Hiring Technical Staff, Pt. 2

Following up on my previous post of hiring technical staff, today I’d like to share some thoughts on hiring “the man,” the Technical Director. A lot of churches get this wrong, and I’d like to help. It may sound like I’m railing on churches in this article, but I’m really not. Churches are generally pretty good at hiring pastoral staff, ministry directors and even worship leaders. But we tech people are just different, and the role of TD is still a very new one; there just isn’t a lot of collective knowledge in this area yet. So keep that in mind, OK?

At the risk of blowing my own horn (and all TD's horns collectively), a really good TD has the ability to significantly improve the weekend worship experience for everyone in the room. That sounds like an overstatement, but it’s really not. And the TD can make that difference not because of his mad mixing or lighting skills, but because a really good TD will develop systems, processes and people that will make the weekend run more smoothly and enable everyone from the worship leader to the pastor to do their job more effectively. On the other hand, a not so good TD will make everyone’s lives miserable. 

Now that I have your attention, let’s look at how a church typically hires their fist TD. The church starts and grows. As it’s growing, willing volunteers step up to manage the technical requirements of the service. As the church gets bigger and the production needs become more complex, the church struggles to find volunteers who are willing to devote the necessary time and energy required to keep the system going. Eventually, they decide to hire someone.

The first place most churches look is within the ranks of volunteers. These are the guys who have been “running sound” for a few years and have served well. A church might say to one of these guys, (and they’re typically young guys in their early 20’s…), “Hey, why not come join our staff and get paid to do what you’re doing already?” The guy says yes and they’re off. 

At this point, the new TD likely has no actual technical training, nor is he afforded any by his new employer. The church puts him in charge of all the other volunteers (whether he has the ability to lead, train and develop or not) and gives him dominion over all the technical systems of the church (though he may or may not have any real understanding of how they all work). He is paid a pittance of a salary because, “He used to do it for free,” a pittance he accepts because he used to do it for free. Finally he is given almost no budget.

After about a year or two, it’s not working. The TD is frustrated from working 50-60-70 hours a week, he can’t get the resources he needs to move the church forward and the church isn’t happy with the way he’s not developing volunteers; this despite the fact they’ve never trained him to do so. The church finally fires said TD (who will often leave the Church for a while, sometimes for good) and looks for another victim, er, TD.

The second TD is usually from another church, often currently in the situation as a first TD. He’s hoping the grass is greener over there. During the hiring process, the church will share all their disappointments with and shortcomings of the “old guy” with the new recruit and make all kinds of promises as to how this will be better than the new guy’s current situation. The salary might get slightly larger, but often works out to a few dollars more than minimum wage, because after all, it’s just tech.

The new guy comes in, maybe with a little more skill and knowledge than the previous guy and begins tearing out all the old work. By this time, the volunteers are suffering from whiplash and begin to leave. As the volunteers leave, the TD’s workload goes up. The pressure from leadership increases to not only deliver higher production values, but also to build a bigger volunteer base. Oh, and the budget hasn’t grown any, either.

After a year, maybe two if this guy is tough, the TD and church are once again at loggerheads (I’ve always wanted to use that word!). By this time, the church is pretty much done with this guy, and the TD is likewise ready to quit. He does, or is fired and the search begins anew.

At this point, if the church is smart, they realize this is actually a pretty important position and starts looking for a really qualified candidate with a successful track record. The budget is finally increased to pay someone who is old enough to have a family what they should be paid--which is to say, something closer to what the pastors are getting paid, and farther from the receptionist’s salary.

This TD will come in and slowly repair the damage that has been done to this point, both from a systems and people level. It will take years, but he’ll get the job done. After about a year, the worship team will begin to look around and realize how much easier rehearsals and worship services are now, and how much smoother things are running. The pastor will realize he’s not fielding constant complaints about the volume, or the TD’s bad attitude. Even the congregation will notice that the worship services just feel better, though they won’t be able to articulate why.

It is about this time that the church fully realizes the TD role is a very important one and needs to be treated well. Any future TDs will have to live up to this guy’s reputation, and that will further the work of the Kingdom.

This took longer than I expect to unpack, so we’re now in a three part series. Next time, I’ll finally share a process churches can follow when hiring TD that will help them to skip the first two painful parts and get closer to the happy place of the third TD.

Or maybe I’m just imagining this… Does any of this sound familiar to anyone?

Next time, we'll touch on some factors that seem to help get the right fit. 

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