When to Hire a Tech Arts Director

Robert posed an excellent question as a response to a previous post (Helps for Scheduling Volunteers).

How do you keep your volunteers sticking around? We are a large church approx 3000 members running 5 services and everything is volunteer run. The engineer that runs the services that weekend is there for about 20 hours on the weekend, and the schedule has them running every other weekend. At what point does a church hire a position to “lead” a technical group in scheduling and training?

I seem to get asked this question a lot. Not surprisingly, I have some opinions on the topic. But before I share my thoughts, I have to admit a certain amount of confusion when this question comes up. The question is often phrased similarly to Robert's, and I'll translate what I think the question really is; "We're a good-sized church that places a high value on our production values. We want good sound, good lights and good presentation. We're not getting it however, because our volunteers don't seem to have the skills or desire to learn or stick around. How can we fix this (without spending any money)?" Often, the church in question is pretty well endowed technically. I've talked to one church that has a PM5D, a big fancy Strand lighting console and some high-end video gear, yet no staff dedicated to technical leadership. And for some reason, the volunteers either don't really know what they're doing or burn out and quit.

Pardon the touch of sarcasm... ';-).

Here's where my confusion comes in. Does this church rely strictly on volunteers for their kids ministry department? Nope. Youth ministry? Nope. Adult ministry? Nope. Do they have a full-time worship leader/music director/worship pastor? Yup. Why? Because these are important ministries that require the attention of a staff member to keep on track. And yet, I find church after church expecting great things from their technical volunteers without providing them any leadership. The results are predicable. They don't show up when scheduled. They get tired. They don't do a good job. They quit.

Now, keep in mind, this is not a ding on volunteers. The ones I know are dedicated, and really want to do a good job. But just like you would never send an infantry unit into battle without someone in charge to say, "Here's our objective and here's how were going to achieve it," you can't tell a volunteer, who already has a full-time job, that you expect full-time performance out of them. Well, you can, but you'll be disappointed in the results. 

It's important to keep in mind that I don't share this perspective from the ivory tower of academia, or from a lofty view out a full-time tech director's window. I was the lead volunteer in 2 churches for a combined 15 years. After 10 years at my first church, I was completely burned out. I had begun to resent the demands that were placed on me. I wanted to do a good job, but I wasn't really empowered to do it, nor was there a clear direction on what was even considered a "good job." I ended up leaving the church and taking 6 months off. At the next church, I was quickly recruited to take on a similar role. This time, the burnout only took 5 years. So I know of what I speak.

So what is the solution? A technical leadership position. Call it Technical Arts Director, Tech Director, Minister of Media, Pastor of Weekend Technology; heck, you can call me Al if you want (but only if I can call you Betty). I believe this person's job description needs to include the following: Caring for existing volunteers, which includes scheduling, training, equipping and leading them; recruiting additional volunteers; and providing a clear direction of what constitutes successful job performance. As much as I love being a hands-on techie, I think the TAD should remain as hands-off as possible for weekend services. The technical team is a great place for volunteers to serve and make a huge contribution to the church, and we need to empower them to do, and do it well.

In the case of Robert's church, I think they are crazy asking volunteer sound guys to give 40 hours a month. Does it really surprise anyone that they don't stick around? To be fair, recruiting sound people is the hardest recruiting job in the church, hands down. The pool of possible candidates is perilously small, and the demands of the job are high. It's also one of the most rewarding volunteer positions in the church if it's done right, which is why I like to keep it volunteer as much as possible. 

To that church, I would say you are long overdue for a full-time tech arts person. That staffer's first responsibility is to reduce the workload for the sound guys. That might mean finding more sound people, developing a set-up team so the engineers can come in later, develop a tear down team so the engineers can leave earlier, or running sound for Saturday nights. You'll need to develop a short-term fix, and a long-term plan that is sustainable.

I'm also a firm believer that the TAD's position should not include dealing with every single technical need in the church. I've seen job descriptions from some churches that are just laughable. This poor chap is expected to be an expert in sound, lighting, video, presentation, video production, the heart of a pastor, a theology degree, full understanding of IT issues, etc.; will be responsible for all weekend and mid-week A/V needs for all ministries of the church (min. 55 hrs./week). And oh yeah the max. pay is $35,000. Good luck with that one. At best, you'll get someone who can do 50% of what you want, will be a recent college graduate and will be gone in less than 2 years. Don't go there. 

Most churches don't understand the depth of the void they have. If the TAD position is new, there's the tendency to think that because they have been "getting the job done" with volunteers (and I quote "getting the job done" because by asking the very question above, they are admitting the job is not getting done), that there won't really be that much for the TAD to do. They think that it's at best a 20 hr./week position, so they look to fill up their time with other stuff. I actually used to think that. I was wrong. 

My work ethic is off the chart, I'm an efficiency maven and I have developed some really good systems to make myself as productive as possible. And I could work 60+ hours a week and still not keep ahead of my to do list. Developing top-notch technical teams takes a lot of work. Period. So don't short-change yourself by thinking that it's not a big deal. In fact, you might find that the TAD needs a part-time assistant to handle some of the admin tasks they will be faced with.

Back to the original question, "At what point to you hire a lead tech person?" You hire them before you get to the point that you need them. And if you missed that point, you hire them now. As churches grow, they naturally add staff to keep up with the demands of the ministry. In most churches, the worship service is a big deal. It needs to happen well. Good leadership is required  to make that happen. Most see the need for paid kids ministry staff, but that really only benefits a sub-set of the church community. Same for youth, adults and seniors. But everyone is affected by the worship service. If anything, one could argue you should hire a TAD before you hire a kids ministries director (heresy...I know...).

A good TAD will become invisible in the church. Worshipers won't brag to their friends about how great the technical arts ministry is (like they will the kids ministry). But a solid TAD will make a huge impact on the life of the church nonetheless. Worship services will flow more smoothly, people will interact with God distraction-free, and there will be a sense that God is present like never before. I know, I've seen this transformation first-hand. 

So there are a few of my thoughts on this topic. I have more, but I'll save them for another rainy day ';-)...