I Don't Know

I see this all the time. People speaking authoritatively from a position of ignorance. The internet is awesome for this. Just check out any of the online forums or groups. And pick a topic—any topic. I of course see this in church tech groups, but it exists everywhere. I also see it in every day life. I’ll hear someone make a fairly definitive statement that obviously comes from a place of no knowledge or background. But boy, are they convinced they’re right. My mom used to have a magnet on the fridge that said, “My mind is made up—don’t confuse me with the facts.” 

What does this have to do with being a technical leader in church? Quite a lot, actually. I’ve removed a large amount of equipment from various churches over the years, and I’m sure it was all installed confidently. That is, whoever installed it was confident in their choice. Even if that choice was not based in any kind of knowledge or experience. Even if it didn’t work. At all. That wastes a lot of money and undermines trust in our profession. 

Mr. Know-It-All

Why does this happen? Well, I think there is an unnecessarily engrained concept in most of us that we have to be right all the time. And we have to know everything about our jobs. Now, the truth is, it’s impossible to know everything about a subject. And if you ask people that have been doing a particular thing for a long time, they will likely tell you that the longer they do it, the more they realize they don’t know.

But not so when we’re starting out. We know everything! And that is a dangerous place to be. Look, I’ve been doing production/tech/design now for going on 30 years. I’m the expert. I get paid to tell churches what they need. And I can’t even tell you how many times I say, “I don’t know.” There are literally tens of thousands of pieces of gear in the AV universe, and it’s impossible to know the details of all them (let alone know that all of them exists!). Often times, the best thing I can tell someone is, “I don’t know.” But I don’t stop there.

Let Me Find Out

When I say, “I don’t know,” it’s almost always followed by, “but let me find out.” Then, I call or email someone who knows more about this particular thing or topic than I do. I have a deep contact file filled with smart people who I call when I don’t know something. Once I get an answer, I report back, and life goes on. The problem is solved and everyone is happy. 

But you know when people are not happy? When I (or someone like me) make up an answer that we think might be right and it doesn’t work out. Best case, we waste some time. Worst case, we break stuff. Find out the right answer and move on. There is no shame in not knowing everything. But there is in breaking stuff because you made up a wrong answer.


If you want to last in this business, you need credibility. One senior pastor I worked for once said to me, “Mike, I’ve worked with a lot of tech guys and they all come in and tell me the last guy didn’t know what he was doing and it all needs to be changed. Why should I listen to you?” That is a legitimate question. Two years later, he was listening to me. Why? Because I made smart decisions, after consulting with smart people that made real improvements. 

Know that when you start as a TD of a church, you start where I did. Why should anyone listen to you? Don’t burn the tiny little bit of credibility you have as the new guy by making stupid decisions. Don’t do things confidently out of ignorance. Get help. Find good advice. Make smart decisions. Don’t gamble your church’s money on ideas you think might work. And please, for the love of all that’s good and holy, don’t listen to every commenter in a Facebook group that thinks that XYZ product is the “best ever!!!” when it’s the only thing they’ve ever used.

Make sure the people you’re getting advice from actually know what they’re talking about. And a good way to tell is that they will often say, “I don’t know. But let me find out.”

DPA Microphones

CTA Reviews: DiGiCo S21

Here's a quick video review of the DiGiCo S21 that I've been playing with for the last few weeks. 

This post is brought to you by Shure Wireless. The new ULX D Dual and Quad wireless systems feature RF Cascade ports, a high density mode with significantly more simultaneous operating channels and bodypack diversity for mission critical applications. Visit their website at Shure.com.

Developing Upgrade Proposals

Image courtesy of Seiichi Kusunoki

Image courtesy of Seiichi Kusunoki

Recently, a reader reached out to ask if I would review and comment on a proposal to replace their aging analog mixer with a shiny new digital one. There were other upgrades as well. It was a well-reasoned proposal, filled with plenty of details, facts and figures. Anyone who took the time to read it would have all the information they needed to make a sound decision on whether to spend that money. My advice to him? Trash it and start over. Well, I said it nicer than that, but that’s the gist of it. I am known for my subtlety. 

No One Cares

The first point I made regarding his proposal is that no one in leadership cares about making his life easier. I say that not to be a jerk, or to criticize leadership. They just don’t care. And frankly, I’m not sure they should. When we as a TD come to them and say, “Man, doing church every week is hard! I have to re-patch all these inputs, figure out how to make everything fit, allocate my two compressors most efficiently and just try to make it all work!” their response is likely to be, “Well yes, but we’re doing church every week, right? I mean, it does work?” The answer my friends, is yes.

I once wrote a proposal similar to our dear reader’s. Only mine was two pages longer. I’m an over-achiever. It was full of well-reasoned arguments as to why we needed to change out our perfectly functional 32-channel analog desk to a 48-channel digital one. I wouldn’t have to physically re-patch inputs and outputs, we’d have more compressors, more effects, I could build scenes that would set the board up for each of the four different bands…my life would be so. Much. Easier.

Later, I polled the board and found that not one of them read it. Not one. It’s true. No one cares. 

And why should they? I didn’t care about how many couples the pastor had to counsel during the week instead of doing message prep? I didn’t care about how many sensitive artists the worship leader had to console before they would go back to playing their instrument. And I didn’t care about whether the church could meet payroll or pay for my new mixer. No one cares. Unless it affects them.

Find Out What They Care About

Years later, after spending a few years in the trenches and talking to a lot of other TDs with way more experience, I had the chance to once again submit a proposal for a console upgrade. This time, my proposal started with conversations. Lots of them. I laid the groundwork for about 6 months. Then, after thoroughly researching everything, I presented a one page proposal with the numbers. It was basically a spreadsheet table and some bullet points. 

Our leadership at that time was really keen on transitioning away from staff/contractor led services to volunteer led. My proposal would make it possible to eliminate the contractors (saving almost $50,000 a year) and allow more people to involved in the tech team. It also set us up to eliminate wedges on stage, which were a constant source of frustration for our pastor who sat in the front row. 

It was approved in a heartbeat. Why? Because I didn’t focus on what made my life easier (though the new system made my life infinitely easier). Instead, I focused on the mission and vision of the church and how this upgrade—which cost real money—would further that. Fewer contractors, more volunteers, money savings, less stage wash, more clarity. These were all values that had been shared from the top down. Not once did I mention multi-band compression or dynamic EQ or snapshots. Why? Because no one cares. 

It’s Simple Alignment

When proposing upgrades, you have to be sure that upgrade aligns with the mission and vision of the church, and every dollar you spend will further that mission. Few pastors or boards will simply give you $10,000, $20,000, $50,000 or even $5,000 to spend just to make your life a little better so you can come in 20 minutes later on Sunday. That’s not a win for them. Show them how you can get more people involved in the ministry. Show them how this saves money in the long run. Show them how their lives get easier. That is a win. And that will get funded.

Elite Core