In the first half of our two-part Tech Talks mini-series on using AV to make an impact in houses of worship, we looked at the best ways to maximize the technology you already have and the technology budget available. While that post focused on the AV gear, the biggest way to make an impact with technology is with the people that are using it.
In today’s post, we’re speaking again with Daryl Sutton, Senior Manager, Business Development and Chris Pyron, Business Development Manager from the HARMAN Professional Solutions House of Worship team. This time, we’re turning our attention to the human element, which, for churches, often means volunteers.
[SKD]: Last time we spoke, we talked about how churches can maximize the impact of their dollars by getting the right equipment and better understanding their gear. However, the other side of that whole issue is having the right people managing the technology. How can churches address the staffing issue in a manner that is cost effective but also involves people with the right skills and heart that they want serving at their church?
[DS]: Every church that we work with has a volunteer staff of some sort. Even at larger churches, 25% – 40% of the staff is full time, with the remaining balance being volunteers. To create the experience these churches are trying to achieve, they need headcount, and they don’t usually have the budget for that. So, they hire the key department heads (lighting designer, audio engineer etc.) and then create space for volunteers that have the heart to serve their church in the technical realm. Some churches will do some contract labor for special events, but for the most part, the vast majority of church technical staff are “weekend warriors”—people who are lawyers or plumbers during the week, but serve on the church technical staff on the weekend.
[SKD]: So, what are some challenges technical directors face when dealing with volunteers?
[CP]: The biggest issues come with having people that want to serve, but don’t have the technical background that they need to do it effectively. Training is the biggest thing in this case because most people don’t have the same background as the professionals do. Churches can do that in house, with volunteer trainings done on evenings that go into more depth than what they would pick up on a Sunday morning, but it takes a commitment on the part of the church and the volunteers to put in that time to really learn what they need to learn. The challenge is to ensure everyone has the same level of competency even when they don’t do it day in and day out.
[DS]: One thing Chris and I talk about a lot is the issue of heart vs. skillset. Often times, you’ll have people that may have the heart, but don’t have the talent or experience to build a mix, light things effectively, call the right shots for a video production, etc. Technical directors will always lean towards people with the right heart—they focus on the ministry side of their job. You don’t want someone serving that isn’t connected to the heart of what they’re doing, but that puts a lot on the technical director to come along side those volunteers and help them grow in their technical excellence.
[SKD]: On that point, you guys have been leading an event called the HARMAN Impact Worship Tour. Tell me a little bit more about this training tour and how it got started.
[DS]: For us at HARMAN, of course there’s a business side to what we do, but the reality is that, our job is ultimately to empower the end users that we serve. We know there is a huge need for that development of skillsets in churches. Even if the church has a professional on staff, they may be an expert in only one discipline (audio, for example), but is responsible for lighting and video as well. The HARMAN Impact Worship Tour was designed to help teach some of those skillsets and provide some of that training as a way of giving back to the community. We do have some cool gear there, and it’s fun to get the opportunity to play with some of it, but ultimately it’s a free training opportunity to provide some of those basic skillsets that volunteers need.
[CP]: Absolutely, that’s the whole idea behind this tour. We’re trying to ensure people get the most out of their investment. So that’s what we’re trying to do with the Impact Worship Tour. We’re trying to help give those skills to those weekend warrior volunteers so they will be set up for success.
[SKD]: Well, I think it’s great that you’re doing that. As you know, I had the pleasure of hanging out with you guys at the Dallas tour stop recently, and I actually learned a lot that I could take back and use at my own church. Now, having the right training is very important, but having the right technology in place can still have a big impact, as we talked about last time. How can making the right technology choices affect how easily volunteers can learn to use the equipment?
[CP]: Scalability of your platform is key, and that applies across the board whether we’re talking audio or lighting. Even before I worked for HARMAN, back when I was a technical director at a multi-campus church, one of the things I loved about Martin lighting products was the scalability of the controller platform. At the church where I worked, we had Martin controllers in every space. Even in kids’ rooms, we had Martin M-PC software running on a laptop. In our traditional worship spaces, we had a larger computer running M-PC with a touch screen, so the operator could recall “lights up,” “lights down,” “video,” shades open/close,” etc. all at a touch. Then in our larger, more contemporary spaces, we had a Martin M1 lighting controller (the precursor to the Martin M1 HD), which was a full mid-sized console. So there is a scalability across a variety of space sizes.
The great thing about that was that Martin uses the basic same software all the way through. So that 12-year-old kid who is volunteering to run lights for the elementary school program is already learning the Martin platform. When he’s done that for a couple years and we have a conversation about him wanting to get more into lighting, I know that he already knows Martin M-PC. He already knows the platform we’re using in the main room with the Martin M1. I could sit him down in front of that console, and he understood how it works. He just has real knobs to play with now. The same thing is true with Soundcraft. It’s all the same layout and effects. It’s just the scale of how many faders you need for your particular application. So as they serve in these smaller venues, it’s like “on the job training” almost. They’re preparing to serve in larger roles later on.
[DS]: That is particularly important when a church is growing and gets close to 100% capacity. Once you get above about 80% capacity, you start losing people. So when you get to that point, the church looks for ways to expand, and they may do that on their own campus, or they could look at opening a satellite campus. When they do that, you typically don’t get the same budget for the technology in that space as you did in the main space, but they want to create as seamless an experience as possible for people who move over to those remote locations. So one of the challenges is to deploy technology that is the right sized solution for that application, but stays within the same training process that the rest of the technical staff is going through. Otherwise, you’re having to train some people on one platform and others on a different platform, and that can get confusing. From a product portfolio standpoint, one of the big advantages for HARMAN is our range of technology offerings. We have technology solutions for every space within the church, and that really helps when you’re training staff, because the platforms are consistent and it really simplifies the training experience.
I’d like to offer another big thank you to Daryl and Chris for taking the time to speak with us. If you haven’t, be sure to check out the first part of this series as well.
Do you have insight into getting the most out of tech team volunteers in houses of worship? Share them in the comments.