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 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.

i played my best for him…

At Christmas time, more than for any other production I am a part of, I am reminded how it takes people of all types, talents and abilities to pull off what we do.

IMG_0024On one side, you have the content, without which we wouldn’t have anything to apply our technical art to.  Having a great set, amazing lighting, the perfect mix and the just right camera shot would be pointless without worthy content.  And at Christmas there is no better subject matter than God coming down to earth.

On the production side, the team I am a part of nailed it this year, all of us stretching slightly beyond what we think is possible for the sake of a larger vision.  The other part I love is that everyone worked out of their strengths and passions.  At the end of it all, combining each piece together helped to create moments for God to move in people’s lives.  Each person’s contribution is essential, but none of it works with out all of them working together.

As you finish out this year’s Christmas run, encourage those around you.  Thank them for their gifts. 

  • Make sure your fellow production people know that someone noticed.
  • Thank your pastor for the time they put in to craft the exact right message…don’t forget, they feel the pressure of this being the highest attended service of the year.
  • Tell your content creators that you appreciate all the care and rehearsal they put into each element…that stuff doesn’t just magically make itself up.

When it is all said and done, I hope that you feel like the energy you expended this Christmas was worth it.  Similar to the shepherds in Luke 2:

17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

There will be many people that really hear about Christ for the first time this year, and your contribution will be a part of their story from now on.  Way to go!


staying christ-like in christmas

Most of us are in full tilt mode about Christmas.  Either you started set construction weeks ago or you are just loading in rental lighting for your living Christmas tree program.  Regardless of the size of your Christmas service, it’s crunch time in the world of church technical arts.

318697278_045f093c4c_zLate nights, last minute changes, sleep depravation.  And all the while normal life is still happening:  my kid’s Christmas concerts, weekend services, budget planning.  Can you feel the tension building?

From a technical standpoint, it is fairly simple to start blaming the people who are coming up with the creative ideas, that they don’t understand what they are asking or that they don’t care about what you need.  It is equally simple for content creators to feel like technical artists aren’t willing to work hard enough on their ideas.

Here are a couple things to cling to as we enter into the home stretch of Christmas:

We are all focused on the same goal

We all want to create a service that draws people closer to Christ, that helps people connect with God in a new way, that creates an environment where attendees can hear and experience God’s word.  If we all didn’t want this, we’d figure out something to spend our time doing.  That said, we tend to come at this goal from very different angles.  This is good and necessary.

How can I see that new request or late change in light of this truth?  How does it change my response?

Extend grace

Because the content creators and the technical artists are focused on the same goal from very different perspectives, there is a high likelihood that we don’t really understand what the other side is dealing with.  How many late nights has the script writer put in?  How many more times will I have to re-render this clip?  Is there enough time to finish off the set before the first service?

When the heat is on, it is easy to only focus on my urgent issues and disregard what others are dealing with.  Whatever role you play, for it all to work, you have to care deeply about your own concerns.  However, this shouldn’t exclude having empathy and grace for those around you.

How can I fight for what I need and at the same time extend love and grace to the team members around me?

I was having a conversation with a fellow technical artist last night and we were wondering where the line is between fighting for what you need  and giving someone more time to work something out.  Are we making the service better or are we just being stupid?

Until an event is over, I don’t think you can know if you’ve crossed the line into stupid. 

In the meantime, I’m going to try and remember that we all focused on the same goal from different perspectives and that I need to extend grace whenever I can.


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can’t have one without the other

In the last post, I talked about the two kids who fought over an orange and eventually figured out that one wanted the peel and the other wanted the fruit inside.  In a similar way creatives and technical artists want two different parts of the same whole: a great process or an amazing end result.

104314187_c3aecdd45b_zWe both want the service to be amazing and moving, yet we both have a very different focus for how to get there.  So how do we go after this ideal from our different vantage points?  Here are some ideas:

Technical Artists:  Explain what you need

For you technical artists out there, in order for the process to get better, you need to be talking with your creative counterparts about what you need.  And not just a list of demands, but a conversation about why certain deadlines matter or helping people understand why the budget is bigger than expected.

If your process isn’t the best now, is there something you could do to help make it better?

Creatives:  Work hard at giving your team what they need.

Most technical people I know aren’t just making up deadlines and budget numbers out of thin air, they actually mean something.  If you are someone who is creating services, work hard at understanding what a process could look like for your production team, then work really hard to provide them with what they need.

If the technical artists on your team feel like you are doing your best to make the process the best it can be, this will reap huge dividends in teamwork and relational equity.  You’ll suddenly have a group of technical artists who are excited about helping your ideas become reality, which unfortunately isn’t a common experience.

Creatives:  Explain what you need

For the process to be good, the production needs to have a great understanding of what you are thinking.  More important than this, is a willingness to enter into dialogue about what’s possible and what isn’t, without feeling like your idea is being attacked.  For technical artists to help make your idea a reality, we need to hear your ideas and your passion for your ideas, in conversational form rather than just a one way flow of information.

If you can help technical artists get a vision for your heart and intent, you will open yourself up to being amazed at what an engaged production team can do to make an element or event far more than you originally imagined.

Technical Artists:  Work hard at giving your team what they need.

As more work is being done of the process side of the equation, it is important to acknowledge all that work the creative side is doing, by rolling when the changes come.  With the creative team working hard to give you what you need on the front end, now it is time to give them what they need, which is a willingness to make whatever changes are possible to make the service the best it can be.


The orange is made up of the peel and the fruit.  You can’t have one without the other.  A service is made up of creative content and the technical arts, and in most of our churches, you can’t have one without the other.

As we get closer to understanding the needs of each other, our services will only get more and more effective…and we’ll enjoy working together.


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how great services are like an orange

There are two sides to any large event.  There is the event itself and then there is how we get to the event.  For many production minded people, the process of getting to the event matters more than the event itself.  Without great process, chances are high that excellence in  production will have to be sacrificed.

76057601_e6b2c1799e_zFrom a non-production stand point, maybe we could call it the creative stand point, once we see the idea, if it isn’t good we need to change it.  At the end of the day, if something isn’t working, who cares if the process was amazing.  So what often times happens is the process is the first thing thrown out the window in the light of making something that is actually worth making.

As a leader, I am always trying to balance out the needs of production…process, with the needs of the service or event.  I tend to lean on the side of doing what is necessary in the moment to make the service happen.  However, I have noticed that when we have really tried hard to make the process work, then change plans, I am much more ready to do whatever is required.  If the process has been bad, I am usually worn out from all the changes I have already had to make and I tend to be less willing to do whatever is necessary and still have a good attitude.

Unfortunately, the natural wedge that exists between creatives and technical artists is made wider by bad process.

To a creative, process feels like shackles that hinder creativity, while process is the life blood of the technical artist.

For a creative, being able to adjust in the moment feels like a non-negotiable, while the tech artist wants to know everything that is going to happen so they can prepare.

Like the two kids who fought over an orange and eventually figured out that one wanted the peel and the other wanted the fruit inside, creatives and technical artists want two different parts of the same whole.

How can we work on giving the other what they need, so that we can have the outcome we all want, which is to partner together to help create life changing moments for people?



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excellence = the worst parking spot

Excellence is such an interesting word.  In my last post, I talked about being the best versus being your best.  I also talked about “secular” excellence being self focused, while “sacred”  is other focused.  I have been thinking about being other focused, and I think there is a few more points to be made here.

2898492137_f290d8ee41_zI was talking to Kristin Twilla, the production director at Kensington Community Church and a life long friend, about a tradition we used to have at Kensington, which was to park as far away from the building as possible, opening up parking spaces for visitors, or single mothers.  At a certain point, it even got the place where we were parking at the doctor’s office across the street, in order to free up more spaces.  In our conversation, she told me that they still do it.  I am amazed, and proud to have been a part of something filled with that much vision.

This is a different kind of excellence.  One that is fully focused on those we are doing this thing for.  Many of us look for the closest parking spot, simply because we are the first ones there and can easily justify deserving it.

Don’t get me wrong, just because you park the furthest away doesn’t make you an amazing technical artist.  It does make you a person who is exercising the fruits of the spirit, and in my opinion is  the type of thing that is fundamental to becoming a more fully formed Christ-follower.  I believe that who we are determines how we go about the task of production.  How I define excellence starts with my point of view and how I conduct myself each day.

In some ways, practicing “secular” production is easy.  Do the best, move on to the next production.  “Sacred” adds a more difficult layer to the equation.  Not only do you have to be really good at what you do, you have to be humble while you are at it.  You have to be looking out for the interests of others.  You have to put other’s needs above your own.  You have to concern yourself with the whole and not just your area.  You have to become like a servant.

As Christ followers and technical artists in the local church, let’s rise above just being the best at production and let’s do all that while we serve others.

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