Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Lining the Walls with Gold

Last week, in response to my post on technology fading away, a reader named Steve C left a thought provoking comment. I started to write a comment back, then I felt it turning into a post, so here we are. You can see his full comment on the original post, and I will re-print portions of it here. I’m doing this because I think he raises some valid questions. I don’t agree with his conclusion, but I think it’s always important to challenge our thinking with why we are doing this in the first place. 

And if you read this, Steve, don’t consider this an attack. I appreciate your questions and am glad to have the opportunity to explain my position on these issues. 

Here is a summary of his comments (printed verbatim, edited only for length):

How does a ridiculously expensive digital mixer really improve someone’s walk with Christ over a modest 16 channel analog mixer? IEMs? Really? How much does it cost to set up everyone with their own monitor? $1000?

I don’t see how improving any of that would truly bring anyone closer to Christ. If the relationship isn’t there in the first place, no amount of feel-good entertainment is going to get it going, and if the relationship *is* there, then it doesn’t matter if there’s an SD signal going to an old 13″ TV in the nursery. 

Steve, I know where you’re coming from, but I think you have to consider the context. Part of what we do comes from a desire to give God our best. We have historical and biblical context for this. Take a look at 1 Kings 6:20-22:

The inner sanctuary was twenty cubits long, twenty wide and twenty high. [That’s 30’x30’x30’ Ed.] He overlaid the inside with pure gold, and he also overlaid the altar of cedar.

Solomon covered the inside of the temple with pure gold, and he extended gold chains across the front of the inner sanctuary, which was overlaid with gold.

So he overlaid the whole interior with gold. He also overlaid with gold the altar that belonged to the inner sanctuary.

Did they all need to be lined with gold? I mean, how much did that cost? Did that improve anyone’s walk with God? Probably not. But it did send a message to everyone who walked through the door that these people were serious about worship.

In some circles the “poverty” mentality is the way it is. I once heard an elder pray for his pastor saying, “God, you keep him humble, we’ll keep him poor.” Some churches make a point about how little they spend on anything, but again, I have to wonder if that’s helping either. In fact, I believe it can even become a point of pride. It’s easy to point at a church like ours and say, “God, I thank you that we don’t waste money on technology like they do.” But listen again, that has a familiar ring to it. Jesus condemned such comparisons (Luke 18:11-14). 

Most of the church techs I know do what we do because we love God and want to give Him our best. We believe that one way we can best express both our worship of God and help communicate that to others is by creating the absolute best worship environment we can. We may not be lining the walls with gold, but we’re sure going to try and make it sound good. 

If my church had a “technology” system like the one you described in your comment, few would come to our church anymore. Why? Because some of them are shallow and demand a certain level of production to stay engaged. But rather than condemn them, I want to encourage them to keep coming. Over time, they will see that we don’t do it for show, but out of love for our Creator. We use art to worship Him. By coming week after week, God softens their hearts and their lives are changed.

You also have to consider scale. In a small country church of 60 people, spending $15,000 on IEMs (yes, that’s closer to the actual number) seems patently absurd—especially when the annual budget is $120,000. And while we may have spent a few hundred thousand over the last few years upgrading our technology, we’ve also spent over two million dollars on local, national and international outreach programs. 

And we’ve used technology to empower that outreach. Last summer, our VBS program—which utilized a lot of technology; full lighting, sound, video, Skyping in people from Africa—raised enough money to build a large group home and a school for 30-40 orphans in Africa. Did that change someone’s life? You bet it did! Not only the kids who now have a safe place to sleep, but the young believers at our church who learned a little bit about being generous and sacrificial. Did it require a big show of technology to enable that? Maybe not, but it was a huge part of the experience.

So yes, I think it’s important to wrestle with these questions. When is enough enough, and when is it too much? The answer will be different for every congregation. What works for us won’t work for you and visa-versa. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking we’re wrong and you’re right (or we’re right and you’re wrong). Churches come in all shapes and sizes with all sorts of congregations and missions. 

Thank you for raising the question. It’s helped me re-think what we do, and I’ve again come to the conclusion that we’re on the right track—for our church. 

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13 Comments

  1. jliechty200@gmail.com

    So, you're telling me the answer is, "It depends"? 😉

    The concepts that you've presented over the last week will be helpful as I prepare to introduce my church leadership to the concept that maybe we should upgrade replace our 22 year old speaker cluster that falls off around 20 dB at 8 kHz…

  2. jliechty200@gmail.com

    So, you're telling me the answer is, "It depends"? 😉

    The concepts that you've presented over the last week will be helpful as I prepare to introduce my church leadership to the concept that maybe we should upgrade replace our 22 year old speaker cluster that falls off around 20 dB at 8 kHz…

  3. paul@trinitydigitalmedia.com

    Good point, but there's a reason to use IEMs. I can put monitors in front of every musician for less, but it raises stage volume. To compensate, I've got to raise overall volume so FOH overpowers the stage. Let's say I wanted to run at 95db, but now b/c of the volume onstage I need to run at 100db, that's harder on people's ears. Sure 100db isn't going to make anyone lose hearing when you're not playing that loud for that long, but still shouldn't it be a decision made by technical and church leadership, not physics? Additionally, IEMs protect the musicians ears from louder volumes.

    Does it help someone's walk with Christ? Maybe. If someone goes to church and doesn't know Christ, but leaves because the music is too loud b/c the stage is using wedges not IEMs, that's a lost opportunity. If someone is looking for growth, but leaves for the same reason, that's another lost opportunity.

    Is it worth the money? I agree that it depends, but if the church has a $10,000,000 budget each year, but doesn't do what they can to protect the ears of it's people, isn't that wrong?

    I'm actually a video guy (which is why my examples could be a tad off), but I think it works for my area, too. If my church has 3500 people in attendance, but tries to use a 2000 lumen presentation projector to show scripture and song lyrics, most people won't be able to read them. A 20,000 lumen Christie might actually be necessary.

    I do what I do because I can't stand that the word of God would be obscured by things we can affect. Too much sound, too little sound, not enough light, etc. can all hide the beauty that is the gospel. Spending money to remove obstacles is a solid investment in the kingdom.

    Paul

  4. paul@trinitydigitalmedia.com

    Good point, but there's a reason to use IEMs. I can put monitors in front of every musician for less, but it raises stage volume. To compensate, I've got to raise overall volume so FOH overpowers the stage. Let's say I wanted to run at 95db, but now b/c of the volume onstage I need to run at 100db, that's harder on people's ears. Sure 100db isn't going to make anyone lose hearing when you're not playing that loud for that long, but still shouldn't it be a decision made by technical and church leadership, not physics? Additionally, IEMs protect the musicians ears from louder volumes.

    Does it help someone's walk with Christ? Maybe. If someone goes to church and doesn't know Christ, but leaves because the music is too loud b/c the stage is using wedges not IEMs, that's a lost opportunity. If someone is looking for growth, but leaves for the same reason, that's another lost opportunity.

    Is it worth the money? I agree that it depends, but if the church has a $10,000,000 budget each year, but doesn't do what they can to protect the ears of it's people, isn't that wrong?

    I'm actually a video guy (which is why my examples could be a tad off), but I think it works for my area, too. If my church has 3500 people in attendance, but tries to use a 2000 lumen presentation projector to show scripture and song lyrics, most people won't be able to read them. A 20,000 lumen Christie might actually be necessary.

    I do what I do because I can't stand that the word of God would be obscured by things we can affect. Too much sound, too little sound, not enough light, etc. can all hide the beauty that is the gospel. Spending money to remove obstacles is a solid investment in the kingdom.

    Paul

  5. erik@jerde.org

    Hey Josh, I've been having this conversation a lot lately with various church leaders. In my work as a freelance consultant I advise church leadership that technological direction needs to flow from the mission and vision of the church. It's really not about the blinkin' lights! 🙂 The most problems I've seen in church tech planning come when the church leadership doesn't have a clear vision of the mission of the church. When you do have that clear mission and vision it becomes a lot easier to make the case for appropriate technology to the people who hold the purse strings.

    For instance, lets say you're in a church who's vision is to reach people who hunger for a classical style of worship and through that worship find real, meaningful, connection with God. This is an increasing need as more and more churches drop their classical services. I know one of my client churches has seen an increase in it's classical service due to this. First, if you're going to do this and build a congregation you need to do it well. It doesn't have to be extravagant, but you'll need a decent organ, probably a piano, choir risers, hymnals, choir robes, a music library, the list goes on. If you can't swing that – after all, putting on a high quality classical service is quite expensive – then maybe it's time for leadership to re-think the plan.

    You can take this idea and apply it to any area of the church, missions, adult ministries, etc. If God is calling a church to a specific thing then provision will be made. If that provision doesn't come then perhaps leadership needs to re-think their understanding of God's call.

    In your specific 22 year old speaker cluster situation the question comes to "Is it important for the words spoken in the church to be heard clearly and easily? Do we even need speakers for this?" If the answer is yes to these then it's time to start talking about how the age of the speakers has a significant negative impact on the ability of the church to perform it's mission. Church elders often don't respond to the whole "it sounds bad" technical mumbo-jumbo. It's just not their world. Talk instead about how new speakers impact the work. Tie it back to the mission/vision and your conversation will go a lot better and it shows that as a tech person you're engaged in that mission/vision, not just looking for more blinkin' lights.

  6. erik@jerde.org

    Hey Josh, I've been having this conversation a lot lately with various church leaders. In my work as a freelance consultant I advise church leadership that technological direction needs to flow from the mission and vision of the church. It's really not about the blinkin' lights! 🙂 The most problems I've seen in church tech planning come when the church leadership doesn't have a clear vision of the mission of the church. When you do have that clear mission and vision it becomes a lot easier to make the case for appropriate technology to the people who hold the purse strings.

    For instance, lets say you're in a church who's vision is to reach people who hunger for a classical style of worship and through that worship find real, meaningful, connection with God. This is an increasing need as more and more churches drop their classical services. I know one of my client churches has seen an increase in it's classical service due to this. First, if you're going to do this and build a congregation you need to do it well. It doesn't have to be extravagant, but you'll need a decent organ, probably a piano, choir risers, hymnals, choir robes, a music library, the list goes on. If you can't swing that – after all, putting on a high quality classical service is quite expensive – then maybe it's time for leadership to re-think the plan.

    You can take this idea and apply it to any area of the church, missions, adult ministries, etc. If God is calling a church to a specific thing then provision will be made. If that provision doesn't come then perhaps leadership needs to re-think their understanding of God's call.

    In your specific 22 year old speaker cluster situation the question comes to "Is it important for the words spoken in the church to be heard clearly and easily? Do we even need speakers for this?" If the answer is yes to these then it's time to start talking about how the age of the speakers has a significant negative impact on the ability of the church to perform it's mission. Church elders often don't respond to the whole "it sounds bad" technical mumbo-jumbo. It's just not their world. Talk instead about how new speakers impact the work. Tie it back to the mission/vision and your conversation will go a lot better and it shows that as a tech person you're engaged in that mission/vision, not just looking for more blinkin' lights.

  7. Steve C

    I'd like to start by saying again that I'm sorry for the snark that came across when I first posted my comments.

    I suspect that you're correct that there was a certain amount of pride that goes into doing more with less, and probably come covetousness involved in hearing what some other churches are using and having to work with some of my equipment every week :). It's my goal to do the best I can with whatever resources I'm blessed to have.

    It's funny the discussion about stage volume – I'd like nothing more than to get our guys off of wedges, or at least get them to turn them down. (I'm the backup sound guy, primary lights/camera/presentation). Seriously, most of the time we could probably turn off the mains and have plenty of volume… but that's a complaint for another day.

    All that to say, I apologize for any adverse judgments I may have made there. I still love your show and blog even if we could never hope to buy a tenth of your gear :).

  8. busyscott@gmail.com

    Very thought provoking article, and I couldn't agree with you more. The perspective of "is it right for our congregation" should be the first thing every Tech Director is taught. Then, through that lens, all other decisions will fall into place. We currently have our main services in a gymnasium and if we were to use floor wedges we would have quite a few more problems than it simply being too loud. Sound would bounce around those walls like a basketball and controlling feedback would be a weekly curse. IEM's for us was a MUST and in order to quickly set them up and tear them down and quickly teach our musicians how to use them they had to be Avioms. Granted, we did our do-diligence and purchased the entire system used (AN-16i, A16D-Pro, and six A-16II personal mixers) for about $2,000. Would most people understand that spending $2k was necessary – no. The curse of the Tech Director is that when we are doing our job right, you don't notice us, but you notice the bill…

    In my experience, most churches don't have a problem with buying too much and being too flashy, quite the opposite. Most churches have a problem with not spending enough on their equipment. Thus, adversely effecting them accomplishing their mission. You hit the nail on the head Mike!

  9. busyscott@gmail.com

    Very thought provoking article, and I couldn't agree with you more. The perspective of "is it right for our congregation" should be the first thing every Tech Director is taught. Then, through that lens, all other decisions will fall into place. We currently have our main services in a gymnasium and if we were to use floor wedges we would have quite a few more problems than it simply being too loud. Sound would bounce around those walls like a basketball and controlling feedback would be a weekly curse. IEM's for us was a MUST and in order to quickly set them up and tear them down and quickly teach our musicians how to use them they had to be Avioms. Granted, we did our do-diligence and purchased the entire system used (AN-16i, A16D-Pro, and six A-16II personal mixers) for about $2,000. Would most people understand that spending $2k was necessary – no. The curse of the Tech Director is that when we are doing our job right, you don't notice us, but you notice the bill…

    In my experience, most churches don't have a problem with buying too much and being too flashy, quite the opposite. Most churches have a problem with not spending enough on their equipment. Thus, adversely effecting them accomplishing their mission. You hit the nail on the head Mike!

  10. mtabor@fbcopelika.com

    What a great article! I visited a church in Atlanta a few months ago and couldn't stop laughing because after the band got done rehearsing, the music minister and sound guy played the entire set back through the speakers to set the auto-tune for the main singer. I told them that we don't pay our band, and if we did pay them I would expect them to sing in tune! The guy just laughed and said, "We understand that most churches aren't trying to reach the same people that we are. But if a lost person goes to a secular concert on a Friday or Saturday night and then gets invited to church on Sunday morning, we want to provide the same quality that they heard at the other concert."

    I can't help but agree with that! We are called to reach all people. That means reaching the people that could care less about technology, and those that care a great deal. I've come to enjoy my encounters with those that question my judgement on purchasing different pieces of equipment. If I can't give you a good reason why I bought something, then you should be worried and call me out on it. Thank you guys!

  11. mtabor@fbcopelika.com

    What a great article! I visited a church in Atlanta a few months ago and couldn't stop laughing because after the band got done rehearsing, the music minister and sound guy played the entire set back through the speakers to set the auto-tune for the main singer. I told them that we don't pay our band, and if we did pay them I would expect them to sing in tune! The guy just laughed and said, "We understand that most churches aren't trying to reach the same people that we are. But if a lost person goes to a secular concert on a Friday or Saturday night and then gets invited to church on Sunday morning, we want to provide the same quality that they heard at the other concert."

    I can't help but agree with that! We are called to reach all people. That means reaching the people that could care less about technology, and those that care a great deal. I've come to enjoy my encounters with those that question my judgement on purchasing different pieces of equipment. If I can't give you a good reason why I bought something, then you should be worried and call me out on it. Thank you guys!

  12. pochsner@yahoo.com

    May I never use Auto-tune on any mix I do ever… Live or otherwise!

    If that’s their thing though, that’s fine with me! ..I agree…It’s just funny!.

    I totally agree with Mike’s point about scale. Naturally larger church=more gear/more sophistication required.

    I will have to say, listening to the podcast that it smarts just a bit though, when it is said in jest that some-one on the panel is a “gear-snob”, following a reference to something up-market that they get to use, or conversely following a negative comment on a product they don’t have to use, as their budget has allowed for the purchase of something better.

    I think this may cause others listening to feel a little saddened and perhaps inferior, if they are making do out of necessity with the type of inferior gear just mentioned, (I’m on a LS9), when they most likely would love to experience using the better gear, but for one reason or another cannot.. Just a thought.
    Mike you have never talked that way…I find you most humble and gracious…just a couple of your guests may have gone a bit close to the line with this one on occasion I think.

    Great stuff anyway. I have found the many facets of “Church Tech Arts” to be a wonderful resource and education tool since it’s beginning.

    Regards,
    Paul.

  13. pochsner@yahoo.com

    May I never use Auto-tune on any mix I do ever… Live or otherwise!

    If that’s their thing though, that’s fine with me! ..I agree…It’s just funny!.

    I totally agree with Mike’s point about scale. Naturally larger church=more gear/more sophistication required.

    I will have to say, listening to the podcast that it smarts just a bit though, when it is said in jest that some-one on the panel is a “gear-snob”, following a reference to something up-market that they get to use, or conversely following a negative comment on a product they don’t have to use, as their budget has allowed for the purchase of something better.

    I think this may cause others listening to feel a little saddened and perhaps inferior, if they are making do out of necessity with the type of inferior gear just mentioned, (I’m on a LS9), when they most likely would love to experience using the better gear, but for one reason or another cannot.. Just a thought.
    Mike you have never talked that way…I find you most humble and gracious…just a couple of your guests may have gone a bit close to the line with this one on occasion I think.

    Great stuff anyway. I have found the many facets of “Church Tech Arts” to be a wonderful resource and education tool since it’s beginning.

    Regards,
    Paul.

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