hold (almost) nothing back

Value #6 of 37signals reads like this:

No hidden fees or secret prices – We believe everyone is entitled to the best price we can offer. Our prices are public, published right on our site, and the same no matter who you are.


(This has nothing to do with the post. I just liked the picture.)

There is a lot here that I really love and that applies to our role as technical artists in the church.  Even though we don’t have fees or pricing structures, there are a few great lessons for us to learn about how to provide great production support for our churches.

The best we can offer.

Your team, your congregation, your leadership, is entitled to the best you can offer.  Many times that feels like more than we have to give.  But that is what I love about the wording of this.  It doesn’t say the best we can’t really offer.  It doesn’t say that we need to kill ourselves in the process.  The question is:  what is the best you can do?  Then do that.

For 37signals, they are a business, so they aren’t going to give you such a great price that they lose money and then go out of business.  They are giving you the best they can offer, which includes enough for them to keep the doors open.

Many times, as technical artists in the church, it is easy to get caught up into doing more than we really can.  To pull a bunch of all-nighters.  To put too much effort into something that won’t yield a high enough return.  To over-extend ourselves and violate our boundaries in an effort to give our “best”.

Not that there aren’t times to pull all-nighters, but a steady diet of that will eventually push you into not giving your best.  You can hardly function, let alone give your best.  Killing it all the time is a very short sighted way to look at providing production support to your church, since over time, killing it will eventually kill you.

It takes vast amounts of discipline to figure out what “the best you can offer” looks like.  Get disciplined.

Public.  Published.  The same.

Production is a mystery to most non-technical people.  Some of this is natural.  Some of it we create.  It is easy for us to hold our cards close to our chest and not reveal too much about what we do.  If people knew, they would ask for more.  If people knew, then I would have to provide it to everyone.  If people knew, I’d have to work all night to pull it off.

Unfortunately, tech people are known for being secretive about what can and can’t be done.  I used to be vague, out of a sense of fear.  What will they ask me to do if they knew?  How much work will this translate into?  I already have enough going on.

This kind of posture lends itself to mistrust, and that is no way for us to function optimally on our teams.

What this translates to, also requires lots of discipline.  To be open and honest.  To treat every situation with the same intentionality but not necessarily the same results.  Andy Stanley has a great principle called “One, not everyone.”  The idea is to do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.  For me, in production, this means that each situation is different and that one rule can’t apply to everyone.  If I only did what I could do for everyone, nothing would happen at my church.

So, to treat every situation intentionally, but with potentially different outcomes is a tough spot to be in.  However, this is what it means to become a mature adult and a vital team member, and it is a muscle that needs to be exercised.

We need to let go of the fear of what might be asked of us, and become intentionally public, published and the same; knowing that every situation is different and will require me to engage with each one individually.

Relax about what might happen.  Learn to be disciplined with an intentional response.


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happy (belated) birthday, mozart

I’m not sure what this even has to do with production in the local church, but I was so moved this morning listening to one of my favorite musically pieces by Mozart, the 3rd movement of his “Gran Partita” Serenade, that I felt like there was something to write about.

4257344949_4b17593e90_oI am a fairly even-keeled person.  I don’t get very emotional one way or another.  That said, listening to Mozart can fill me like nothing else can.  I don’t cry at movies, but watching the movie “Amadeus” gets me…at the same spot every time.  I have the movie memorized, so I know it is coming, and it still hits me like I’ve never seen it before.  When I visited Mozart’s birthplace I was overwhelmed by the reality that the violin I was looking at, helped to create some of the music I love the most.

This all leads me to 2 very different thoughts.

What inspires you?

If it isn’t obvious yet, I am inspired by Mozart’s music.  It feeds my soul like very few other things can.  I am listening to it right now, in fact.  I love having it on in the background most of the time, and the way that every so often I get caught up in a perfect melody, just for a few seconds.  It is enough to help re-energize me for another stretch of work.  Without this in my life, I am not sure how I would keep going each day. mozart

What inspires you?  What do you have in your life that helps to lift you out of the every day and help you to see beauty?  It doesn’t have to be music, it could be going for a run, or joining a sports team, or serving at the local food pantry.

This looks different for all of us, but it is equally essential for all of us.

We facilitate inspiration

As technical artists in the local church, much of our job is to help facilitate art that is happening on our stages; to help it inspire people.  Our congregation isn’t inspired by the great mic’ing you’ve done on the kick drum, or the artistic camera shot during the instrumental breaks, or the lighting effect during the bridge of that one song.  All of this is important and eventually adds up to helping to create environments where people can be inspired.  Where their hearts can be deeply moved. (I stole much of this language from Troy Bartholomew, the soon to be TD of our weekend services.)

When I am being moved by Mozart’s music, I am not caught up in the technology of it, all that is transparent.  Everything is out of the way, allowing me to get straight to the beauty of the music.

In the same way, the technology that we use should be transparent enough that our congregations can get immediately to whatever will potentially move them.

Isaiah 57:14 is a verse our production team has talked about many times.  It says:

“Build up, build up, prepare the way,

remove every obstruction from my people’s way.”

Let’s remove the obstacles so that people in our churches can be moved and inspired.



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the basics are beautiful

A clean stage.  No feedback.  Production team waiting for rehearsal to start, not running around.  Cameras pointed at the right thing at the right time.  Lights pointed to the right spot.  Graphics up at the moment we need them, gone the moment we don’t.

2890768129_8491539a94_zAh…the basics.

They are beautiful.

So often, in the world of church production, it is easy to loose sight of the basics; the fundamentals.  There is always some bright shiny object that is distracting us from nailing the basics.  Just like the wide receiver who is so concerned with running for the end zone after the catch, that he drops the ball; it is easy to take our eyes off of what really matters.  In an attempt to do something spectacular, we kill the moment.

This is the 5th post based on 37signals values.  The basics are beautiful:

We’ll never overlook what really matters: The basics. Great service, ease of use, honest pricing, and respect for our customer’s time, money, and trust.

I was having a conversation with someone today and I was thanking them for the way they drive their team on the basics.  He never lets the team forget the small things that matter.  He felt like he was always nagging his volunteers to do the little things right, but I told him that I could tell a difference when he let up on the importance of the foundational parts of production.

I notice the difference in two ways:

Holding your team to the basics makes them better. 

In this conversation I was having, I admired that any time I felt like headroom on a video shot was getting too close, he would switch to a different camera and remind the operator of the importance of headroom before coming back to them.  This gentle reminder helps the camera operator, and it creates a better experience for our congregation.

The new people need to know what the basics are.  They need to understand the fundamentals of how you do production at your local church.  For many volunteers, they are only serving every few weeks, and it is easy to forget what matters.  They need to be reminded.  As the one who is there every week, it can get tiring to tell people ALL THE TIME what matters.  I always feel like a 3rd grade teacher:

“OK class.  Who can tell me what headroom is?” 

It feels weird to remind people all time, but it makes them better.  It makes your team better.  It produces great results.

In my example, our video team is proud of the work they do.  A lot has to do with the talented volunteers.  It also has a ton to do with how they are led and that they are being constantly reminded of the basics of video.

Holding your team to the basics keeps the best performers coming back.

For the people on your team that are killers, the basics matter.  They are busting their butt to nail the basics and they expect everyone else on the team to care as much about foundational excellence as they do.  Often times, they can be disappointed because the leader won’t hold the rest of the team to the same standards.

This is a fast way to lose the commitment of your best volunteers.  If nobody else is being called to the higher standard, why should they hold themselves to it?  That can get demoralizing after awhile, and many people won’t stick around for you to wake up to the reality that holding everyone to the basics matters.

Before they leave, start expecting great things from your whole team.  Start reminding them often of the basics and why they matter.

By paying attention to the basics and holding everyone to the standard, you make your whole team better, which then serves your church the best.


For an example of how holding your team to a high standard can pay off, watch this clip of our volunteer crew in action.

Delirious? – Live at Willow Creek

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the congregation are your investors

[part 4 of a series of blog posts about the values of the company 37signals]

This isn’t exactly how the value reads on 37signals website, simply replace the word “congregation” with “customer” and there’s your difference.  Here’s more of the meat behind this value:

Our customers fund our daily operations by paying for our products. We answer to them — not investors, the stock market, or a board of directors.

6072432043_18db7ea620_zThe second sentence doesn’t necessarily apply to our situation as technical artists, but that first sentence really hit me.  This is a very humbling thought.  In some ways the difference between the word “customers” and “congregation” is similar, and in some ways the difference is vast.

To highlight the differences between a business setting and the church, I looked this definition up on Wikipedia:

A customer is the recipient of a good, service, product, or idea, obtained from a seller, vendor, or supplier for a monetary or other valuable consideration.

In our situation, the congregation is giving money, not for any kind of good, service, product or idea.  Our people are giving money out of obedience to God’s word.  They are giving their resources for the work of God to be carried out by our churches. 

Aside from the obedience side of this, people are giving to our particular churches  out of a sense of trust in the leadership.  They are trusting that the money will be be spent wisely; that the money will help advance the kingdom of God on this earth through the ministry of your/my church. 

In my role as Technical Arts Director, I am responsible for a large ministry that requires lots of resources to keep it running.  Am I spending those resources in the best way possible?  Would I be willing to stand in front of the congregation and give an account for the ways I have spent the money that they have entrusted to me?

Trust is a very difficult thing to earn, but it is extremely easy to lose.  When we are thinking about a new purchase, are we weighing it against this idea of trust?  If the congregation has placed their trust in the church’s leadership, are you helping build that trust by the purchases you are making or are you violating that trust by excessive spending?  Does that new piece of gear/new hire help advance the kingdom, or would it just be nice to have? 

While their tithes help pay for new gear, fixing old gear, and your salary; whether people give their resources or not, is an issue between them and God.  How you spend that money is an issue between you and God…and the congregation. 

Our congregations fund our daily operations.  Are we worthy of that trust?


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clarity is king

We’re back to it.  That darn 37signals.com is just cranking out the value hits.  “Clarity is king” is up next:

Buzzwords, lingo, and sensationalized sales-and-marketing-speak have no place at 37signals. We communicate clearly and honestly.

6586348115_044d77f14aI love this.  I also have a really hard time with clarity.  I want clarity from the people I work with, and I am horrible at providing clarity.

This past week, we were working on some pretty big projects.  I felt like it was really clear about what he expectations were and what we were hoping to accomplish and in what order.  I even wrote an email letting everyone know what to plan for.

Well, things went amazingly well.  We got tons accomplished.  Unfortunately, there were some misunderstandings which caused some funkiness among the team and with me as the leader.  In the moment, I was pretty frustrated, but instead of going right to the people involved, I started analyzing what my part might have been in the way I was feeling.

You guessed it, bad communication, unclear expectations, basically lack of clarity.

After having some follow up conversations to talk about expectations, and owning up to me not being very clear, here’s what I learned:

No one ever dies from over communication

I make the assumption every day that people are thinking the same thing as me.  They probably aren’t.

My aversion to being redundant or stating the obvious will never outweigh the benefits of the clarity that results from being redundant or stating the obvious.

The clarity that you want from your boss is the same kind of clarity your people want from their boss…you.

Being clear helps to ensure great process, which is a cornerstone of a great production.


As members of a team, we all want clarity.  As  a leader of a team, it is your job to provide clarity.

I can hear my pastor say “Now, just to be clear…who’s job is it to bring clarity?”



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great service is everything

I’m still living in the values for doing business expressed by the company 37signals.  They are just that good.  Here is value #2:

We’re famous for fast and friendly customer service. We work hard to make sure we live up to that reputation every day.

4630159950_025b358114_zNow, I have never done any business with 37signals to verify whether they are known for fast and friendly service, but let’s say they are actually fast and friendly.  The fact they they work hard every day to live up to that reputation, probably means they are nailing it.

Production in the local church, is a service of sorts.  If you talk to me long enough, or read my previous blog posts, you know that I think production can be and should be more than just that, but at its foundation, we are supporting the ideas and needs of others.

And while we are supporting the needs and ideas of others, are we fast and friendly?

I was talking to an old friend the other day about being treated rudely by someone in a customer service role.  Unfortunately, the person was responding to my friend after many other potentially frustrating challenges.  The challenge of customer services is to be able to treat each new person with respect and helpfulness; they need to be reacting as if yours is the only problem they need to solve.  Typically they respond like they have had frustration built up over a day’s worth of idiotic complaints or ridiculously simple solutions.

This reminds me of me, at an earlier age; holding onto each negative interaction, or each last minute request until I explode on some unsuspecting requestor.  Instead of reminding myself each day, that I needed to respond with fast and friendly service, I lived up to the opposite:  slow and hostile.

Unfortunately, most tech people are known for this kind of service:  never exactly what you need and with an attitude.  It’s not that we work hard at this every day, it is just what happens when we aren’t intentional about how to respond.  When we can spend all our time putting out fires, it can be easy to lose sight of how we put those fires out; or even which fires are more important than others.

Is your team known for responding positively and with action to each new request? 

How can you work hard every day to be the kind of production ministry you want to be known for and your church needs?

useful is forever

I enjoy the magazine Fast Company.  They do a great job of highlighting innovations in all different kinds of industries, and I usually find something useful to my own situation.

ad-categorylanding2Earlier this month, there was an article about the CEO of 37Signals that drew me in.  As it turned out, the interview was good, but what was even better was that it led me to 37signals website.  I didn’t know it, but I was familiar with the company, as the one who make the program “Base Camp”, among other useful collaborative online tools.

The most intriguing part of their website to me, was their list of 8 defining values.  They were all to the point, and I felt like they could apply to the things that I am a part of at my church in the technical arts.  The first value looks like this:

Useful is forever – Bells and whistles wear off, but usefulness never does.  We build useful software that does just what you need and nothing you don’t.

With technology changing so fast, and with tons of new and exciting possibilities for how to do production, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that at the baseline, the gear we buy and the support we offer to our churches has to be useful.  It must be just what our church needs and nothing it doesn’t need.

New moving lights, a switcher with more capacity, an audio console with more buttons, everything chasing timecode, using Pro Tools for live tracks, wireless everything.  None of these things are right or wrong, but they tend to pull us off of what is truly useful.

At Willow Creek, there is a high value placed on innovation and trying new things and as a result, it can be very tempting to abandon useful in the quest for being cutting edge.  Heck, not even temping, we end up letting go of useful simply because we forget about it.

Useful is boring and hopefully something that we do without thinking.  And if it can be done without thinking, it is easy to forget. 

Don’t let go of something useful for the sake of what is, at the end of the day, a bell or a whistle.