Photo by Amber Lamoreaux from Pexels

Photo by Amber Lamoreaux from Pexels

Lately, we’ve been working with churches that are in need of some organizational help in the tech/worship department. These churches tend to run weekends in the “by the seat of our pants” mode. I happen to know a little bit about this. Most of you know me as being hyper-organized and having everything planned out. And that’s true. But, I have worked at churches that weren’t thus. I took it as my calling to turn that around.

The Problems of Chaos
No, that’s not a typo; chaos actually causes multiple problems. The biggest problem is that people burn out. Chaos is simply exhausting. If every weekend is a challenge because you didn’t know what was going to happen, who was going to be on stage, what inputs were needed, who was where…you’d simply get tired and quit. And that’s what most people do. If you’ve ever wondered why that rock-solid volunteer who was there every weekend for 3 years one day announced this was his last weekend, I can bet chaos was a big part of that decision.

Chaos also leads to sub-optimal performance. We can only focus on so many things at once, and when most of our focus is on solving problems we didn’t know were problems and figuring out how we’re going to pull this weekend off, we don’t have much processing power left to make it great. When every weekend is an attempt to simply survive, there’s not much room to thrive.

A Case Study
As I said, I have some experience with this. Years ago, I joined the staff as a part-time TD. The church and the people were great, but they were not terribly organized. The tech team didn’t know until Thursday night when we all showed up for rehearsal who was going to be on stage playing what. So, instead of spending 7-9 rehearsing, we spent 7-8 setting the stage, troubleshooting things and making sure everything was working. The band was cheated out of an hour of rehearsal, and really, so was the tech team.

Being the master of organization that I am, I started sending out an email on Monday requesting the worship leader for that coming weekend send me their band list. And I needed it by Wednesday. Why Wednesday? Because that’s when I built my input list and stage plot.

At first, everyone balked at this. But after a few leaders got me their information and walked onto a stage that was completely set and ready to go—giving them an extra hour of rehearsal time—they started getting the picture.

Wednesday I would build the input list and stage plot, leaving that in the office for the retired couple who had volunteered to set the stage on Thursday morning. I showed up 10 minutes early on Thursday night to double-check everything, and rehearsals became more efficient, productive and enjoyable.

The weekends then went off without a hitch because we were all ready to go in advance. The volunteer team health went up by orders of magnitude and we generally enjoyed a year and a half of smoothly running weekend services. I left after a time to work full-time at another church, but it was reported back to me a few years later that they were still reaping the benefits of the work I put into organize everything.

How Do You Do It?
So, how do you become organized and banish chaos from your weekend services? First, use Planning Center Online. Seriously. Use it. Yes, it will cost you a few dollars a month. One or two of your paid staff members might have to forgo their skinny boy decaf soy no foam latte once or twice a month to pay for it. Don’t care. Use Planning Center.

And when I say use it, I mean use it. The worship leader shouldn’t be entering the songs for Sunday morning on Saturday night at 10 PM. I mean by Monday or Tuesday, the people and plans for the weekend should be in there so everyone on the team knows what to expect.

In fact, as a crazy side benefit, you might find you can actually get more people to volunteer to be part of the weekend service when you can schedule them more than 2 days out. I know…mind blown.

But Mike…we have the same team every weekend. Nothing ever changes. We don’t need to schedule. Yeah, yeah, I hear that all the time. Then I also hear tales of woe—from the same churches that tell me that—about how when they have specials, or different people, or people can’t be there or something changes that it’s a mess. Huh. I thought it was always the same. Turns out, it’s not; you just think it is. Use Planning Center. If nothing else, it will help you organize your music library and give your musicians an easy way to practice during the week at home (yeah, I know I’m just talking loco now…).

Input Sheets & Stage Plots
You need to do an input sheet and stage plot. Every week. Yes, I know your stage never changes and the band config never moves around. See the previous paragraph. It does more than you think. Moreover, if it never changes, it’s easy to do a stage plot and input sheet every week; just open last week’s change the date and save it. Now wasn’t that easy?

Well, except Bob is playing bass this week instead of Frank. And Bob uses a DI instead of a bass amp. An active DI come to think of it, so that needs phantom power. Oh, and Tammy can’t sing, so we don’t need her mic. But it’s the same every week. Really…

I actually laugh out loud when people spend 20 minutes complaining to me about how disorganized their services are and how they need help and they don’t know what do to make it better, and I say, Planning Center and Input Sheets, and they say, “We don’t need that.” Yes, you do.

Look, I’ve been doing production as a very serious hobby and/or professionally for 30 years. If tomorrow I joined the staff of a small country church that had three people on stage every week, the first thing I would do would be to make up a stage plot and input sheet. Could I do it in my head? Yes—I could do it in my sleep. However, the best practice I’ve found to making weekends run smoothly is to be organized. Knowing who will be there this weekend, where they are going to stand and how everything plugs in is the bare minimum I need to know to make things run smoothly.

Once you get past that, you can focus on being creative and making it awesome. But if you try to skip the organizational part and go straight to the new Waves Abby Road Saturation Made Easy and Awesome plugin, you’re going to fail. That’s not a dig on Waves, by the way; I hear that’s a super-cool plug.

Anyway, when I talk to really high-level production guys and they tell me that they do input sheets and stage plots every week, and use Planning Center to keep the people and music organized, I look at that as a clue. Those of us that have been doing this at a high level for a long time know that keeping the basics organized is the first step to making weekends great. With the simple stuff taken care of, you have a lot more mental space to think through whether a hall or plate reverb will sound better on the second song.

In an upcoming article, I’ll talk about how to set your audio console up for success. And if you need some help with input sheets, I’ve written a bunch of articles about t
hem. You can find a search result of said articles here.