Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Thriving in a Portable Church Setting Pt. 2

Today we’re back to talking about thriving in a portable church environment. Yesterday we talked about Organization, Process and Cables. Today, I have a few more thoughts on making the system work as smoothly as possible.

Document, Document, Document

Develop input lists, cue sheets, packing lists and inventory sheets. Make sure every thing is spelled out. Even though our set up doesn’t vary much from week to week, I make an input list anyway. We use Google Docs to post it online where our entire team can view it. It’s easy to update and even new volunteers can follow the patching. We use cue sheets to organize our service, and set up and take down checklists to make sure everything happens the right way each week. It might seem like it gets old hat, but there will (hopefully) come a day when you are adding new people to the team, and a checklist or input sheet make it much easier to train them.

Don’t Skimp on Cases

I’ve seen churches (and some bands) try to do pack their entire audio system into a bunch of Rubbermaid bins they bought at Wal-Mart. Now, I love Rubbermaid bins as much as the next guy, but they are not the right way to transport thousands of dollars of A/V gear. Cases that the gear fits into properly are not a luxury. If you have your cases designed correctly, they will fit in the back of the truck or trailer evenly and fully, will stack better and be easier to load in and load out. Use wheels. Nothing tires people out faster than carrying hundreds of pounds of equipment in each week. Roll it. 

Organize things into cases by where it’s used. Don’t put mics and the CD player in the same case. If you do, you create unnecessary footsteps. I’ve seen some churches very successfully build their own cases for durable things like light poles and mic stands. But for the expensive stuff, have a case built. Your gear will last longer and not fail you when you can least afford it.

Develop Teams

It’s tough getting to church at 6:30 AM, loading equipment in, setting it up, doing church, then reversing the process. Doing it every week is a recipe for burnout. You need to enough people for at least 2 teams to do the job. Three would be even better. It means more people to train and organize, but in the long run, you’ll go through fewer people. And when one person does leave, it doesn’t shut the whole program down. I would make this a priority if I were in Christie’s shoes (which come to think of it, I will be in a few weeks…).

Right now we have two teams of four each for presentation and lights. That means each person is on once per month. We have two FOH engineers and two guys for audio set up that we’ll be training to engineer as well. My goal is to have four engineers and four audio set up guys. This keeps everyone fresh, yet gives them enough time on the job to get good at it.

So there you go. Like I said I’m no expert on doing portable church. However, the same principles that make a touring concert production run smoothly apply to moving a church in and out. We have to adapt for volunteers, but over time, I think we can develop systems that would make the best roadies envious.

14 Comments

  1. frizbplaya@hotmail.com

    Good advice! Definitely important to get two teams with lots of people for load in/out! I used to drive around to pick up sound gear from people’s houses, load it in, set it up, lead worship, tear down, and drive it back to the houses. It made for a long day.

    Now days I sub as a musician at a variety or churches. There’s such a difference when I can just walk in, set up my stuff, and be ready to go vs. showing up and finding out I’m also the load in and load out team. Surprise!

  2. frizbplaya@hotmail.com

    Good advice! Definitely important to get two teams with lots of people for load in/out! I used to drive around to pick up sound gear from people’s houses, load it in, set it up, lead worship, tear down, and drive it back to the houses. It made for a long day.

    Now days I sub as a musician at a variety or churches. There’s such a difference when I can just walk in, set up my stuff, and be ready to go vs. showing up and finding out I’m also the load in and load out team. Surprise!

  3. jrygel@hotmail.com

    All good advice. A point that I don’t believe you made that can help a lot with porta-churches is pre-staging where possible.

    I was TD of a small (~140 at the time) porta-church for several years and we had negotiated with the building to use a portion of a small store-room full-time, we used it to store a lot of our miscellaneous staging items: cross, tables, podium, etc. It saved a bit of work for the load-in crew.

    On a larger scale, I currently attend at Mars Hill Church (Seattle). I have chosen not to get involved with tech yet due to having a baby on the way, so I don’t know all the details, but they have a (to my knowledge) somewhat unique agreement at their Bellvue campus: This campus meets in a private school’s gym, and part of the terms of the building use agreement included permanently installing the PA system (8 per side of EAW NTL720), curtain runners, and upgrades to much of the wiring and infrastructure of the building.

  4. jrygel@hotmail.com

    All good advice. A point that I don’t believe you made that can help a lot with porta-churches is pre-staging where possible.

    I was TD of a small (~140 at the time) porta-church for several years and we had negotiated with the building to use a portion of a small store-room full-time, we used it to store a lot of our miscellaneous staging items: cross, tables, podium, etc. It saved a bit of work for the load-in crew.

    On a larger scale, I currently attend at Mars Hill Church (Seattle). I have chosen not to get involved with tech yet due to having a baby on the way, so I don’t know all the details, but they have a (to my knowledge) somewhat unique agreement at their Bellvue campus: This campus meets in a private school’s gym, and part of the terms of the building use agreement included permanently installing the PA system (8 per side of EAW NTL720), curtain runners, and upgrades to much of the wiring and infrastructure of the building.

  5. dawgfantw56@yahoo.com

    I run sound at a portable church and have done so for 2 years now, but have set up/torn down for roughly 4 years. The biggest issue we run into comes not from storage or amount of hands, but in post-tear down. We have some basketball fellas from a local college that does the load out portion, and due to this we have purchased ridiculous amounts of speaker cables etc, and things have become a bit more “janky” over the years. I would love to have on site storage rooms but the facilities just don’t allow for that. We are keeping our fingers crossed for the board to come to us and say, “Congratulations; we raised sufficient funds to start a build out.” Until then, lets just say we are putting our best foot forward in protecting our gear from the muscly basketball players lol. Thanks for the great blogs, and do you have any suggestions for low budget wireless issues for us mobile folk?

  6. dawgfantw56@yahoo.com

    I run sound at a portable church and have done so for 2 years now, but have set up/torn down for roughly 4 years. The biggest issue we run into comes not from storage or amount of hands, but in post-tear down. We have some basketball fellas from a local college that does the load out portion, and due to this we have purchased ridiculous amounts of speaker cables etc, and things have become a bit more “janky” over the years. I would love to have on site storage rooms but the facilities just don’t allow for that. We are keeping our fingers crossed for the board to come to us and say, “Congratulations; we raised sufficient funds to start a build out.” Until then, lets just say we are putting our best foot forward in protecting our gear from the muscly basketball players lol. Thanks for the great blogs, and do you have any suggestions for low budget wireless issues for us mobile folk?

  7. mike@churchtecharts.org

    Hey Tyler–Sometimes more help is more trouble! I’ve run into that before. A lot of people think they can coil cable, but can make a mess if they don’t do it right.

    As for wireless mics, the two that come to mind right away (mainly because I’m looking at them now that my budget was slashed) is the Sennheiser G2 100 series (under $400 for a bodypack, lapel and receiver) and the Shure SLX series (under $500). I’d stay away from anything below the SLX in the Shure line. With the Senn, the RF and AF sections are all the same in the entire G2 line; the only difference is in feature set. If you only need a few sets, the 100 line is great. You can’t network them and control them (need to step up to 300 for that), but they’ll work and sound the same. The Shure ULX series is great, but the transmitters use 9v batteries, and I’m trying to get away from them.

    We may very well go with the G2 100 series as well as a G2 IEM system.

    Thanks for reading!
    mike

  8. mike@churchtecharts.org

    Hey Tyler–Sometimes more help is more trouble! I’ve run into that before. A lot of people think they can coil cable, but can make a mess if they don’t do it right.

    As for wireless mics, the two that come to mind right away (mainly because I’m looking at them now that my budget was slashed) is the Sennheiser G2 100 series (under $400 for a bodypack, lapel and receiver) and the Shure SLX series (under $500). I’d stay away from anything below the SLX in the Shure line. With the Senn, the RF and AF sections are all the same in the entire G2 line; the only difference is in feature set. If you only need a few sets, the 100 line is great. You can’t network them and control them (need to step up to 300 for that), but they’ll work and sound the same. The Shure ULX series is great, but the transmitters use 9v batteries, and I’m trying to get away from them.

    We may very well go with the G2 100 series as well as a G2 IEM system.

    Thanks for reading!
    mike

  9. bryanwillmert@gmail.com

    for the last 2 years i have been hands on with a portable church setting with kensington community church. your word on teh teams is priceless. we set up 4 teams to serve once a month. they show up at 5am to set up, have breakfast together and either stay for first service or go home then come back. After the conclusion of services (only 2 right now), they tear down then don’t serve again for a month. this has allowed for a great longevity and great sustainability with the teams, but the downside is training. it takes at least 3 or 4 rotations for them to totally understand the process.

    if we can be of any help, please let me know!

    thanks,

    bryan

  10. bryanwillmert@gmail.com

    for the last 2 years i have been hands on with a portable church setting with kensington community church. your word on teh teams is priceless. we set up 4 teams to serve once a month. they show up at 5am to set up, have breakfast together and either stay for first service or go home then come back. After the conclusion of services (only 2 right now), they tear down then don’t serve again for a month. this has allowed for a great longevity and great sustainability with the teams, but the downside is training. it takes at least 3 or 4 rotations for them to totally understand the process.

    if we can be of any help, please let me know!

    thanks,

    bryan

  11. mike@churchtecharts.org

    Hey Bryan–thanks for the encouraging words and good thoughts. Glad to hear you’re doing well there. You are still spoken of very highly here.

    Peace,
    mike

  12. mike@churchtecharts.org

    Hey Bryan–thanks for the encouraging words and good thoughts. Glad to hear you’re doing well there. You are still spoken of very highly here.

    Peace,
    mike

  13. garethjrichards@gmail.com

    Part 3!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Part 3!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Part 3!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    We want part Part 3!!!!!!!!

    This post (and the last) is awesome I love the insight. Keep it up!

  14. garethjrichards@gmail.com

    Part 3!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Part 3!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Part 3!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    We want part Part 3!!!!!!!!

    This post (and the last) is awesome I love the insight. Keep it up!

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