Finding the balance between excellence and excess

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This article was originally featured on churchproduction.com

I received an interesting email from a friend this week. His church is the hub of a few satellite churches in his area. The main campus is completely tricked out with every toy a tech geek could imagine. They run the services like a massive game show, crossbred with constant camera angle changes on the screens, overblown lighting and run loud enough for Metallica to perform.

He spent last week at one of the satellite campuses and made a discovery. The worship, message and overall service brought him to tears. Same preacher. Same music. Same message. Same everything. Different room. Less distractions than in the main sanctuary. He realized that the production level, at his main church, was becoming disorienting and distracting.

Something to think about.

During the course of my career, I have worked with hundreds of churches across the country and even a few outside the country. The styles of worship, types of buildings, personalities and overall experiences are extremely diverse. From tiny storefront churches and home groups to the mega churches. Churches of five and ten members to thousands. Lots in common, lots of differences. All with the same essential purpose, just different ways of getting there.

I also sat through an event this week that got me thinking about production, from the audience perspective. It was something that nobody has high expectations of, a school graduation ceremony. It included video clips, stinger tracks, background music, lighting and two microphones. It was obvious that absolutely nothing had been rehearsed and everyone was in their own world. Whoever was in charge of the tech side seemed completely lost.

Apparently, I still have some issues, sitting in the audience.

I thought about my glory days, behind the board, running the show. I thought about how fast I would have been fired for making any of the mistakes that happened during that graduation. I though of how intense the confrontation would have been as soon as the building emptied out. It would have been brutal.

The thoughts led to considering the balance between excellence and excess. A good, solid production experience versus an overblown dog and pony show. There’s a difference. A big difference. I think, as techs, we sometimes get so caught up in the overall experience, that we become mad scientists. We go “Jurassic Park.” Creating monsters that make for an awesome experience, but run the risk of destroying the audience. Something that should draw in the crowds like crazy, but could potentially chase them away just as fast. Or just eat them.

What was the line in the movie? The question is not can we do it, but should we?

I told the story of the Russian pastor’s conference in an earlier article. Watching an audience of the most amazing people worship whole heartedly, with only voices and an acoustic guitar. Almost in defiance of the American sound guy, stressing out over his system failing. Those people were there to worship and have church. Period.

I have experienced churches, both large and small, where it was just a show. Plain and simple. Like going to a concert or social party. Go in, hang out, go home. No change. No growth. No reason to to back.

Another issue to consider, is the effect of all this technology on our older members. Half of the seniors we ever fitted with hearing assistance systems got confused with just a volume control. Imagine what an iPhone does to them. I have personally watched a mass exodus of retirees when a system was too loud for them. We have got to be considerate. You need those kids for the church to grow. But the bills don’t get paid without adults.

I think the purpose of our sound, lighting and video is to support and enrich the experience of church. I taught my crews that our mission was to take the vision of our pastor and worship leaders and bring them to life. We were translators of their vision. We took it from them and gave it to the congregation as clearly and effectively as possible.

Too many times, I see the production take on a life of it’s own. It becomes a distraction. It seems like people are there for the experience only. I am not bashing the big churches or the guys who like it loud. I just think that occasionally we venture into excess and miss the point of being in church altogether. Honestly, it’s really hard to sit through some of those overblown services. It’s just too much to process. But, it’s just as hard to sit through a service with only two microphones and neither are being managed. Where do we find the balance?

I think of it like anything else we need to sustain life. Food specifically. Enough fillers and fluff will get you into bad shape quick. It destroys your health and ruins your endurance. You need the real food. Real nutrients. The stuff that strengthens your body. The fluff and filler is just a treat. Something to accentuate the real food. Something to improve the presentation. You can live on salad alone, but a little fruit and some dressing makes it more enjoyable and attractive.

There’s nothing wrong with a big show production in the church. Just don’t get caught up in production for production’s sake only. Use the filler and fluff sparingly. And please, keep the monster under control. Don’t chase away your congregation. Don’t eat the audience.

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