Surviving VBS

Last week was VBS for us (though we call is SVBS). As it was my first SVBS since coming to Coast Hills, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect (aside from a ton of really amped up kids screaming their cheers). I had some initial meetings with the kid’s ministries staff to talk about the details of the main sessions. Of course, when we actually got down to the first day, there were a lot of surprises. This is to be expected, however. One thing we need to keep in mind as techies is that when dealing with other ministries (and sometimes even the worship department), they always forget tech.

It’s not intentional, they just don’t think about it. Children’s workers are concerned with how their programs impact the lives of kids, not how it impacts us. And if you think about it, that’s the way it should be. With that in mind, that means we need to be really pro-active about getting the information we need to support them well.

What follows are some thoughts based on what I learned this week. In the moment, I have to admit that I was really frustrated at being deluged with all kinds of requests and changes at the last minute. As I thought through it during the week though, I realized that there were things I could have done to make it run more smoothly. So I’m going to come at this from two angles; first, what I should have done to make sure things go smoothly, and second, an open letter to other ministries on how to work with your technical staff to ensure smooth events. Since we’re the experts, I’ll tackle our side of the equation first.

Ask, Ask and Ask Again

As I said, children’s workers aren’t concerned about how their decisions impact tech. That means we need to be continually asking for information. Because I had a few crazy-busy weeks leading up to SVBS, I was not diligent in asking for more information. I assumed if they had information to me they would give it to me. I was wrong. For example, I knew there was a drama that needed 5 mics. I should have double and triple checked that the week before. Turns out there was a need for 6 mics. I found that out Monday.

I should have verified the schedule as well. The run sheets indicated that the main session started at 10:30, so I planned for my team to be there at 9. Turns out that there was a leader meeting scheduled at 8:30 and the kids would all be in the room at 9:00. I should have pressed for a detailed schedule breakdown of every minute of the week, regardless of whether it directly affected me or not.

The truth is, they don’t know what’s important for us to know and what’s not. So we have to keep asking questions until we get the answers we need. If something has not been communicated to you, assume you need to ask about it. Never assume they will tell you what you need to know.

Talk Directly to the Band

Or worship leader, or drama team, or anyone else who will be on the stage. Perfect example: We had a guy come in to lead worship; I was told it would be him and his guitar. So I prepped a DI, wireless handheld and a wedge. Monday morning, he walked out on stage wearing ears, a headset mic and carrying an iPhone (he was planning on playing back his tracks from that).

Now, I’m behind. We had to quickly drop another line, put in a stereo DI, grab a beltpack (which I re-synched to match the HH channel I had planned for) and set up the PSM900. Thankfully his headset mic had a Shure connector on it and we are a Shure house. Had I gone to Sennheiser last year, however, we’d have been in trouble!

Lesson learned: I should have directly contacted him and found out exactly what his needs were. You can’t trust a children’s worker to communicate the band/worship leader needs from a technical standpoint. They aren’t techies and don’t know that those few subtle changes make a huge difference in how we set things up. We have to be the proactive ones.

Ask for a Map

This was another failing on my part. VBS tends to take over the entire church campus. Rooms that aren’t typically used for production often have production going on. Sometimes that includes parking lots. In our case, we needed staging and portable PAs on both sides of our building, outside. One of the funny thing about portable, powered speakers is that they require power. It’s a rare church planner that thinks far enough ahead to put power in the parking lot (anywhere useful anyway). That means someone will have to run power out there.

In our case, I knew of one of those locations, and didn’t know of the other. Again, in the moment, I was pretty tweaked that no one thought to run power for the powered speakers. And again, as I thought about, I realized that they wouldn’t know any better. To most people what we do is magic. “It’s just a speaker and a mic, why do you need power?” seems like a logical question for them. After all, they never have to run an extension cord to use the PA we dutifully installed in their rooms. It just works.

And that’s why we need a map. Make them draw a picture showing you everything that’s going to be happening all over campus. If you see a giant recreation area in the parking lot, start asking questions about portable PA. See a drama in a classroom, start asking questions. This will save you a lot of last minute stress.

Pre-build and Plan

Thankfully, I stayed around late Sunday to pre-set a lot of what I knew. That saved me when it came to the stuff I didn’t. Had I asked more questions, I would have been closer, but at least I had a baseline. Don’t assume you can set it all up the first morning. There will be surprises, things you didn’t think about, and last-minute changes. Set up more than you think you’ll need, put out an extra wireless mic, stage a few extra portable speakers, round up a bunch of extension cords and anything else you can think of.

It’s also a good idea to have more help on hand than you think you’ll need, especially for the first day or two. That’s something I’m big on; and it saved me. My daughter is the master of prepping wireless mics, so I had her working on that. I brought in another guy to float and he was able to run around putting out fires while I re-built my monitors for the worship leader. My lighting guy is self-sufficient and I had an extra pair of hands at ProPresenter.

Hopefully that gives you a few ideas for surviving and even thriving during your VBS. If you’ve already lived through it this year, consider the next 12 months a time to plan for it next year. Next time, I’ll address children’s ministry directly with some thoughts on how they can help us help them.