This is a topic that I’ve been thinking about for a long time. It came up last week when I had the opportunity to attend at the Seeds Conference at Church on the Move. I heard it in several of the sessions, and I experienced it all week long. Everywhere we went on campus, people were overwhelmingly enthusiastic about helping us out. There is a joy in serving at COTM that seeps out like the fragrance of a flower. We all know that everything rises and falls based on leadership, and this joy in helping others clearly comes from Pastor Willie George himself. Throughout the week, I saw him sitting and talking with various pastors and church planters. Unhurried and undistracted, he encouraged those guys with no expectation of anything in return.
The creative elements of the conference were also authentic. If you look closely, and talk to the team, you will find out that much of the production elements are based on something else. Whitney George said in his session that there is nothing new, but there are new things through you. Those guys are masters at taking something they saw somewhere else and adapting it to their situation.
Don’t Simply Copy
One of the big mistakes I see churches doing is going to another church or a conference, seeing something cool and trying to straight-up copy it. That seldom works out well, mainly because the church doing the copying usually doesn’t have the resources of the big church or the conference.
The other problem with simple copying is that everything looks different. The people who are best at adapting ideas will make sure that whatever it is they are doing fits the ethos of the church. When you try to copy without adaptation, your people will feel the disconnect between what the church should be and what it does looks like.
Know Who You Are
Of course, being authentic presupposes that you know who you are as a church. I feel like many churches today suffer from multiple personality disorder. The lobby was lifted from one church, the sanctuary from another, the set from another still, the kids area from still another. Because all the ideas came from different places, there is no consistency. And when the various ministries are silos unto themselves, there is no consistency of message there either.
As the technical leader, you may not be able to solve all your church’s split personality issues, but you can be sure that everything you do on your stage matches the mission and vision of the church. This means adapting ideas to suit your church’s culture.
Andrew Stone and I both grew up in the ’80s and share a fondness for lush, rich reverbs with long tails. Having heard his mixes and talked with him about his process, I set about to take the essence of his technique and apply it to my church. Now, you have to know that there was not a fondness for long reverbs at my church. In fact, it was more like whatever the opposite of fondness is.
Thus, I couldn’t just layer up three or four reverb units with 5-8 second reverb tails on them like he does. But what I was going for was the essence of his technique. The thing I found so intriguing was the layering effect of stacking multiple reverbs, each to deliver part of the frequency spectrum. So that’s what I did. I stacked up a few reverb units, played around with the high and low pass settings, and pretty much everything else until I came up with a great sounding reverb that didn’t sound like too much reverb to my leadership.
Had I simply insisted on copying the technique with the justification of “this is what COTM does…” it would not have gone well. But as it was, everyone loved the sound, and I was able to create a more expansive vocal sound that still fit with our church’s ethos. Was it my own personal preference? Not necessarily. Was I happy with the result? Yes.
Of course, being authentic takes time, energy, thought and work. Which is probably why so few bother. But if you’ll put the time in, the results will be worth it.