March Retro: Being Excellent with Less

I really need to set up a calendar event for this. I had planned on doing something for this website's 7th birthday, and here, I blew right past it. The first post appeared on on March 6, 2007. That seems like an eternity ago now. Still, when I went back and re-read this post, it's as true today as it was when I wrote it. So I figured I'd re-post it here since I'm pretty sure we have a lot more readers today than we did in 2007. 

Also, for good fun, in case you weren't reading back then, here is a list of the posts from March, 2007. It will sort descending, so, you'll want to scroll down and hit next to get to the actual beginning. Then you can read through in proper order. Enjoy!

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.

We began a new ministry in our church recently. 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 5 vocalists on stage, 2 guitars and keys. They wanted lights, 4 monitor mixes and big sound. To support this “simple” set-up there was one guy who is one of our best lighting guys, but new to Media Shout & sound, and one 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 2 or 3 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. You will not have an excellent production. If you can’t accommodate it, 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’s 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.


Church Tech Weekly Episode 189: No More Morning Dave

We recap the Seeds conference (including the very cool opening Kabuki drop), and talk about how to succeed as a TD. If you're wondering what separates top pros from the rest of the pack, here's your chance to learn.


Today's post is brought to you by Pivitec.Pivitec redefines the Personal Monitor Mixing System by offering components that are Flexible, Precise and Expandable. Ideal for any application from Touring and Live Production to fixed installation in theaters and Houses of Worship.

Intentional Projection

Image courtesy of Stephen Proctor. Go read his post on this.

Image courtesy of Stephen Proctor. Go read his post on this.

Today we’ll wrap up our series on intentionality. After covering board layout, video, and lighting, it’s time to move on to another enigma; projection. When I say projection, I’m referring to what hits the big screen. This could be song lyrics, backgrounds, environmental projection and even announcement slides. Judging by what we see in some churches each weekend, there is little if any thought given to how a service ties together visually. And that’s a shame, because great projection does make a difference. 

They’re Not Just Backgrounds

What do the backgrounds you choose for your songs say? Have you considered that? Sometimes I think we choose the backgrounds because they are pretty not because they actually improve the look and feel of the song. 

But what if we had a consistent visual theme for the weekend? What if each element that hit the screen tied into the last, and all those together told a part of the story? How much more powerful would our services be?

Too Many Choices

While the internet has brought us access to thousands of choices of backgrounds, I’m not entirely sure this is a good thing. By that I mean it is that it’s far to easy to throw a bunch of images up on the screen, just because you have them. If you looked at my background library, you would see such a random collection of images it would make your head spin. Several people over the course of many years have collected those images. But just because we have them doesn’t mean we need to use them. 

Some people—my friend Stephen Proctor among them—have been experimenting with using just one visual for an entire series. Not a service, a series! Well, technically, they call them seasons now, but you get the point. That visual is carefully chosen to reflect a key concept of that series. Stephen wrote about that on his blog a while back. If you don’t follow his writings, you really should. 

I’ve seen other churches use no backgrounds at all, just white words on a black background. Sometimes simpler is better. But that’s not the point; the point is to consider why you are doing what you’re doing. 

We’re in a Visual Culture

Images really do matter. They tell a story and it’s up to us to make sure the story matches the story of the service. Even as I write this in my local Starbucks (one of 7 in a 5 minute radius of my house…), I am surrounded by visuals. The visuals in front of me are telling me a story of coffee—where it comes from, how it’s made and I see a glimpse into the lives of coffee farmers. That is all very much on purpose. Whether you like Starbucks coffee or not is beside the point. These visuals are telling me a story. 

A picture of a field of sunflowers might be pretty, but what does it have to do with the song? As we are careful to choose our colors for lighting, we need to be careful to choose backgrounds that reflect the story the song is telling. And the backgrounds and lighting should match, or at least complement once another. 

Keep Learning

I mentioned the concept of learning last time, too. Visual styles and tastes are a moving target. We need to develop a language and visual style that matches the culture of our church, and adds to the service. If you don’t follow Stephen, you should. Camron Ware’s Visual Worshiper web site is another fantastic resource, especially for environmental projection. Triple Wide Media and Church Motion Graphics are terrific sources for visual material. Just be careful not to use everything they make every weekend. 

Above all, just think about why you are doing what you do. Don’t just grab backgrounds out of the background bin because they are pretty. Each background (or lack thereof) should be a reflection of the moment. What are you trying to say with that song, and how does the background reinforce that message? The same goes for announcement graphics and sermon notes. Pastors, for the love of all that is holy and sacred, stop putting everything you’re saying on the screen. If people are reading, they’re not listening. Use visuals and words to reinforce your message, not be your message. 

My hope for this entire series is to encourage you to simply think things through. I take the approach that everything we do is up for grabs all the time. If we can’t justify why we’re doing it, we should stop doing it or change it until it makes sense. “Because we’ve always done it that way,” is not a good enough reason. I don’t want to do things just because. I want what I do to be intentional, so that I can make the biggest impact I can while I can. Hopefully, you’re inspired to do likewise.


Today's post is brought to you by Heil Sound. Established in 1966, Heil Sound Ltd. has developed many professional audio innovations over the years, and is currently a world leader in the design and manufacture of large diaphragm dynamic, professional grade microphones for live sound, broadcast and recording.

Church Tech Weekly Episode 187: Fair and Biased


We talk with Phil Cooke about the difference between biblically inspired art and biblically based art. What should the Christian's response be to films like Noah, and how can we do a better job of utilizing technology and social media for advancing the Kingdom?


Today's post is brought to you by CCI Solutions. With a reputation for excellence, technical expertise and competitive pricing, CCI Solutions has served churches across the US in their media, equipment, design and installation needs for over 35 years.