Few people like to do things they aren’t good at. Most people don’t enjoy struggling with tasks that should be simple. It’s a rare individual that enjoys working with broken tools. And yet, many churches ask their technical/production volunteers to do just that every single weekend.
Talking with some friends today, I made a connection that I made a while ago but had forgotten about. We know that many churches struggle with recruiting and retaining technical volunteers. Now, go back and re-read the first paragraph. Do you see the connection?
Imagine being a volunteer sound tech trying to mix on a system that wasn’t designed to properly cover the room and that delivers different sound to almost every seat. You get loudness complaints—it’s simultaneously too loud and too soft—every week. And when feedback occurs, another weekly event, every head in the room swivels around to look at you.
Now, imagine being the production director tasked with finding additional volunteers in such a room. Here’s the pitch; “It’s a hard job, the hours are long, you’ll struggle mightily to get a good mix and when anything goes wrong, everyone will blame you. What do you think? Want to volunteer?” Who could resist such a great opportunity?
Maybe you don’t have to imagine—maybe you are that volunteer.
The Struggle is Real
Yes, I know there are thousands of unsung hero volunteers out there who make do with really terrible production systems. They keep coming back week after week, month after month, year after year. At least until they don’t. From what I’ve seen, they often stop coming rather abruptly and without much explanation. Ever wonder why?
The truly sad part of this whole scenario is that the congregation isn’t enjoying their weekend experience, either.
Now, this isn’t going to be a diatribe about why your church should spend a million dollars on overhauling all the technology systems. But it might be worth considering that installing a right-sized, properly designed, installed and optimized system might make it easier to get your volunteer numbers up while at the same time making for a significantly better experience for the congregation.
Moreover, good systems will help the worship and pastoral teams with their roles. Leading worship is challenging when you can’t hear the rest of the band. Teaching a 30-40 minute sermon is exhausting if you hear your voice bouncing back at you 3-4 times
I remember doing a demo of a new Sound System for one of my pastors. He was pretty sure that we really didn’t need a new Sound System, and I was just trying to spend more money for more toys. When we played some music and did some demos, he started to get the idea that maybe it was time. But the real clincher was when I brought him up on the stage, had him put his mic on and start talking. After about one sentence, he stopped, looked at me and said, “Wow…I don’t hear the echo anymore. No wonder I’m so exhausted after each weekend!”
Our old Sound System was bouncing sound right back onto the stage and he had to filter that out—subconsciously, of course—for three services. That is exhausting for any speaker. It’s also exhausting for the listener.
Enough about the pastor, this is about volunteers. I’ve met with so many volunteer teams (and even staff teams, for that matter) who are simply discouraged, burnt out and ready to quit. Often, it’s because they feel like they are blamed for the poor results, but they don’t know how to do better. Sometimes it’s a training issue, but often, it’s because the systems are simply terrible and it won’t get better.
Again, I go back to the idea that doing something and failing at it each time is no fun. How long is anyone going to keep coming back when they get their butt kicked every week?
Our experience is that most churches wait way too long to upgrade their systems. They wait until they are beyond the point of failure, and it is a struggle to do church each weekend. Again, no fun for anyone.
This is why I push churches for an “end of life” budget process. Your AVL (Audio, Video, Lighting) equipment is going to wear out and will need to be replaced. Start budgeting for it. It shouldn’t be a surprise that you’ll have to replace your projector in about 7-8 years. Put a little money away each year and that bill is a lot easier to swallow.
Hopefully, you get the point. If you want to have vibrant, thriving volunteer tech teams, make sure they are not fighting the system every weekend. Give them tools to do a good job, and get them the training they need. This makes everyone’s experience orders of magnitude better.
(Originally posted on Church Tech Arts)