The Porch

Those of you that follow me on Twitter probably remember that a few weeks ago someone on the creative team had the idea that we should have a porch in church for one weekend. It actually makes more sense than it sounds at first; our theme for the weekend was The Front Porch: Practicing Hospitality. It was part of a series called Renovation: Turning Our House Into A Home. We've been talking about different "rooms" in a house and using that as a jump-off point for a given theme.

Anyway, we thought it would be good to have a porch as a visual metaphor for what we were talking about. The trick was that it had to actually support people. And be repurposed later. My initial "in my head" design was going to be really simple. A quick 1x4 deck skinned in luan, punch some 4x4's through to raise it up and make into posts for railings. Simple and easy.

Then they said that they wanted people to be able to come up on the porch and write on it. They also wanted to re-use the deck portion of it as a teaching platform down the road. That made things a little more complicated. First, the "legs" needed to be removable from the decks. Second, the whole thing needed to support perhaps half a dozen people per section. Third, the entire assembly could not rack and collapse. And it needed to look like a porch.

Off I went to Google SketchUp. First off, I should note that if you haven't played in SketchUp, you really should. It's free after all, and it's a great way to design things in 3-D. I've been playing with it for a few months now, and really like it. It has some quirks, but hey, it's free. I'll also point out that after doing the design, cut list and material list, we went to Home Depot and bought material. When all was said and done, we had an incredibly small pile of cut-offs, 1 extra 2x4 (which I bought just in case) and didn't have to make a single trip back for more material. There's some real benefit to planning ahead.

Here's what the framing looked like:

Everything was designed to be easily assembled and disassembled. click to enlarge Everything was designed to be easily assembled and disassembled. click to enlargeThere are 4 "deck" sections, assembled out of 2x4's, glued and nailed together. I then used construction adhesive and screws to secure 3/4" plywood to the framing. That gives me a 4 1/4" high "platform" once they're repurposed. Perfect. The legs were built from 4x4 douglas fir posts, 2x6 girders and 2x4 diagonal bracing. Because the entire thing needed to come apart afterward for storage, I used various angles and plates from Simpson Strong-Tie. Great stuff that. I hand-cut the stair stringers out of a 2x10, and used 2x10's for the treads. This was the finished plan.

What it was supposed to look like. click to enlarge What it was supposed to look like. click to enlargeThe railing is just 2x4's and 2x2's glued and nailed together. I used PL Premium construction adhesive for everything because I wanted it to resist racking and hold together if someone leaned up against it. The railing is designed to meet code, just because I'm a geek.

So those were the plans. As often happens, the best laid plans run into a small snag. When we started setting platforms in place, it became clear we didn't have quite the run length in the room we thought we did. We were about 4' short, in fact. Someone suggested turning one of the platforms 90 degrees and running the stairs off the end. We tried it and it worked like a charm.

I don't know who the guy is, but I could not get him to stop walking back and forth in front of the porch. click to enlarge I don't know who the guy is, but I could not get him to stop walking back and forth in front of the porch. click to enlargeWe set rocking chairs there to make it more porch-like. In this design, it worked exceptionally well. The short ell created by turning a platform gave people a little more room to move around each other, and gave us a nice corner to set a rocking chair. Here's what it looked like during a service.

Even with dozens of people on it, the porch didn't move an inch. click to enlarge Even with a dozen people on it, the porch didn't move an inch. click to enlargeEveryone was quite pleased with the final result. It took a couple of long days to build and paint, and we had some great volunteers come in to help with it. And now we have a few teaching platforms that will make it easier for people in the back of the room to see the teacher. It's what we call a win-win-win.

Taking Flight With Creatitivity

A few weeks ago, Abingdon Press sent me this book to read. First of all, I was pretty jazzed that they would send me the book; apparently I meet the criteria of being a well-known enough blog now--which is really cool. I was also excited because I love to read, and I'm always game for a free book.

While not every book I read bears mention in this blog, this one does. The reason is simple; it's a good book worthy of your time. The full title of the book is Taking Flight With Creativity: Worship Design Teams that Work. It's an appropriate title because the authors, Len Wilson and Jason Moore (founders of Midnight Oil Productions) do an excellent job of describing exactly how a worship design team should be structured, what they should do and what they should not do. They leave plenty of room for customizing the process to work in your church while still giving useful guidelines for getting started.

Here are a few quotes I found interesting:

People in our time still listen best when spoken to in a familiar language. That language changes over time, and those in ministry must change with it.

Teams that work allow empowerment, because creative people won't hang around an environment where they are told, explicitly or implicitly, what to do.

Good communication and plenty of lead time on major changes will ease the pressure and frustration felt by the tech director.

It is of the utmost importance to remember that what we do in worship design teams is possibly the most important thing we'll do in life.

The authors use the metaphor of the first flight at Kitty Hawk as a vehicle for moving the book forward. It's a stretch at times, but a useful metaphor nonetheless. The first section of the book, "Are we meant to fly? Discovering a strategic approach to worship," talks about the need for a design team in the first place. This is one area where a lot of churches need to grow.

The second section, "Building the areoplane: Putting the worship design team together," outlines the cast of characters you'll need for a good design team. Most the people you'd expect should be there, pastor, worship leader, tech director, but there are a few surprises.

The third section, "Taking flight: Achieving Koinonia," walks the reader through the process a creative team should take. From first becoming a small group to the weekly decision list and brainstorming, the authors take the reader behind into the planning room and let us observe.

The book wraps up with a final section on the maintenance and troubleshooting of a design team.

Having been on several design teams, I was very encouraged by this book. I could see many areas were we've done things well, and some areas where we need to improve. If you don't currently have a worship design team at your church, or do but it's not functioning well, give this book a read. It's not long, and you could easily finish it in a few evenings if you were motivated. Most importantly, it's well-written and engaging, traits that are often missing in books in this category.

Audience Participation

This weekend we got to use technology in a pretty cool way to engage with our congregation. One of the things Upper Room is known for is our experiential style of worship. Almost every week, we have some type of activity that allows the congregation to engage in the teaching they have just heard. Sometimes it's reflective, other times it's very active. We've put giant calendars on stage and asked people to commit to having a difficult conversation by a certain date. We've asked people to write on walls, pick up stones with a new name, even bring items in to sell on ebay to raise money for Heal Africa. This week was about celebrating our experiential nature.

We set 3 laptops up around our worship space. During the message, we encouraged people to go to a laptop and "blog" about a particular experiential that impacted their lives. Our web guru, also a Mike, designed a simple form on our web site that would take their entries and pass it to a database on the server via php. The form had a prompt question, and a text box sized to limit the length of the entries (we weren't looking for a novella, just a few thoughts).

Once the person hit submit, they received a confirmation that their message was sent, and 5 seconds later, the page refreshed (Mike B.--you're good!). Our Creative Director, Craig, sat in the service with his laptop checking the database via our website admin page (which was also custom designed in large part by Mike B.). As the posts came in, he chose the posts that fit the topic the most closely, and instant messaged them to me via Google Chat. I then took the copy and pasted it into a Keynote presentation. I had build at template that would display the words using the typewriter effect. I adjusted the timing based on a simple 3.5 seconds per line timing that we determined was about the right speed.

During the message, I was receiving the IMs and building the Keynote presentation (which actually resided on our iMac running ProPresenter), while our presentation tech followed our pastor with sermon slides in ProPresenter. Near the end of the message, I saved the Keynote and closed it. During the prayer, we took all lights to black, went to black in ProPresenter and flipped to Keynote. The first slide was black there, too, so the change was seamless if anyone was peeking. We then ran the "blog posts" from Keynote in order to take advantage of the typewriter effect.

At the end of this section, we went back to black, returned to ProPresenter and wrapped up the evening. It was pretty neat to see how people have been impacted by the experientials, and very cool to have their comments on the screen just minutes after they wrote them. Of course, we couldn't have pulled it off were it not for our great Tech Team (props to Jeff, Ronica, Erik & Les). They truly rocked it tonight and brought their A-game. I've always said that one of my goals is to work myself out of a job in the tech booth. I love seeing volunteers so good at what they do that I can concentrate on other activities while they make the service happen with very little input from me. And I love being able to use technology to engage with our congregation in creative ways. That's what we did this weekend… how about you?

When Technology Works...And When It Doesn't

I'm taking a day off from talking about our discussion of The Matrix because I want to recount to you a harrowing tale of large files, downloads and a crazy, video-laden service that almost wasn't.

This summer, Upper Room sent 11 teams across the country and across the globe for missional experiences. For four of those teams, we had a community member go along with a video camera to capture the story of the trip. The idea was that each videographer would return from the trip and create a video of that trip. Those videos would be shown on our Missions Sunday--four trip videos and a fifth overview of all the trips. This past Sunday was that night. It all sounded like a good plan. But, as so often happens, the best laid plans are, well, imperfect.

Because our community draws from all over the place, it's not always easy to have people just drop stuff off at the church. So all last week, I was using iChat to transfer preview copies of the videos. iChat works great, but when you're dealing with video files ranging in size between 200 MB and 1 Gig, it does take time.

After all the suggested changes had been made it was time to get the final videos. Saturday afternoon, the first file came in--200 MB from an editor in California. The overview video was done. Later that night I fired up a 1 Gig transfer from one team member. Shortly thereafter, I launched another 450 MB transfer. I knew I had bandwidth to spare and the limiting factor would be the other two's upload speeds. 

At Midnight, I went to bed, safe in the knowledge that I had 1 video on my computer, another almost done and the third more than half transferred, and the other two would be arriving on CD at church on Sunday. When I got up at 9:30 (we meet at night, remember), I checked the file transfer. The 1 Gig finished up fine. The 450 (the slower of the two links) failed. Earlier in the week, when we transferred this file, it took over 8 hours. It was now 9:30 AM, and our first service starts at 5 PM. Being quick with math, I knew this could be a problem. 

I looked over the log and discovered that for some reason the transfer rate of the failed file was much faster this time than last, so there was hope that we could get it here in time. There were a few problems, however. I normally get to church about noon. There was no way I could fire up a transfer at 9:30 and expect it to be done before I had to leave. I couldn't be late as we had a major setup to pull off. And I couldn't start the transfer at home, the sleep my laptop and pick up where we left off when I got to work. And I had just gotten up, so I couldn't even run in early and get it started. What to do?

I chose to lean into technology. I shot off a text to the new CPC tech director (who I knew would be near our tech booth) and asked him to fire up the iMac in the booth (CPC still uses the PC). I sent a text to the videographer (who was now back at college) and told her we needed to re-start the transfer. I used a web-service called LogMeIn to remote into my iMac and set up my AIM account in iChat (I had configured the iMac for remote control with LogMeIn before I went on vacation earlier this summer). I logged off AIM on my laptop and logged in on the iMac (via remote control). Once I woke up the videographer (she's a college student after all...), we re-started the transfer. Now I was free to finish getting ready and head in at my normal time. I kept apprised of the progress in real-time using LogMeIn.

I also Google-chatted with my creative director to keep him posted of what was happening. Thankfully, the connection was even faster and by 2:20, we had the file on the iMac. The other 2 videos came in on CD, and we loaded all 5 into ProPresenter. Rehearsal went smoothly, and we worked out a few cuing bugs. We had a total of 5 projectors in the sanctuary. We built a 32'x8' wall on stage and projected the same graphic background 3 times across that. We ran the videos on our two main screens. With my newly remodeled  tech booth, I was able to address the stage projectors and the main projectors independently. 

click to enlarge

In the end, it looked great and everything ran very smoothly. While I was busy running around like crazy getting the wall and 3 projectors set up (with full RGBHV signals to each of them), my team dove in and did their jobs well. We hit all our marks and even finished up rehearsal early. The message of the trips was powerful, and it will be exciting to see what God does in our midst over the coming year. Next Sunday we'll be talking about the future of Upper Room, and what we thing God has in store for us. It will be really exciting, and I can't wait to share it with all of you.

Tomorrow we'll return to our regularly scheduled series on the Matrix. Thanks for reading.