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responding to complaints

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I’m pretty sure it only happens at my church, but from time to time someone complains about it being too loud. I’ve written a few posts already about how loud is too loud, which addresses the philosophies around volume at church, but having values around why your volume doesn’t stop some people from thinking it’s too loud.

Recently we adjusted some setting for the low end in our PA in an attempt to solve a few problems, but we ended up creating new low end issues. As a result, we got more than our usual amount of written and verbal complaints about it being too loud.

For us, we have a pretty decent understanding of how loud it should be, and I’m pretty comfortable with the fact that some people will still complain. So how do you handle those complaints? Since there is no way to make everyone happy with the volume, what do you do?

I have a theory that people want to feel heard. So here’s what I typically do when I receive a volume related complaint.

I first reach out via email explaining that I received their email about it being too loud and that since I am responsible for the live production elements at our church, I would love to talk further. I then ask for the best way to reach them, then wait to hear back from them. I try to respond within 24 hours of getting their original email.

This quick response communicates that someone is listening and cares about their opinion. It also puts the ball in their court to respond back. If I hear back from them (which I normally do) we then arrange to talk on the phone or meet in person.

When we finally talk, I ask them a series of fact finding questions:

  • How long have you been coming? How often do you attend?
  • Was this an isolated volume issue or is it something you feel on a regular basis?
  • Where do you normally sit?
  • Do you notice if the volume changes based on worship leader/worship style?

Once we talk through these, I usually walk through the following:

  • The locations in our auditorium that tend to be quieter.
  • That we keep track of our dB levels over time and know scientifically that we aren’t causing permanent damage to people’s hearing.
  • Our philosophy on volume…in a nut shell, we are trying to match the energy in the room and create a great worship experience for the largest number of people.
  • We are constantly evaluating volume and trying to get this balance right.

9 times out of 10 this conversation goes very well and the experience leaves people feeling heard and valued. In the past, we used to send people an email with documentation and an open letter (that you can read here). These are necessary to have on hand, but they don’t address the real issues, which is a member of the congregation feeling like a someone at the church actually cares. The letter alone is too cold and impersonal.

Picking up the phone to a potentially hostile conversation is not my idea of fun. OK, who am I kidding? Picking up the phone at all is one of my least favorite things.

In all the years that I have been making these particular types of phone calls, I have never had a bad experience. At the end of a conversation, I have made a great connection with someone in the congregation that I serve.

Responding to complaints is a necessary part of leadership. Responding to the production related complaints is a tangible way for your to help carry a small part of the leadership burden for your senior pastor.

 

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ordinary people

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Something that I shared with the Willow production team at our Christmas party…

 

This year, I decided to participate in an advent experience. It is nothing more than reading everyday from John Piper’s Good News of Great Joy (BTW, its free). While reading through this, it struck me that it is probably the first time I’ve done something advent-y since I was a kid and we lit a candle on a horizontal wreath each Sunday during December.

So far, it has been a good thing to help me wrap my mind around what Christmas is actually is about.

On the 4th of month, the reading talked about how God orchestrated the prophecy of Christ being born in Bethlehem, using Caesar Augustus to have this idea of a census to get Mary and Joseph away from Nazareth. I love this picture of God moving the chess-like pieces around to create the perfect situation for His son to enter the world.

The funny part, is that once they get to Bethlehem, God has forgotten to provide them a place to sleep? After all the work of moving governments around, God the Father simply forgets to make a reservation?

It turns out that what I would have done, or what might make the most sense to our human minds, was exactly what God decided not to do..be born into Caesar Augustus’ family and then just take over. To change the world through strength. He could have, but didn’t.

Instead God chose to use Mary and Joseph, her sister Elizabeth, a bunch of shepherds…basically normal people. Ordinary. Flaws and all. He chose an unlikely place for Jesus to be born…one that people could say “Only God” about.

God wanted to make it very obvious that

1. He could orchestrate things however He wanted.

2. He was intimately involved.

3. He wanted to use the ordinary to redeem the world.

As I look around the technical arts community, I see God’s plan continuing today. No offense, but we are a pretty ordinary bunch. If we were to dive into all of our stories, we would find a similar theme to Mary and Joseph’s situation: God’s orchestrating hand; that He is intimately involved with each aspect of our story and that he has been using us to help redeem the world.

If I were to orchestrate the perfect plan to help save the world, I still think I would imagine it totally different from how God has designed it. He has decided to use us…OK, I guess.

However, if God’s plan is to use ordinary people, I can’t imagine a better group of ordinary people that I’d rather be associated with. He has used our uniqueness and our specific make up to reach out to the world. He has used us as technical artists to help get His message out. I love that there is a place for each of us to contribute to His plan.

We’ve all been a part of many unique experiences this year, all of which God has used and is using to help God’s people in all our churches become more Christ-like.

Thanks for your willingness to let God use your ordinariness to redeem the world.

 

 

AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by Tiziano Caviglia

don’t be a Christmas wuss

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Here it comes. Christmas production time.

I was going through the calendar and marking off all the nights that I am going to be at rehearsal this month. Needless to say, it was a sobering exercise.

For those of us in the technical arts of the local church, this is our busy season. Preparing a service for the largest numbers of guests that we will see all year. We want it to be flawless (not perfect, see last post) and we want people to have an experience with God, maybe for the first time. There can be lots of pressure riding on this one service.

I don’t know about you, but as December lengthens, I get more and more exhausted. I have less and less patience and more and more anxiety. As the late nights start piling up, it an be really easy to justify sleeping in and having my wife take care of everything at home. After all, I’m killing it at work so that people’s eternities can be different. I deserve a little extra sleep, right?

After a few years living my Decembers this way, I decided that I was being a wuss. Sure, maybe I am working hard, but my wife has essentially become a single parent for the month. Talk about difficult.

I would encourage all of you with families to suck it up.

Andy Stanley talks a lot about the idea of cheating your workplace, not your family, in his book When Work and Family Collide. While what we do for our Christmas services is critical, it shouldn’t come at the expense of our families.

2 things:

1.  Cast vision to you family for why you are gone so much. Help them understand what your church is trying to accomplish and how your whole family can help sacrifice for the sake of the gospel to be shared.

2.  Help get your kids ready for school. Engage in normal activities with your family when you can. Build a snowman. Make time for meaningful conversation with your spouse. Go out of your way to be “On” at strategic times.

Christmas is tough for the technical artist. No argument there.

Rise above how you feel and invest in your family this season.

 

 

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is perfection the goal?

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One of the values we have on the Willow Production team is to create a distraction free environment. We are trying to be transparent, so that people in the congregation doesn’t notice the production, and can therefore focus on God.

Does this mean that perfection is the goal? Maybe it is splitting hairs, but I’m a huge opponent to the idea of perfection, but I have no problem with the idea of striving for transparency.

Perfection as goal is like saying mistakes are not tolerated. For me, this removes the option healthy risk-taking, which is critical to stretching ourselves and trying new things. If we aren’t taking risks, we aren’t figuring out more efficient ways of doing things. If we aren’t taking risks, we are potentially making choices based on old information from years ago.

If there is no room for making mistakes, eventually things will die. In his book “Leading Change”, John Kotter says that in order to keep a white fence white, it needs to be painted continually. If we are just leaving it alone, it will eventually deteriorate.  Perfection as the goal cannot be sustained. Change has to happen, which opens things up to potential mistakes.

If striving for perfection is the highest goal, your team will be set up to fail. As time goes on with mistakes not happening, the pressure mounts for when the next mistake might happen. This leads people to performing their task out of fear of failure. I don’t know many people (none) who do their best work when they are afraid to mess up.

As a technical artist, I work really hard to clear the way for people to experience our church services without distraction. For me, this drive is based in wanting to do my very best. From the outside, my best might seem like I am striving for perfection. To me, I am doing everything in my power to make sure that I’ve checked everything, and that I have systems in place to cover known potential issues. I am not interested in making stupid mistakes over and over again.

I also know, that doing the best with what I have only goes so far. It can’t cover ever potential thing that might happen. Even with an unlimited budget or the best experts in the field, I can’t account for every eventuality.

I was at a church service recently where all the front light stopped working. In spite of this obvious distraction, the church service was amazing, and I believe that God moved. There was lots of tension in the front row about what was going to be done about it, but after things were fixed before the next service, there was tons of grace for the team…then a conversation about how do we make sure this doesn’t happen again.

How you respond to mistakes says a lot about your perspective on perfection. It is difficult to hold tightly to things being perfect and also realizing that mistakes happen and having grace in those moments.

The goal shouldn’t be perfect for the sake of perfection. The goal should be doing our very best to create an environment where people can experience God.

And sometimes our very best falls short, and God can still work.

 

 

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the defining characteristic of church production

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At many churches today, the level of production value rivals many other live shows. The bar has been raised over the years to the point where the types of equipment and the people operating them can play in just about any arena.

If our gear is the same, and the quality of people’s ability is the same, is there really a difference between doing production outside the church and doing it for the church? Are we just facilitating a “show” at church or is there something deeper?

For the sake of this particular post, I’d like to quote Jesus from the book of John to explain the difference people should notice between a production team with a Christ-centered approach and one that isn’t:

“Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.”

I don’t know about you, but this verse doesn’t jump out as the first verse I think of to describe any production ministry at a church. Production as a people group, are not well known for this idea of love. We are however known for cynicism, passive-aggresive behavior, and the infamous one syllable answer “no”.

What would our teams look like if this verse were more the norm? What if the production team at your church set the pace for loving one another?

How do we get from where we are to this lofty idea of loving each other?

It can be as “simple” as treating each other with respect. To go out of your way to serve the needs of the people on stage. To respond in every situation with grace. To assume the best of others first.

Loving one another is not easy. It is much easier to just tolerate people. This can lead to bitterness and can breakdown relationships. Technical artists and creative artists working together can be challenging enough without the added layer of barely tolerating each other.

We both need each other. We have a chance to change the world through using our gifts in combination…together. Our impact can be exponential if we can figure out how to love one another.

What would your church look like if the production team were known for the love they showed to each other and to the people they came into contact with?

 

 

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don’t say someone’s “no” for them, part 3

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Given the title, it shouldn’t be a shock that there is a part 1 and a part 2 to this. In part 3, we’ll look at a more subtle way that I can say someone’s “no” for them.

When a pastor asks me for something that seems undoable, my knee jerk reaction is to NOT tell them how difficult something might be, I just do it. And as a result, I’m saying “no” for them.

For me, I feel responsible to make stuff happen, so I don’t say no.

When someone had a crazy idea that I wouldn’t know how to do with our current resources, I would spend the only capital I had: my time. I would kill myself make an idea happen, without ever talking to the idea person about the costs involved. I used to make an assumption that the person asking knew what it would take and they were asking for it anyway.

By not having a conversation about the cost of an idea, I was wasn’t giving them an opportunity to say “no”. I generally assumed the answer would be “yes”, so I didn’t bother asking.

Then one day, I had an idea of my own.

When my boss would have some crazy idea, I would try to imagine how I could get him to say “no” to his own idea. At first look, this might seem like I was pulling one over on him. In reality what happened, is that I learned how to present several options and let him choose.

Instead of being deceitful, I ended up learning the valuable lesson of providing solutions to the challenges instead of just killing myself to pull of the idea and then becoming resentful and bitter.

Sometimes my boss would say “Yes. We are going to do it.”, but more often he would pick one of the more doable options.  Over time, I noticed that he would choose doable over “no” pretty much every time.  I also noticed that when he said we needed to move ahead with something that seemed undoable, I knew he wasn’t taking it lightly.

This pattern helped us develop trust over time. We started to see each other’s point of view as essential to make things happen. Instead of feeling like we were always on the opposite side of a problem, we acknowledged that we were coming at from different vantage points, and we celebrated it. We needed each other.

When we say someone’s “no” for them, we short circuit the opportunity to get to true collaboration.

don’t say someone’s “no” for them, part 2

It's a No!

Yet another post about saying “no” for other people. (check out part 1 here)

This one is one is based on a stereotype of tech people everywhere: We always say “no”.

Usually we say it with attitude. Many times we don’t even hesitate; it just comes right out of us.

“Hey I have this idea to..” “NO!”

We don’t even wait for the punch line.

I think this comes from being overwhelmed by the task we already have in front of us, and from a general misunderstanding of what we actually do by the people with the ideas.

I think the reasons that we jump to “no” so quickly only perpetuate being overwhelmed and misunderstood.

With our production team that works the weekend service, we have been doing a lot of work on becoming one team with our creative team counterparts.

When we say “no” so fast, it doesn’t allow the creative team into our world. They will never understand what is going on under the surface if we never open up the conversation about why we are overwhelmed.

Contrary to what I used to think, people with awesome creative ideas tend to not to fully understand what it will take to pull it off…that’s what we are there for. I think this is the way God designed us to work together. But it only functions properly if we open the door to what is really involved.

Opening yourself up requires, well, opening yourself up. To either acceptance or rejection. Either becoming more like one team or becoming more separated.

Working production in the local church requires some relational risk taking. Without opening yourself up to the possibility, you are shutting down the very thing that will help your creative and technical arts work the way God designed it.

Take a chance. Don’t say “no” immediately. Talk about what is really going on. You might be surprised by the response.

 

 

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photo by: smlp.co.uk

don’t say someone’s “no” for them, part 1

Bill Hybels wrote a book called Axiom. It is a collection of leadership values that he uses to help make decisions. From a leadership standpoint, I have found it to be invaluable. I say it is a must read. He does a great job of distilling leadership principles into easy to remember phrases.

Say No to Yes

Don’t say someone’s “no” for them, is one that I need to remind myself of often.

There are a few different ways that I say people’s “no” for them and I’ll reflect on some of them over the next few posts.

the big ask

When I am looking for volunteers to help with an event, I tend to not ask, assuming they will say “no”. I’m saying “no” for them.

Whether it is because I don’t think an event is worth someone’s time or it’s too much work or it is something I personally wouldn’t volunteer for, I make choices for other people all the time.

We are getting ready for an event in a couple weeks that I assume nobody would be interested in volunteering for…so I didn’t ask. After getting to a point of desperately needing people, I realized what I was doing.

On one hand, I was saying “no” for everyone by not asking. On the other hand, I was depriving them of an opportunity to use their gifts. Gifts that God has given them to serve the local church.

By not asking, I’m making assumptions about people and I’m not giving people to choose.

Is it because I don’t have a vision for how God wants to use people for His purposes in the local church?

Maybe it’s because I don’t like rejection. If I never ask, then nobody can say “no” to me.

The Body of Christ was designed for us all to play a part; to participate. By not asking, and saying “no” for someone else, I am stopping God’s plan for His church from happening.

I need to ask, and let people decide for themselves.

I need to ask, to give people a chance to participate in what God is doing at our church.

I need to ask.

 

 

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photo by: teresatrimm

make the right behavior easier

I really enjoyed the book “Influencers” by Joseph Grenny, who was a speaker at this past year’s Leadership Summit at Willow Creek.  Here’s another great quote from the book:

Make the right behavior easier and the wrong behavior more difficult

When I think about what separates great production from bad, much of it can be solved by following this great advice.

When I was doing set up in a rented high school theater we had a difficult time getting rehearsal started on time. After years of frustration, I started keeping track of how much we could actually accomplish in the time we had available. Not surprisingly, we were trying to cram too much stuff into the short amount of time we had, with the people at our disposal.

What we ended up doing was figuring out what a “normal” set up looked like, so that we would know if we needed more people or more time to get it done for rehearsal to start on time.  We made starting rehearsal easier by figuring out how to get there.

For years, when we would play a video in our services, the background music would overpower the people speaking.  So now we split the talking from all the other audio, so that in the moment we can adjust in the moment.  We also check the videos on Friday to make sure they look and sound good, so that we aren’t scrambling around on Saturday afternoon to fix a problem.

I recently helped at a fundraising event. There were lots of wireless mics involved, which are typically unreliable at this venue. While I suggested we shouldn’t use them, the organizers of the event overruled me. Guess what, 3 out of 4 mics failed during the event. With every speaker standing behind a podium, we could have eliminated 95% of the risk by using a wired mic.

Now that I’m reading back through this post, it is less about right and wrong behavior and more about reducing error by eliminating points of failure; building systems to minimize “wrong behavior”.

In your world of production, how can you develop ways for your team to have good outcomes and avoid bad outcomes?

 

 

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Isaiah’s words to technical artists

“Build up, build up, prepare the road!
    Remove the obstacles out of the way of my people.” – Isaiah 57:14
I love this verse.
Even though it was written thousands of years ago, it feels like a rallying cry for technical artists in the local church.
It is why we are the first ones in the building each weekend, and the last to leave.
This past saturday, I bumped into one of the founders of our church. He was as surprised to see me as I was to see him. He asked me why the production team was there so early. I told him that’s what it takes to make our services distraction free.
He thanked me and the team, and went on his way.
We were practicing Isaiah’s words.
Being in a dark auditorium before anybody else is there can be lonely. But it is what it means to live out “removing the obstacles.”  Staying long after everyone has gone home is another version of this.  We are just setting ourselves up for the next opportunity to “Prepare the road.”
What you do matters, and it is way bigger than you being the one dumb enough take the crap job.
Building up the stage; building up the graphics; building the lighting plot; is all apart of creating an environment for people to have an encounter with God.
When you are wondering why you are the only person left after a rehearsal, remember Isaiah’s words:

 

“Build up.  Remove the obstacles.”

 

photo by: Moyan_Brenn
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