Hiring Technical Staff, Pt. 3

Last time around, we considered what often goes wrong when a church hires a TD (or other significant technical staff person). Today, I’d like to dig a little deeper into the process and look at some of the keys for getting the right person on the right seat of the right bus (with apologies to Jim Collins). 

Obviously, the process for hiring a TD will be different at every church, but I think there are some principles that apply universally for good results. This may not be an exhaustive list, but it represents the best practices that I’ve seen over the last few years (and the previous two times I’ve been hired).

Recognize the Importance of the Position

I think one of the biggest mistakes the church makes when hiring a TD is to fail to recognize how important the position really is. As I mentioned last time, a really good TD will make a difference for everyone at the church, though few will know it’s actually the TD who’s responsible. The church is good at realizing that the student pastor is important, as is the children’s pastor and the worship leader. The TD needs to be in that same class of importance. That means there needs to be a proper salary range (in the same ballpark as those other leaders). 

It also means you approach the search with the same gravity that you would a worship leader or associate pastor. Slow down, take your time, pray through it thoroughly and make sure you have the right person. If you go into it thinking it’s a simple part-time position and you need to “just get someone in here to run sound,” you will be disappointed. 

Keep Expectations Realistic

I have seen some job descriptions for TDs that boggle my mind. Some churches expect the TD to be an expert in all manner of technology, both in it’s operation, design, repair and maintenance  (including IT), be trained theologically, be an expert motivator and equipper of people, perform the functions of a pastor while keeping every single A/V system in the building fully functional at all time and be available 6 nights a week for various functions and rehearsals.

Most TDs I know are pretty high-capacity people, but churches that put that load on their TD are setting them up to fail. I once interviewed at a church that wanted the TD to start in July so they would have time to recruit and train a team of technical volunteers who would be ready to start serving by the fall ministry kickoff. I said, “The fall of next year, right?” I tell you the truth, growing a volunteer technical team from 2 to 6 is every bit as difficult and time consuming as growing a children’s volunteer team from 20 to 100. 

If you hire a guy (or gal) who really knows their stuff and has a track record of success, let them run their department. Don’t second-guess their equipment choices, or their picks for vendors. Believe them when they tell you it will take XX hours and $XXXX to get the job done and help them figure out how to make it happen. When hiring a younger TD with less experience, make sure he or she has the access to qualified vendors; don’t demand they figure out how to do it cheaper. Trust me, you don’t want them experimenting with possible equipment choices because you won’t let them hire a good system integrator. Also, make sure they are getting connected with other, seasoned TDs in the area. Church Tech Leaders is a great way to make that happen.

Get the Right Fit

This could be one of the most important elements of the process. The fit of a TD to the staff is so critical, it can’t be understated. As a TD candidate, one of the first things I ask myself when interviewing at a church is, “Can I work with this group of people?” This is not a value judgement; it’s a realistic assessment of whether I believe our personalities will gel and if I’m on board with the overall ministry philosophy. Make sure you explore this in depth when interviewing.

The only real way to find this out is to spend plenty of time with your candidates at least the final two or three. Bring them and perhaps even their wives and families out for a visit. Make sure they can fully observe a weekend service, meet the rest of the staff and volunteers. Then ask everyone they interacted with what their take on that candidate was. 

You will be better off in the long run hiring a person with a little less skill who fits really well with the team than a rockstar tech who is difficult to get along with. You don’t have to become best friends, but you shouldn’t dread the thought of going to lunch with them either.

Hire People Builders

This is another area where churches miss the mark: They tend to hire great (or at least good to OK) technicians who are lone rangers. The job of the TD is to Technically Direct. Direct implies that he’s not doing everything by himself (though he should be pretty proficient from a hands-on perspective); rather, he’s building in to other people who are doing much of the work.

Training non-professional people to do highly complex technical tasks like run lighting and sound takes a long time, a lot of patience and the ability to teach (not to mention develop systems and processes that volunteers can actually use). Make sure your prospective TD has those qualities, at least in raw form. If they need help developing them, get them help. 

There is so much more to this topic that I’m going to roll it over into next week. In the next installment, we’ll take a look at job descriptions and how to set your prospective new TD up for success.

What do you look for in a successful TD candidate?

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