Helping Other Ministry Areas with Technology

Ah, it feels good to be back! Having spent the better part of the last two weeks driving nearly 2,000 miles, unpacking everything we own and getting settled in a new place, I'm looking forward to diving back in to the technical arts. The break was nice, but now it's great to be back at it again.

Somewhere between Denver and Nevada, I started thinking about this topic; how do we assist other areas of ministry in our churches with technical issues? Some of us in smaller churches are responsible for anything that has a power plug attached to it, so you get to "help out" by default. Others of us have no specifically defined responsibility for supporting other ministries, but we help out anyway because we're all on the same team. The question is, how do we serve other ministries well--especially when they lack technical expertise?

I started thinking about the process I run people through, and an acrostic appeared. We'll call it the HEARRR method. At first it was just HEAR, then HEARR, but the more I thought about it, we really need all those Rs. Sorry...

So this is the process; Hear, Educate, Advise, Respond, Research, Recommend. This post will get really long if we tackle all of them at once, so we'll do 3 at a time.

Hear

The most important step in helping other ministries in our churches is probably both the easiest and the hardest--listening. We really need to listen to what they need. The trick here is to parse out the actual need and not just the jargon they may be trying to impress you with. Or they may have no idea how to technically describe what they need--they just know what needs to happen when they flip the switch. You must ask a lot of questions, and really listen to the answers. You may need to define terms to make sure everyone's on the same page. If you're looking at an audio board, make sure everyone knows what you mean by a "mix buss," or a "group." Find out what they want to do when they start using those things. Ask as many questions as you need to in order to get a clear picture of what they are expecting. Along the way, you may be able to help expand their thinking into new possibilities they've not yet considered. Which brings us to the next point.

Educate

You won't be surprised to hear that most children's pastors aren't super-technical. What you need to do at this step is take the information you gleaned in while Hearing, and Educate them on what is possible (and what isn't). This is a tricky step. Done correctly, you will gain some major points with other ministries and be known as a great servant. Done poorly, and you'll come across as a jerk. A big part of our job is helping non-technical people interact (at least at some level) with technology. It's important that we learn how to speak in terms people can understand, and in a manner and tone that doesn't demean. Remember, you're probably the only one at your church who gets excited when the newest issue of Live Sound arrives. Be gentle, patient and kind. Good advice for any situation, really...

The goal of this step is to help them think through some options, get a good handle on their needs and establish what can and can't be done given the limitations of available technology, budget and user-friendliness. Remember, when it comes to ministry areas without dedicated tech support, just because you can doesn't mean it's a good idea.

Advise

At this point, if I can I like to throw out some suggestions as to what might work. Normally I have some idea of what the needs are when I sit down with another ministry, so I have done a little homework. Or I might just have a set of tools in my toolbox that I normally reach for. Either way, it's good to show some ideas. Again, this is a critical step. If you jump to this too early (ie. skipping the first two), you come across as arrogant. For example, if Children's ministry says, "We need a new mixer," and you respond right away with, "Oh, you need a 1604-VLZ," you sound like a jerk. Not because you recommended a Mackie, but because you didn't even listen to what they need.

It is also at this point that you may want to examine the rest of the system if that's appropriate. In the aforementioned mixer instance, you may suggest that while a new mixer might be a good idea, the issue that they're really having is with the speakers. A new mixer may help some, but new speakers will actually solve the problem.

This step will normally flow into the next step, Respond. And we'll tackle that and the rest of the RRs tomorrow.