he was making $30,000. [sic]

I can’t tell if he thinks the $60K salary is excessive, but I’d say, it sounds about right for an “excellent sound man,” depending on what part of the country you’re in. Out here in SoCal, that would be a good opening offer. And for the guy who was making $30,000, I would say his previous church was very likely way underpaying him—which is probably why he left. 

Churches that pay their senior pastor $150,000+, their worship leader $90,000+ and their tech guy $30,000 will likely be disappointed with the long term results. Especially if they skimped on the system. 

What is really required here is to look at the big picture. Whenever we throw out random numbers, we can incite shock and awe, but without knowing the context, it’s hard to know what is really going on. This is another reason why it’s so important to have a relationship with a great integration company to help guide the process. Good integrators will help right-size the system for the room, budget and team. When they are brought in early and allowed to do their job well, everyone will be happy with the results. Skip this at your own peril. 

Well, that was fun, wasn’t it! Now that we know some of the reasons for lousy church sound, next week we’ll return to our regularly scheduled programming on how to make it better. Disclaimer, I may or may not write about that exact topic next week, but keep reading, it will come around again…

Today's post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.