What's Next for the TD?

Last week we asked if church production technology was fading away, looked at the changing face of church technology and suggested that technology happens in the margins. Depending on your perspective and tolerance for change, that series came off as encouraging and inspiring or a wild ride of doom and gloom. 

I hadn’t planned on following that series up with this article, but then I read an interesting piece in Fast Company called Generation Flux. By the way, if you don’t read Fast Company, I think you should. I learn a lot from them each month. Anyway, that article basically talked about how much change we were going to see in the next 10-20 years. We are in an era of unprecedented change—flux is their term—and it’s pretty amazing when you start to look at it.

That article was followed up by another one entitled, The Four-Year Career. That story outlined several people who have changed entire careers, not just jobs, every few years. As I read and processed all of this, I started thinking about how we as TDs will be affected, especially in light of the changes I see coming (and wrote about last week). 

As someone who’s career path closely resembles a “four-year career” individual, I had a few thoughts on staying employable in a world of vast change. And so you don’t think I’m just making stuff up, here is my career track: I worked at a grocery store, a print shop, produced corporate meetings, ran a video department for a denominational Christian Ed division, worked freelance IT and video production, started and ran a video company, built and ran a chain of tanning salons, sold in-home air purifiers, FOH at a large church, sold Gutter Helmet and windows, worked at an ad agency, edited video for a production company, worked as a TD in three churches, authored a successful blog, and I write for two magazines. And I’m just getting started.

I am constantly re-inventing myself and have taken jobs doing things I’m not good at simply so I can get better at them. With that as a backdrop, here are some things I think you can do to prepare yourself for the next wave of change that is about to wash over us.

Broaden Your Skill Base

Last week, I posited that many churches will be placing less emphasis on high-level production on the weekend services. As production ramps down, it becomes harder to justify specialized techs. So if you’re an audio-only guy, I suggest you learn lighting, video and stage design. If you currently edit video, learn the other disciplines. The reason is simple; as change happens and staffs shrink, the ones who stay employed are the ones who can do everything. 

I regularly encourage you to develop your skill sets anyway, and to always be learning new ones. This is simply an extension of that admonition. Never stop growing, learning and adding tools to your tool belt. 

Learn to Develop and Lead Teams

As paid staff shrinks, we will need to increasingly rely on others to help us get the job done. Developing and leading teams will become more important than ever. Yes, it’s always easier to just do it yourself. And if you are the staff video editor, spending 20 hours working with a volunteer to edit a spot that would take you 5 seems like a waste of time. But when you’re the only guy and have to do everything yourself, having that volunteer trained and ready to go will save your life. 

No, they probably won’t do it as good as you would have. And yes, it will take longer and require more planning. But if you don’t enlist help, you won’t survive.

Have an Exit Strategy

When was the last time you went to a retirement party for a TD? Or a pastor for that matter? Or how about a worship leader? As an aside, worship leaders have it worse than us. Once they pass 40, they are quickly replaced by younger, hipper dudes with hair product and scarves for belts. And what is a “former” worship leader going to do now? Anyway, start thinking about your next act. Where will you go and what will you do when you’re not the TD of a church? It will happen, so start thinking about it.

What skills and knowledge do you need to acquire to move on? Start working on those now. It’s not being disloyal; it’s being smart and prepared. You need to take charge of your career path. This may sound cynical, but the church that you have sacrificed for—where you’ve worked week after week, often going far beyond the call of duty, working 50, 60, 70 hours a week—will send you packing at the drop of a hat with (maybe) a month’s severance for every year worked. It’s happened to me and it’s happened to a bunch of other guys I know. And it’s not just the church; that story is repeated in companies across all sectors. 

So be smart; prepare, plan and work a strategy that will set you up well for your next act. You never know what it’s going to be; but if you’re prepared, it can be pretty great!

What advice would you offer your fellow TDs in this changing world?

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