Declare War on Your Church: Planning Upgrades with an Open Mind

The sort of passion and free-thinking determination that resulted in maintaining a webcast in-house were contributing factors to why our church has experienced significant growth in recent years.

To paraphrase George Carlin, if the president decides to bomb Easter Island today, there is already someone in the Pentagon with a plan in his desk, ready to turn it into rubble.

If something made sense once upon a time, does it still make sense today?

I like this idea, because I can relate to it. Any given Sunday, my pastor can ask for something that fundamentally changes my job forever. He can just show up and drop the proverbial bomb, and then I have to figure out how to get it done:

From that, the standard questions arise, such as: what do we buy, where do we get it, who will install it, who will run it. You might think I’m exaggerating, but it’s happened at least three or four times over our last 12 years together.

Before I tell my story, a word about my pastor, since we are concluding Pastor Appreciation Month (in October) as I write this. He understands the power and potential of media like few people. If there is a new technology starting to take shape, he's just as likely to ask me, as I am to tell him about it. He has a natural ability to think of tech and media as tools to bring people to Jesus. It makes for both an equally supportive and challenging work environment, hyperfocused on the people we want to reach, beyond the tools to reach them.

In 2012, we were a small department within a growing church, comprised of 150-plus attendees each Sunday. We were blessed to have a series of revival meetings from a visiting evangelist that really changed our church outlook. It really was a revival in the sense that our church truly came alive in a new way over those next few weeks.

A big part of that was tapping into a new way of connecting people to the Word: a webcast. The visiting ministry brought with them a production team to stream the nightly meeting. It was a modest setup by today’s standards, but now attendees wouldn’t really skip meetings; if they had to work or be with their kids somewhere, they would still watch and listen and come back the next night, fired up and ready for more.

What was planned as a week of meetings turned into two weeks.

Then three.

Ultimately, we would go for six weeks, and hold about 60 services in that time. For our small team of volunteers, we were simultaneously amazed at how God was moving in our church and exhausted by the challenge of staffing both sound and projection. We were pulling new people out of the seats to help, in what turned out to be an unprecedented recruitment season.

As the fourth week approached, the original evangelist had another set of previously scheduled meetings he had to attend to. Rather than ending things, it was decided another evangelist would come and replace him, to keep the meetings rolling.

When he left, though, so did the webcast team, and the new visiting ministry did not have a team to replace them.

Immediately seizing upon the value lost with this change in technology, my pastor decided we would order the equipment and software, having it express shipped that weekend, after which we began our own webcast program.

I was caught a little off guard. We had a camera, but we needed to get everything else.

Since I wasn't yet then on full-time staff, my pastor did everything himself. I walked in and found the new equipment which we would be using, ready for the next service that was about to start. I was told what was done and what was needed, and we never really looked back.

This sort of passion and free-thinking determination are driving forces behind why our church has doubled in size every three years. But as the media director, it makes planning ahead a bit of a challenge.

So what lessons can be learned?

Is Your Vision Evolution or Revolution?

Since that series of services, my pastor, members of my team, and I have spent many hours just casting a vision for what our church can be, and how it will look. We've talked in great detail about all the different aspects of our audio system: stage lighting, house lighting, projection, and video systems. We've also talked a lot about systems we don't have, like a multicam webcast, environmental projection, and video walls.

Some of the discussions focus on our ideas for little changes. For example, if we upgrade the drum mics to get a better drum sound, it's a small evolution of the audio system we already have in mind. Likewise, replacing the audio mixer is a big change, but oftentimes, it's still just a step forward. There is a big difference between evolutionary changes and revolutionary thinking.

The Revolutionary War

One thing we do well as a staff is constantly question why the status quo was allowed to set up in our church.

If something made sense once upon a time, does it still make sense today?

So when thinking of a revolutionary change, you have to give yourself permission to declare war on yourself. The most powerful weapon you can use is one simple question:

Without concern for money, existing equipment, or "the way we've always done it," if you could build anything, what would you build?

So in the audio example, indulge yourself with the chance to wonder what it would be like to completely rip out every speaker, every cable, and question why you are doing things systemwide the way you are. Declare war on your status quo every once in a while, if only to sharpen your eyes on what vision could be possible over time.

One of the most recent revolutionary plans we've drafted would move our sound booth to a different place in the room, replace our point source system with line arrays, add a monitor mixer, replace our stage wedges with IEMs, put the drums in an enclosed space, add virtual percussion, and replace all our wireless microphones.

With this much changing, are we actually doing anything right?

Well, yes, we're doing a lot right. We get a lot of compliments on our current worship and sound system.

We wanted to try and think about what needed to be done, though, with a completely blank canvas. It forced us to set goals, like better coverage in the room, represented by the line array system. Also, we learned we wanted more isolation of our band, represented by the drum cage and IEM. So even if we choose to move our system forward through small evolutions rather than a big revolution, we've sharpened our skills to communicate what we want as a team.

This suggested plan challenges every aspect of how our sound system and worship team are designed.

Is it likely to come to pass? In this case, I think it will.

Maybe it will happen all at once, or over a year or two. Maybe we'll keep the mixer where it is after all. Maybe we'll force all the guitar amps off stage, as well as the wedges.

At the end of the day, though, a complete plan made up of realistic goals to hit, has been created. It has been considered by everyone it concerns, from the pastor to the worship leader to the Deacon Board.

We're ready for war.

Be Prepared with a Battle Plan, But Flexible to Change

Now that you've got a sound system scoped out, your first instinct might be to do that. But just because you have a plan doesn't make it God's plan.

Such was the case with those weeks of services I described. We had a five-year plan and those evangelists visited in the middle of year four. I had elaborate plans for how we were going to spend our next scheduled funding release, but when it was decided we needed a webcast ASAP, all those previously drafted plans were put on pause. Furthermore, a whole new plan was improvised without all the research and vetting that most of us like to do, to feel secure about a prospective upgrade. But again, just because I felt good about my plan, did not make it God's plan.

Do I go to war with the battle plan I have or the plan I actually need? What was on paper did not match with where the Spirit led.

The webcast wound up being immediately popular and an extremely useful tool to spread the gospel and build our church. We made adjustments to our long-term plans to revise our lighting and video systems, things that had not been on that five-year plan going forward.

It would have been easy to be frustrated. I can practically hear some of you grinding your teeth imagining this happening at your church. But the bible tells us, "A bruised reed He will not break." If I had refused to figure out how to make the best of it, my church would have missed out on a tremendous move of God in our community.

Plans are great to have, but you shouldn't buy your plans a wedding ring. It is not "Til death or finance committee do you part."

In fact, this situation was the catalyst for my "Easter Island" mindset that I described previously. If my pastor wants something ASAP, I have a plan in my desk that could be in front of the church's board by the end of the day. I have plans for every system we have, and some we don't even have yet.

So I urge you, be prepared for whatever happens next or at least, be flexible enough to still run toward the fight.

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