After serving as a church technical director for about 10 years, I moved to a new church. I decided to take a few weeks to assess how my new church opportunity handled the worship atmosphere. They had high-energy and emotional worship with engaging teaching, but the technical teams fell flat. They had the tools, but they didn't use the technology to enhance the service.
As a result, I felt like I was coming in to revamp everything. The church did need some changes, especially in video. They had only done IMAG on the screens for a few weeks when I decided to adapt the switching style from my previous church. I pushed the volunteers to take complicated shots. We were going to be fast, furious, upbeat, engaging and just plain awesome. It was going to be the best-switched service out there! I wanted to implement the format of a major music awards show or concert with edgy switching.
Then I talked with someone who worked those big events: "Most of our camera ops have just one function," he said. "They don't do a lot of crazy shots." Essentially, each camera operator had one or two functions they needed to do well. The director then brought that all together and, as a team, they achieved the high-quality event they were shooting for.
Then it hit me: I was going about this all wrong. I needed a different perspective. The next weekend, I sat down at the video switcher and told the team I was going to direct the music portion blindfolded. Everyone thought I was crazy. I thought I was crazy, but directing this way forced me to simplify the camera shots. I assigned one camera to shoot the lead singer, no zooms, pans, nothing. Another shot the drums, another the background singers and one more on lead guitar. It forced me to communicate differently and trust the operators to hold their respective shots. More importantly, it forced me to listen to the music. Listening and enhancing what the worship team was doing became the point of this exercise. And it all happened because we kept it simple.
In fact, keeping it simple is something we miss a lot with technical arts. Many times, we overcomplicate things, causing distraction in the worship service and exhausting our volunteers. "Simple" means you assess volunteers' capabilities and don't push them too far outside their comfort zones, set up safety shots you can take when you don't have a shot from your volunteer, use lighting not as the focus but to paint an atmosphere of worship and focus your sound on clarity of communication versus tons of effects. Simplifying all this will help team members understand they are there to enhance the service, not distract from it.
Essentially, technical systems need to be leading people in worship by helping them see or hear the communicators, lead vocals and instruments. The goal should be to paint backgrounds that will work with the songs and not break the worship atmosphere. Upbeat songs or moments allow us to push the envelope and excite the congregation, but downbeat moments should focus and not distract worshippers. This all comes down to understanding the objective.
The objective is to create a fun, exciting and team atmosphere among technical team members while enhancing an atmosphere of worship in the building. We want technical volunteers engaged, stretched and wanting to come back the next time with a nervous readiness to be a technical missionary.
That's right. Used in worship, technical instruments themselves are missionaries, whether they are cameras, video switching gear, audio consoles or lighting devices. These instruments help your church take the gospel of Jesus beyond the four walls of a building.
Your volunteers are operating the instruments that bring people closer to the experience. They allow that unsure visitor to get a closer glimpse from the back row. They engage the person watching online because he can't attend the service, the late-arriving family in the hallway, a congregation at a multisite church or someone in a different country experiencing the gospel for the first time.
Your technical team is a part of what I call the "digital Great Commission." They are going into all the world and preaching the gospel to every creature (see Mark 16:15). That's the objective. Let's teach it, live it and use technology to go and fulfill it.
David Leuschner is the executive director of Digital Great Commission Ministries (audiovideolighting.com), a nonprofit organization that utilizes technology to reach the world for Christ. From 2006 to 2017, Leuschner served as senior director of technology and technical arts at Gateway Church. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram (both @davidleuschner).
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