Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Paying Musicians and Techs

This is one of those, “Thinking out loud” posts for me. It’s been a topic of conversation at our church for the past several months, particularly as budgets have been cut (again). Actually, I’ve been thinking about it on and off since I moved to Minneapolis in 2007; that’s when I first encountered paid musicians and techs in the church. Prior to that, all the musicians and techs I’ve worked with had been volunteers. Honestly, it’s one of those topics that has left me still working on a position. Before I dive into my still-forming conclusions, let’s consider both sides of the debate.

The Case for Paying Musicians (I’ll get to techs in a minute)
Those that support paying musicians in church are likely to point out that the church has a long history of supporting the arts and should continue. Paying the band—that is, artists who make their living playing or teaching music—is a continuation of that tradition. Supporters would also agree that the musical worship time of the service is important, and paying for professional musicians will deliver better results with less rehearsal time. It’s also important to note that a band that’s paid is under a little tighter control of the worship leader or music director. They tend to show up closer to the call time (or they don’t work as often), and it’s easier set and enforce expectations. As a general rule, the quality of musicianship tends to be higher with a paid band, and that even makes it a lot more fun for the FOH engineer (who may be paid or volunteer). I’m sure there are other reasons to pay musicians, and the ones I just mentioned are all good ones. Honestly, I don’t really disagree with any of them.

On the other hand, where does it stop? Surely the FOH or monitor position requires just as much skill and training as does a band member, so should we pay those positions? Over the history of Coast Hills, that’s been the tradition. However, based on my budget for the year, that tradition is coming to an end. When I was in Minneapolis, I always found it odd that the musicians were paid but the FOH engineer was not. But what about the guy who helps out doing graphic design for the church? If he’s a freelancer, he’s an artist making his living doing design; if we want to support the arts, do we pay him as well? What about the teacher who leads a kid’s Sunday School class? Do we pay her also? Or the carpenter who helps out building sets for the Christmas production?

I’m not trying to be overly dramatic, but at some level, you can make the case for paying almost everyone who volunteers their time at a church. Might we get friendlier ushers if we paid them? Maybe, but at what point does paying people to “serve” turn church into an attraction to be visited rather than a body that serves?

Part of the equation that further muddies the water is the distinction between bringing in outside musicians and contractors and people from the body. In our case, we have both serving every weekend. Actually, we often have three classes of musicians; outside contractors who don’t call Coast Hills their home; professional musicians that are part of our body, and are paid; and volunteers who may be project managers or firemen but also play a mean instrument. This strange mix has never been a source of consternation (at least that I’ve seen), which is a testament to our team’s leadership. However, it is interesting. What is more interesting is seeing what happens when budgets get cut and people who used to be paid can’t be paid any longer. Some keep on playing, others sit out.

The Case for Volunteers
The other side of this coin is to use all volunteers—that’s been my experience for most of my church life. In fact, I’ve been a volunteer TD far longer than I’ve been a paid one. I made my living working in the professional production world and gave my time at church. The way I saw it, I’m not good with kids, I don’t like to greet people and I can’t sing. But I am a good tech, so that’s where I served. I’m sure I’ve given thousands of hours to the churches I’ve been a part of over the years, and loved (almost) every minute of it.

We talk a lot about putting ministry back in the hands of the people at Coast. When I use that phrase, I mean trying to find people who are gifted in various areas (in my case, tech) and empowering them to serve. For me, it’s not about saving the church money (though that is a nice side benefit) it’s about giving people the opportunity to serve. It’s like giving of our finances; when we give, we benefit more than the church does. It’s about obedience and becoming more like Jesus (who is our example for being a servant). There is no better way to grow in our walk with Christ than to serve, and a big part of me thinks that when we bring in paid people from the outside, we deprive those in our midst of growing in their walk with Christ.

So where do I land on all this? I don’t know yet. I see the case for paying musicians, especially the ones in our midst. I love those guys and I know how hard it is to make a living as a musician; I want to support them. I also know that the positions we’re talking about (musicians & FOH engineers) take highly specialized skill sets. You can’t just cut a budget and say, “The band and FOH have to be volunteers from now on.” I figure it takes a solid year to train someone to mix FOH at the level we expect at our church (unless the volunteer is committed to doing it every week, then it goes faster). And truthfully, few are cut out for it.

At the same time, some of my greatest experiences in life happened when I was volunteering at church. I want to open as many doors for that to happen as possible. On the other hand (I told you this was a complex issue…), everyone—and I do mean everyone, Sr. Pastor & board included—have to be willing to accept the compromises that come with non-professional talent on stage and behind the board. It’s not going to be perfect. Notes will be missed, mics will be muted when they should be on. We all have to be willing to live with that.

What say you? Are musicians and techs paid at your church? If so (or not) how do you feel about that?

34 Comments

  1. richard.parker.foster@gmail.com

    I believe the line is at the dollar$ sign. If the event taking place is part of the regular ministry of the church, be it Sunday morning or otherwise, the answer should always be VOLUNTEER.

    However, if it is a paid event that is using your facility, then there should be compensation. Such as a concert, conference, etc. In these cases it may not be the FOH that they are seeking as many traveling with their own “sound guy”, but lighting or video support. Even if that person is volunteering on the camera on Sunday morning, they should paid for that $15 per ticket concert of Friday night.

  2. richard.parker.foster@gmail.com

    I believe the line is at the dollar$ sign. If the event taking place is part of the regular ministry of the church, be it Sunday morning or otherwise, the answer should always be VOLUNTEER.

    However, if it is a paid event that is using your facility, then there should be compensation. Such as a concert, conference, etc. In these cases it may not be the FOH that they are seeking as many traveling with their own “sound guy”, but lighting or video support. Even if that person is volunteering on the camera on Sunday morning, they should paid for that $15 per ticket concert of Friday night.

  3. chris@behindthemixer.com

    No one is paid at our church. I’d say it’s for two reasons;

    1. Small church.

    2. No excessive hours.

    I’m perfectly ok with not being paid. If I worked regular hours each week, it would be a different story.

  4. chris@behindthemixer.com

    No one is paid at our church. I’d say it’s for two reasons;

    1. Small church.

    2. No excessive hours.

    I’m perfectly ok with not being paid. If I worked regular hours each week, it would be a different story.

  5. frizbplaya@hotmail.com

    Oh man, I could write my own 1,000 word essay on the subject. Sometimes I’ve volunteered 20 hours a week and sometimes I’ve been paid more per hour to play at church than I make at my “real” job. I’ve landed on the philosophy that I’ll always volunteer at the church I’m attending. If another church want me to play on the side it will have to be paid. Simple enough 🙂

  6. frizbplaya@hotmail.com

    Oh man, I could write my own 1,000 word essay on the subject. Sometimes I’ve volunteered 20 hours a week and sometimes I’ve been paid more per hour to play at church than I make at my “real” job. I’ve landed on the philosophy that I’ll always volunteer at the church I’m attending. If another church want me to play on the side it will have to be paid. Simple enough 🙂

  7. Jekstrand@willowcreek.org

    Excellent post! One thought to add. We pay musicians who are incredibly talented, and they play alongside our staff and volunteer musicians. The coolest side effect of this is the ministry we have to/with these musicians, some of whom would never go to church on a Sunday morning. When I think about from their perspective, if I played a gig until 2:00 am Saturday night, I wouldn’t want to go anywhere at 6:30am unless I’m makin more money.

    As for production folks, we’re 2 staff and about 12 volunteers per Sunday. Each spot MUST be filled. No less than 3 camera ops, the video die for CANNOT double as the graphics op, and the LD can’t be expected to trapse the catwalks, etc. I we can’t field enough volunteers for a specific service (about once a quarter or six months), then it’s time to fork-over some cash and get it done.

    This is long and still far from complete, but it’s the basic breakdown of the facts here.

  8. Jekstrand@willowcreek.org

    Excellent post! One thought to add. We pay musicians who are incredibly talented, and they play alongside our staff and volunteer musicians. The coolest side effect of this is the ministry we have to/with these musicians, some of whom would never go to church on a Sunday morning. When I think about from their perspective, if I played a gig until 2:00 am Saturday night, I wouldn’t want to go anywhere at 6:30am unless I’m makin more money.

    As for production folks, we’re 2 staff and about 12 volunteers per Sunday. Each spot MUST be filled. No less than 3 camera ops, the video die for CANNOT double as the graphics op, and the LD can’t be expected to trapse the catwalks, etc. I we can’t field enough volunteers for a specific service (about once a quarter or six months), then it’s time to fork-over some cash and get it done.

    This is long and still far from complete, but it’s the basic breakdown of the facts here.

  9. mckewjw@gmail.com

    It should be all or nothing when it comes to paying the worship team. Finding out that you’re a “volunteer” on the team, and others are getting paid, is rough. Especially when you’re expected to come just as prepared as the paid guys. This is a good way to build resentment and frustration amongst your team. It’s also a good way to alienate and eventually lose your volunteers…

  10. mckewjw@gmail.com

    It should be all or nothing when it comes to paying the worship team. Finding out that you’re a “volunteer” on the team, and others are getting paid, is rough. Especially when you’re expected to come just as prepared as the paid guys. This is a good way to build resentment and frustration amongst your team. It’s also a good way to alienate and eventually lose your volunteers…

  11. contact@ericfrisch.com

    Our church is small, and with the exception of the Sr. Pastor and myself (Worship Arts Director), we are all volunteer. That’s everything from musicians to techs to the folks who clean the church. Having said that, I agree with and practice a couple of the thoughts mentioned above… if we have an outside event and they use our technical personnel or musicians (which is rare), those folks get paid. We also occasionally hire an outside musician to come in and fill a spot that we can’t fill from within. Those players get paid as well, but I’ve only had to do it 4-5 times in my three years at the church.

  12. contact@ericfrisch.com

    Our church is small, and with the exception of the Sr. Pastor and myself (Worship Arts Director), we are all volunteer. That’s everything from musicians to techs to the folks who clean the church. Having said that, I agree with and practice a couple of the thoughts mentioned above… if we have an outside event and they use our technical personnel or musicians (which is rare), those folks get paid. We also occasionally hire an outside musician to come in and fill a spot that we can’t fill from within. Those players get paid as well, but I’ve only had to do it 4-5 times in my three years at the church.

  13. chris@behindthemixer.com

    When I said “No one is paid at our church,” I meant the a/v team and the musicians aren’t paid.

  14. chris@behindthemixer.com

    When I said “No one is paid at our church,” I meant the a/v team and the musicians aren’t paid.

  15. jblasongame@gmail.com

    I think every church values empowering volunteers, but they also value excellence. And it will always be a tension. The goal is to find out what your church culture values in excellence and try to make the case for investing in excellence in the same way the church values excellence and mastery by paying their executive pastor, or youth pastor, or … You get the point. If your church culture places a huge value on helping people find and follow Jesus and communicating that on Sunday morning, perhaps you could get good value out of paying a tech guy.

  16. jblasongame@gmail.com

    I think every church values empowering volunteers, but they also value excellence. And it will always be a tension. The goal is to find out what your church culture values in excellence and try to make the case for investing in excellence in the same way the church values excellence and mastery by paying their executive pastor, or youth pastor, or … You get the point. If your church culture places a huge value on helping people find and follow Jesus and communicating that on Sunday morning, perhaps you could get good value out of paying a tech guy.

  17. madmoe@gmail.com

    The only paid music related position in our church is the Worship Director/Leader since that is considered a full time position here. None of the musicians or techs (me) are paid.

  18. madmoe@gmail.com

    The only paid music related position in our church is the Worship Director/Leader since that is considered a full time position here. None of the musicians or techs (me) are paid.

  19. phil@philrowley.net

    Currently, our church is similar to the scenario Richard Foster posed earlier. Outside events (weddings, concerts, etc.) are PAID for ALL tech; lights sound and video. I totally agree that those positions should be volunteer for 99% of all church applications. Yes — some positions (like FOH or camera director) will require you to get someone wiht the right talent set and will require longer training for them to “get it”. My concern comes in when you are in the position of having hardly ANY volunteers and, worse yet, NO tech director. Our church has been there several times (never seem to keep a TD longer than 2 years) and folks like me (read “super volunteer”) end up negotiating w/Worship Arts to get some pay in the pockets of the folks who are carrying the load. We are “volunteer poor” yet again and I don’t think the dollar is the right motivation to get people to serve but sometimes we are in a bind that is all you can do.

  20. phil@philrowley.net

    Currently, our church is similar to the scenario Richard Foster posed earlier. Outside events (weddings, concerts, etc.) are PAID for ALL tech; lights sound and video. I totally agree that those positions should be volunteer for 99% of all church applications. Yes — some positions (like FOH or camera director) will require you to get someone wiht the right talent set and will require longer training for them to “get it”. My concern comes in when you are in the position of having hardly ANY volunteers and, worse yet, NO tech director. Our church has been there several times (never seem to keep a TD longer than 2 years) and folks like me (read “super volunteer”) end up negotiating w/Worship Arts to get some pay in the pockets of the folks who are carrying the load. We are “volunteer poor” yet again and I don’t think the dollar is the right motivation to get people to serve but sometimes we are in a bind that is all you can do.

  21. buswheel@iinet.net.au

    Currently the a/v team and muso’s are not paid for Sunday services (Unless you count the staff members who volunteer that is)

    I do get paid a small amount to be the “verger” at weddings.

    The topic of paid musicians came up last year in our music committee. The main thinking at time was that we wanted to be able to enable one of our drummers, who is working himself through university, to be able to dedicate his time to church rather than having to work around what paid gigs he can get.

    At the time I think we were pretty evenly split on the issue, although personally I can see some merit in the idea, although I think you have to be careful in because as Mike points out you could just end up justifying to pay everyone.

    One thing that came to mind was, what “extra” do you expect out of a professional compared with the volunteer next to them?

  22. buswheel@iinet.net.au

    Currently the a/v team and muso’s are not paid for Sunday services (Unless you count the staff members who volunteer that is)

    I do get paid a small amount to be the “verger” at weddings.

    The topic of paid musicians came up last year in our music committee. The main thinking at time was that we wanted to be able to enable one of our drummers, who is working himself through university, to be able to dedicate his time to church rather than having to work around what paid gigs he can get.

    At the time I think we were pretty evenly split on the issue, although personally I can see some merit in the idea, although I think you have to be careful in because as Mike points out you could just end up justifying to pay everyone.

    One thing that came to mind was, what “extra” do you expect out of a professional compared with the volunteer next to them?

  23. mike@churchtecharts.org

    I should point out that we do pay anyone involved with outside events, both musicians and techs. We charge for use of the facilities, and part of that charge includes tech. For any event outside the scope of regular ministry activity, I agree everyone involved should be paid.

    My discussion is with regards to normal, weekly services.

    mike

  24. mike@churchtecharts.org

    I should point out that we do pay anyone involved with outside events, both musicians and techs. We charge for use of the facilities, and part of that charge includes tech. For any event outside the scope of regular ministry activity, I agree everyone involved should be paid.

    My discussion is with regards to normal, weekly services.

    mike

  25. Lukegervais@gmail.com

    We have paid worship leaders at every service and me a paid full time TD. Everyone else is volunteer we used to pay some of the musicians before my time (and a tech before they hired a full time td). But with a change in administration the budget got cut and we stopped paying we lost some musicians althought some stayed on and there were some very hard feelings as I understand it. I don’t know where I stand but I sure love to have the budget to bring on pros instead of go without which we do now if we can’t fill the spots.

  26. Lukegervais@gmail.com

    We have paid worship leaders at every service and me a paid full time TD. Everyone else is volunteer we used to pay some of the musicians before my time (and a tech before they hired a full time td). But with a change in administration the budget got cut and we stopped paying we lost some musicians althought some stayed on and there were some very hard feelings as I understand it. I don’t know where I stand but I sure love to have the budget to bring on pros instead of go without which we do now if we can’t fill the spots.

  27. gina@normstockton.com

    I am the wife of a full time musician, as well as a part-time staff member at our church. My husband is a paid player…but this is also our home church. This has not always been the case. The difference between paying (vocational) musician and tech, and paying a Sunday school teacher who is a teacher, or a graphic designer who volunteers some of his time…is that Saturday & Sunday are essentially the middle of a musician/tech’s work week. When we ask someone who is a professional musician to volunteer 10 + hours on a weekend…we a not just asking them to give their time, we are asking them to give up their pay they would otherwise make. That is not the case for most other volunteers. Keep in mind also…the pay usually does not make up for the lost pay, but this is where they want to serve.

    My husband has considered our home church his covering for his ministry…much like a missionary. Our church paying him…allows for him to be in consistent fellowship, (which is difficult on the road), have support, prayer, encouragement and a launching pad for the amazing ministry God has given him. His maturity musically as well as spiritually is a huge asset to the worship team and an encouragement to the volunteers.

    We know that God alone is our Provider, not the Church…we have lived a great deal of life with the Lord and with His church…we have volunteered thousands upon thousands of hours, sometimes that was valued, sometimes abused. We are fine…as budgets get cut…we adjust our lifestyle as many have. Sometimes this difficult, but we wouldn’t change our lives for the world. We are blessed that the ministry we have outside of our home church is going well. What is heartbreaking are the friends of ours, for which that is not the case. We have some close friends who at some point, may be forced to leave the fellowship that has been their home church for approx 15 years. His income has declined greatly over the last year and a half and this latest budget cut has been a huge hit. He is trying to keep food on the table. Yes…God is his Provider too…but it is hard not to feel like your home is telling you…”your too expensive…so…love you…bye, bye”

  28. gina@normstockton.com

    I am the wife of a full time musician, as well as a part-time staff member at our church. My husband is a paid player…but this is also our home church. This has not always been the case. The difference between paying (vocational) musician and tech, and paying a Sunday school teacher who is a teacher, or a graphic designer who volunteers some of his time…is that Saturday & Sunday are essentially the middle of a musician/tech’s work week. When we ask someone who is a professional musician to volunteer 10 + hours on a weekend…we a not just asking them to give their time, we are asking them to give up their pay they would otherwise make. That is not the case for most other volunteers. Keep in mind also…the pay usually does not make up for the lost pay, but this is where they want to serve.

    My husband has considered our home church his covering for his ministry…much like a missionary. Our church paying him…allows for him to be in consistent fellowship, (which is difficult on the road), have support, prayer, encouragement and a launching pad for the amazing ministry God has given him. His maturity musically as well as spiritually is a huge asset to the worship team and an encouragement to the volunteers.

    We know that God alone is our Provider, not the Church…we have lived a great deal of life with the Lord and with His church…we have volunteered thousands upon thousands of hours, sometimes that was valued, sometimes abused. We are fine…as budgets get cut…we adjust our lifestyle as many have. Sometimes this difficult, but we wouldn’t change our lives for the world. We are blessed that the ministry we have outside of our home church is going well. What is heartbreaking are the friends of ours, for which that is not the case. We have some close friends who at some point, may be forced to leave the fellowship that has been their home church for approx 15 years. His income has declined greatly over the last year and a half and this latest budget cut has been a huge hit. He is trying to keep food on the table. Yes…God is his Provider too…but it is hard not to feel like your home is telling you…”your too expensive…so…love you…bye, bye”

  29. phil@philrowley.net

    Wow,this one really lit up the comments. How about a post on how to recruit volunteers? That is kind of a related topic that may solve the conundrum of having to pay pros.

  30. phil@philrowley.net

    Wow,this one really lit up the comments. How about a post on how to recruit volunteers? That is kind of a related topic that may solve the conundrum of having to pay pros.

  31. crwoolsey@gmail.com

    Great discussion.

    I am the paid FT tech director and my team consists largely of volunteers, but also 3 paid PT people. One guy is my assistant, one guy runs FOH, and the other serves as my tech assistant for our second auditorium. The assistants are required to be proficient in audio, video, media and lighting.

    Mind you, these position are 5-hrs a week at a whopping $10/hour. The positions make sense for us and it’s a lot cheaper than hiring another FT tech.

    It works for us and so far (knock on wood) this budget has not been cut, nor appears to close to the chopping block.

  32. crwoolsey@gmail.com

    Great discussion.

    I am the paid FT tech director and my team consists largely of volunteers, but also 3 paid PT people. One guy is my assistant, one guy runs FOH, and the other serves as my tech assistant for our second auditorium. The assistants are required to be proficient in audio, video, media and lighting.

    Mind you, these position are 5-hrs a week at a whopping $10/hour. The positions make sense for us and it’s a lot cheaper than hiring another FT tech.

    It works for us and so far (knock on wood) this budget has not been cut, nor appears to close to the chopping block.

  33. erik@jerde.org

    All three techs at my church are paid. This happened after the TD position was cut and there was a noticeable decrease in production quality. I’m one of these techs and I had volunteered my time for about 3 years prior. At about that same time I went full time as a freelance tech.

    I am thankful that my church is willing and able to pay me because if that wasn’t the case then I’d be going to all the places I’m now turning down. By having paid techs that know they have a gig week to week we get consistent quality and we don’t have the staffing difficulties that comes with volunteers. If a tech is going to be gone we find qualified and professional replacements for ourselves. If I was still volunteering and working another full time job I would have taken a lot more time off during the summer. I’d also probably be a lot less plugged into the overall tech of the church. As things sit now though the church leadership (no technical leadership at all on staff) knows week to week that tech will just work with a very high level of quality. Having spent my share of time in Monday morning “what worked and what didn’t” church service planning meetings I know how valuable it is to have tech that just works.

    Lets add on one additional point. Church doesn’t end at noon on Sunday (or 8pm in my case). There are special events, seminars, and all sorts of other events done by the church for the church (no charge events). I get paid to show up for those too. Why? Because it’s insane to expect a small group of people to staff for free all of the events that an active church puts on in a week. No way I’d show up to do Sunday, then classes in the sanctuary on Monday and Tuesday nights as a volunteer. To staff that with volunteers you need a team with very specialized skills and you need that team to be deep. Unless you’re very unusually blessed with tech skilled congregants I don’t think that’s possible.

  34. erik@jerde.org

    All three techs at my church are paid. This happened after the TD position was cut and there was a noticeable decrease in production quality. I’m one of these techs and I had volunteered my time for about 3 years prior. At about that same time I went full time as a freelance tech.

    I am thankful that my church is willing and able to pay me because if that wasn’t the case then I’d be going to all the places I’m now turning down. By having paid techs that know they have a gig week to week we get consistent quality and we don’t have the staffing difficulties that comes with volunteers. If a tech is going to be gone we find qualified and professional replacements for ourselves. If I was still volunteering and working another full time job I would have taken a lot more time off during the summer. I’d also probably be a lot less plugged into the overall tech of the church. As things sit now though the church leadership (no technical leadership at all on staff) knows week to week that tech will just work with a very high level of quality. Having spent my share of time in Monday morning “what worked and what didn’t” church service planning meetings I know how valuable it is to have tech that just works.

    Lets add on one additional point. Church doesn’t end at noon on Sunday (or 8pm in my case). There are special events, seminars, and all sorts of other events done by the church for the church (no charge events). I get paid to show up for those too. Why? Because it’s insane to expect a small group of people to staff for free all of the events that an active church puts on in a week. No way I’d show up to do Sunday, then classes in the sanctuary on Monday and Tuesday nights as a volunteer. To staff that with volunteers you need a team with very specialized skills and you need that team to be deep. Unless you’re very unusually blessed with tech skilled congregants I don’t think that’s possible.

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