Thinking Out Loud

October 30, 2014

Church Tech Gear: Feeding the Bottomless Pit

Tic-Tac-Blinders-Church-Stage-Design

Who’s up for some adventure?

Your mission Jim, should you decide to accept it, is to get at least 30 church of varying size to grant you access to their budgets for the last 30 years.  Your job is to pinpoint how much churches are spending on tech-related equipment for the worship center, sanctuary, main auditorium or whatever you call the place where people now are led in worship by bands using the latest in-ear monitoring systems, the loudest amplification and the brightest spotlighting and back-lighting that money can buy; all while lyrics, sermon theme teaser videos and message slides project on one or more screens. Don’t forget those broadcast-quality cameras, the licenses to show video clips and words to songs, and the software that allows parishioners to stream the service live or watch later on-demand.

Then, if those churches will allow you, dig deeper than the budgeted amounts and percentage increases over the years, and find out what equipment was purchased, how long it lasted, and how much of it was, by the mutual agreement of all concerned, trashed prematurely because something better came along. Or how much of that gear is still sitting in back rooms and storage closets without even so much as a yard sale or eBay offering that would at least contribute an offset to present spending.

Churches are spending a whole lot of money these days on technology-related stuff, and we haven’t begun to touch what’s being spent on word processing and communications in the church office, or tech spending on the place where children and teens gather. (Fortunately, except for parent paging systems, the nursery has been spared the hi-tech assault, at least I think so, my kids are well past that stage.)

As in government or charity work, everyone’s money is no-one’s money, and waste and inefficiencies abound. My point is that churches are quite capable of screwing up the stewardship process from within, so they don’t need problems coming from outside.

But that’s just what is happening.

For the second time, churches now face a round of having to replace cordless microphones and monitoring system because, for the second time, the FCC is proposing to auction off a section of the UHF spectrum in 2016 in which those devices operate.  This would render more equipment useless; a situation that some churches are still recovering from financially, not to mention community arts groups and private clubs and concert venues.

Are not landfills in the United States already overflowing with television sets rendered obsolete by the conversion to digital TV?

A petition asking the FCC to reconsider this has only two weeks — until November 12th — left to collect signatures.  You can sign the petition, and then forward this, or the article below, to the tech people in your church, your church finance and budget committee, and the musicians on your worship teams.

Read more about this at Technologies for Worship website


Ethics question: Should the winners of the frequency auction, if it happens, be forced to compensate microphone and wireless equipment owners.


Graphic image: From a recent article at Church Stage Design website.

January 9, 2014

Megachurch Miscellany

Filed under: Church, technology — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:10 am

Lighthouse Church Florida at Church Stage Design Ideas

So on Saturday night we made a return visit to a large (redundant adjective) megachurch west of Toronto.  Here’s a few things that stand out after several days…

What do the colors mean?

A family of five had sat down just a few rows in front of us. When you’re visiting, you just assume everyone else is a regular attender. But after the service, the man approached an usher and asked, “What do the colors mean?”

It’s a standard feature of today’s modern church that as much or more will be spent on lighting as will be spent on sound. In this auditorium, LED panels on the stage are complemented by LED ‘pots’ on the walls; so the entire room changes from green, to blue, to yellow, to red — all at the same time — with a new color for each song.

The problem is, that in Anglican or Episcopal churches, the colors of the day mean something in reference to the church calendar. The color of the cloth that drapes the altar. The color of the stole rector wears. For that matter, the temples in some sci-fi stories often have walls that change color denoting something of deep significance.

It’s just not something Evangelicals would think about. The usher dismissed the question with “It’s just aesthetics,” but personally, I think that (a) it was a fair question and (b) it’s indicative of the wide range of people who are slipping into our church services.

Will that be smoking or non-smoking?

Honestly, the ushers at this place were a major distraction. I can now say I finally get the “Usher Contest” jokes that Garrison Keillor does. Many of the people in leadership in this church came out of a Baptist tradition. Maybe that explains it. Actually, they had been a distraction on our first visit as well, which you wouldn’t expect considering we had been sitting in the third row.

However… ushering a group of seven people from the very back to the very front in the middle of a prayer? Seriously. That one crossed a line for me.

I also now understand the 80% rule: When 80% of your seating is being used you are ‘comfortably full’ and people will continue to invite friends and/or become regulars. Over 80% and you’re starting to get a little crowded. This church already has three weekend services, so I don’t know what the solution is, but they were determined to pack people into every last chair from the front to the back.

Maybe that’s the problem.  They should fill the front completely before the service, and then let latecomers find seats nearer the back.

Oh…and this church really needs to get with the program when it comes to requesting people accustomed to wearing scented products to knock it off. It’s a new world, filled with new people with new kinds of environmental allergies. But we’ve already discussed that here and here. So we upset at least one usher by not moving in because Mrs. W. desperately needs to have an aisle seat.

Why are they wheeling in a giant screen TV?

Even though I watch Andy Stanley online each and every week, it never occurred to me that the giant monitor he teaches with is somewhat redundant in a large auditorium that already has a couple of Jumbotron-type screens.

So I’m watching on the mega screen as a man teaches pointing at a somewhat smaller screen, which of course, is being picked up by the mega screen.

Of the spending of money on A/V equipment by churches, there is no end.  The growth of megachurches means this is a great time to invest in companies that make sound and lighting and broadcast equipment for large auditoriums.

I thought perhaps the idea was to keep the preacher in the shot at all times, but then Mrs. W. correctly pointed out that earlier, the announcements had been done using a split screen, and with much clearer results. 

I guess the answer to this, as it often is where technology is concerned, is “because you can.”

Image: Lighthouse Church in Panama City, Florida; click image to read details at ChurchStageDesignIdeas.com

October 27, 2013

Church Life: Pleasing Everyone is Hard to Do

I’ve never actually been in a church where the color of the carpet was an issue, but the topic stands in for a host of other topics when people are discussing superficial things they don’t like about a particular place of worship.

Still, there are some superficials which impact how effective ministry can be. For example, why is sometimes the pastor seems to really connect with people during the sermon, and other weeks when people are less responsive. It may have to do with things you don’t think about.

Sound

  • If the sound is turned up too high, people feel like they are being shouted at. It’s the live equivalent of me typing a sentence in CAPITAL LETTERS, back when people actually interacted in groups. Of course, there are some Pentecostal and Charismatic churches where the preacher’s words are amplified at rock concert volumes, but I think we have natural defenses that want to shut off any message bombarding us at high decibels.
  • If the sound is turned down too low, I believe that even if you’re hearing every single word, you’re using some mental processing capacity to strain to catch those phrases and sentences,  at the expense of being able to use that capacity to process the actual content of the words, and their applicability to your situation.

What you want is to find the sweet spot in the middle, and find a way to keep it consistent week-to-week.

Temperature

  • If the Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system is turned up too high, people feel sticky in the summer and sleepy in the winter. If the temperature makes you feel comfy and cozy like you’re lying under a couple of blankets, you will indeed nod off.
  • If the thermostat is turned down too low, people are squirming or perhaps even needing to use the restrooms. Preservation instinct takes over, and the message processing capacity diminishes.

What you want is to find the sweet spot in the middle. Sometimes, if you’re not sure, you need to take 15 seconds to survey the audience on this one.

Lighting

  • The modern church spends a fortune on stage lighting, which includes something called “backlighting” which helps give definition to people on the platform. However, depending on where you are sitting, these lights can be shining directly into the audience seating. After the first five minutes it gets annoying and after as little as fifteen minutes you have a headache.
  • On the other hand, some churches are so dark it’s creepy. (We covered this topic in the list link a few days ago here.) Combine the absence of light with a high temperature and you have a perfect recipe for slumber once the sermon starts.

What you want is to find the sweet spot in the middle. One church I know turns up the lights for the sermon so people can follow along in their Bibles and make notes. Trouble is, in other auditorium contexts, when the lights come up it means the show is over!

So what superficials have affected worship in your past experience?

July 1, 2013

Shame On You, Bethel Church

Bethel Church live stream

I’ve never seen anything quite like this.

So last night I was watching a live concert from Bethel Church when suddenly, my “preview hour” ran out in the middle of a worship song.  It not only ended abruptly, but shut down my browser completely — leaving me staring at my email program —  without even so much as “The mass has ended. Go in peace.”

Instead, I was told that if I wanted to watch more, I needed to put more money in the meter.  Or deposit more coins as in the public phones in the UK.  In this case they wanted either $5 or $3 unless I would be content with audio-only, which was a paltry $1. Yeah, they interrupted their own concert for the sake of a dollar. They could have at least kept the audio streaming while they held me hostage and begged for bucks.

Apparently, the concept of “freely you have received,” hasn’t touched this church. “Wanna watch our services? Then fork out your credit card.”  Sorry, guys, but there’s far too much available online for free that is just too similar to what you’re selling.

From what I’ve been told, even pornography sites are more generous with previews.

I know a lot of Christian websites charge for downloads, but at least you know where you stand upfront and you’re not caught in the situation of having something end in the middle. I am so thankful I didn’t invite a friend over to watch this with us.  That would be too awkward.

It showed no respect for the guest musicians, no respect to the songwriters,  no respect for the worship that was taking place, no respect for the viewers like me who had been invited by the guest musicians, and frankly, no respect for God, either.

I went back to my browser — which had other things open — and retrieved the above screenshot. It says they hope I was blessed. I was, originally.

Then they un-blessed me.

To others who were in the same situation: Any similarity between this church’s website and the teachings of Jesus is purely a coincidence.

Bethel Church website

Read more of this article by depositing $5.00 in that tray on your PC tower that opens and closes when you push the button.

April 17, 2013

Wednesday Link List

Build a Pharisee

Wednesday List Lynx

Wednesday List Lynx

Lots of good stuff this week. Take the time!

Now Go Do It

About the Blogroll:

This blog has a rather interesting link list in the sidebar. Blogs mentioned are chosen because they are (a) faith focused and (b) posting regularly. The doctrinal flavor of the blogs listed is quite varied, but I don’t include blogs that appear to have more “agenda” than content. Some blogs are listed somewhat permanently, some disappear and return a month later. Together, they represent almost one fifth of the bloggers that I have bookmarked in my computer and read regularly. Some of the blogs appearing in the Wednesday link list end up on this page later on, while others have a key post that I feel is worth mentioning, while at the same time I haven’t gotten to know them well enough yet to establish them as a link or imply endorsement. Recommendations are invited.

November 2, 2012

Skye Jethani: Multi-Site is Biblically Counter-Intuitive

This quotation is from the Phil Vischer podcast (episode 23) and occurs starting around the 32:00 mark, with this text around 35:00

If I’m going to go and sit in a room with a bunch of strangers and watch a screen anyway, why not just sit at home and watch the same thing and not have to deal with the parking headaches… Here’s the irony: In my mind: of all the religions out there, Christianity is the one for whom incarnation is absolutely essential. It’s the foundation of our faith; God became flesh and dwelt among us. That’s the incarnation. And now we are disincarnating the Church … the pastor’s just a projection of pixels on a screen, I don’t really know the people around me because it’s such a massive community that I’m just anonymous in it. And I think, frankly, that although these trends are happening… I don’t think it’s going to last…

Here’s the thing… I can come in as a guest speaker. I know a little bit about your community, a little bit about that congregation. I can say some things, I can drop some bombs, I can fly away. But when you are incarnate in that community, like this pastor [where I was last week] he’s telling me what’s going on in this church, people who are sick, families that are struggling, the nitty gritty of living life together in community and he knows these people… He takes that knowledge of his sheep into the pulpit with him as he crafts a sermon and studies the word of God, brings the reality of his congregation’s unique challenges and struggles together with the word of God. This is what you see Paul doing in Paul’s letters writing to specific churches. He’s combining the truths of the gospel with the reality of the church… The reason why God has given leaders to the church, shepherds in particular, is so that somebody on the ground is incarnate, who knows God’s sheep and can help them each with his word and the reality that they are experiencing individually and corporately in the body.

~Skye Jethani

August 21, 2012

The Perils of Successful Online Churches

On Sunday Andy Stanley looked right into the camera and said (more or less), “If you’re watching this online you need to turn off the computer right now and get dressed and find a local church.” I just about fell out of my chair. 

“That took courage;” I whispered to my wife.

In a series of articles at the blog, Church Marketing Sucks (yes, it’s called that) Jon Rogers notes the success of the online church service:

LifeChurch.tv has surpassed their physical audience as their church online experience already tops 3 million unique visitors in 2012 (there are around 100,000-120,000 unique visitors at Church Online each week). However currently there aren’t metrics for tracking those who only attend online and how often.

If your church is considering putting your service online, there is much useful practical advice here.

August 2, 2012

The Value of Words

At this blog and at Christianity 201, I frequently re-blog material from other writers, sometimes in part, but at C201, usually in whole. Only once in a combined 3,000 posts at both have I ever had an author request their material be removed.

But heaven help me should I decide to use a comic or a cartoon here without permission. You may have noticed that the Wednesday Link List is not adorned with as many comic panels as it once was. I don’t know if the cartoonists are as litigious as the people who own rights to photographs, but their “permissions” pages are rather threatening and I don’t need the added tension.

Cartoons and comics take more technical savvy than just sitting at a keyboard typing words. It either requires expensive software or a drawing table with many types of pens and markers. But does the technical sophistication mean the finished cartoons are somehow worth more — and to be protected more — than the ideas and concepts conveyed in words?

Local churches increasingly use clips from popular movies to illustrate a sermon point or draw in listeners. Those movie clips have to be licensed for public performance, even if they’re only 90-seconds long. But the same churches that pay fees to show a brief scene from Spiderman don’t think twice about streaming a clip of Francis Chan teaching.

Does that mean that the technical sophistication of a major film — with sounds, costumes, lighting, big name cast, etc. — gives it a value that a man simply talking on a stage to a group of teenagers does not possess?

Similarly in church we pay license fees to project the lyrics to modern praise and worship choruses. I have no problem with this, and encourage churches to join CCLI. Better safe than sued. But then later, in the sermon,  the pastor’s onscreen notes will include several slides’ worth of an excerpt from a book by Max Lucado or N.T. Wright.

The books are actually subject to copyright, but no pastor ever thinks twice about copying out a couple of pages of text for use with PowerPoint or printed out for a sermon outline or for quoting in the church newsletter. Does that mean that worship song lyrics are somehow worth more than an author’s prose?

What I’m saying here is that I think we tend to worship the product of more complex technology more than the more simple rendering of straight talking or written text.

By so doing, we ascribe more value to things drawn, composed, acted out, etc., than we ascribe to the power of words.

June 30, 2012

Weekend Link List

Normally there are links here on Wednesday, when the week is half over; today there are links here on June 30th, when the year is half over. Profound, huh? So have you stuck to all those resolutions from January 1st?

  • Dr. Grant Mullen‘s appearances on the Drew Marshall Show always draw a lot of phone calls.  Last week’s — all 49 minutes — is now available on Drew’s site.
  • And over at SkyeBox, more episodes of The Phil Vischer podcast are available. Had a blast last night listening to # 4 — the interview with Eric Metaxas — all 49 minutes. (Or 53.)
  • Justin Davis gets transparent about how lack of intimacy, or worse, false intimacy can lead to behaviors which can destroy a marriage.
  • More than 60 New York City churches that were facing eviction from meeting in NYC schools caught a break this week, but the city is fully expected to appeal the decision.
  • Several dozen Mormons will resign en masse today (30th) in protest over LDS church doctrines and policies; but those who leave pay immense social and business consequences.
  • Click over to C201 for a dose of apologetics: Ravi Zacharias on good versus evil; and a reading of C. S. Lewis on free will that you might want to listen to twice.
  • I discovered another lost worship song — from two decades ago — this week. Enjoy “To Be Like You” from Calvary Chapel Downey with Pam Fadness.
  • Also of worship interest: Gospel-driven worship can become obligatory when in fact, songs can be used to drive various points and aspects of both God’s nature and Christian experience. Bob Kauflin reposts some great advice.
  • Earlier this month Tim Stevens listed five reasons why you shouldn’t do church online, but show up in person. But then he had four reasons why churches should provide online services.
  • Yes, I know I list lots of links on this topic, but there is much discussion going on and many people affected. This blog  is called Coming Out Christian: Conversations about being gay and Christian in America.
  • Local-Boy-Makes-Good Department: A Canadian, Lawrence Wilkes is currently the interim pastor at the famed — and troubled — Crystal Cathedral. [HT: Bene]
  • A two-day rally is planned for Sept 28 and 29 in Philadelphia under the banner, America For Jesus 2012. Organizers have been part of previous events in Washington.
  • Temptation Department:Author Steven James reflected on the storylines of his recent suspense novels and came up with a non-fiction title, Flirting With The Forbidden which features 15 first-person narratives from scripture.

May 9, 2012

Wednesday Link List

I always type a ‘filler’ introductory paragraph here when I start, only last week, I didn’t update it and you were left with the rather lame, “Wednesday is here again.”  If you’re reading this, I didn’t catch this one, either.

  • For one week, Talbot Davis cancels the morning service at Good Shepherd United Methodist in Charlotte in favor of having multiple home church meetings instead, though they do gather at the church later in the day.  “You don’t bring your family to church… but we are living, breathing churches; the temple of the Holy Spirit, so we actually take the church with us to the campus each Sunday to celebrate in community what God is doing is in the home.”
  • For some people, the upcoming weekend just hurts, and church services just amplify that hurt. Those are the people dealing with infertility. Russell D. Moore rethinks Mother’s Day:”What if pastors and church leaders were to set aside a day for prayer for children for the infertile? In too many churches ministry to infertile couples is relegated to support groups that meet in the church basement during the week, under cover of darkness…”
  • Save the date: June 21-24 — The second Wildgoose Festival in North Carolina; with the most amazing mix of musicians and speakers. If I could get to only one U.S. summer festival, this would be it.
  • Here is Proverbs 1:8-9 in the new Social Media Bible: “My followers, read your father’s tweets & do not delete your mother’s messages. For they will be retweetable.”  The genealogies in Matthew are especially interesting.
  • Antioch Baptist Church pastor Ken Hutcherson says, “I am the gayest man I know.”  But then he explains what that means. “…Hutcherson is not a homosexual, nor does the happily married man have a same-sex attraction of any kind. He is, however, on a mission to take back words, phrases and symbols he believes groups…have “hijacked” from the American lexicon.
  • Michael Belote thinks that both at home school and public school, children aren’t learning how to learn.  “…we have become a nation of individuals who are firmly entrenched in philosophies that we do not understand: we are loyal to paradigms of which we remain mostly ignorant with regard to detail…”
  • Rebecca St. James narrates Mother India, a documentary premiering this fall about the real backstory in another film,  Slumdog Millionaire.  “…a compelling documentary following the adventure of 25 courageous orphans living as a family along the railway as they make pivotal decisions that will directly impact their future… filmed in January 2012 in southern India with a small production team…”
  • Karen Spears Zacharias has released a true story highlighting the impact of child abuse. A Silence of Mockingbirds is released through MacAdam Cage Publishing, which means this one may not be at your local Christian bookstore.
  • Does your church sing a lot of worship songs that are exclusive to your church; songs that were written by your own worship team leaders?  Bobby and Kristen Gilles recommend finding a place of balance.
  • An interesting dinner date: Canadian cult-watcher James Beverley dines in New York with Peter H. Gilmore, head of the Church of Satan. “…His positive characteristics are nonetheless evidence of God’s common grace…”
  • Don’t know where Tim Challies finds these things, but here’s an interesting blog about an Australian couple now serving in Mongolia.  This is a general link, scroll back and follow recent developments in a country where even buying a chair is a major accomplishment.
  • Michael Kruger suggests five different ways technology is affecting us in Rescuring Church from a Facebook Culture.  “…It is a low-commitment and low-accountability type of interaction.  We control—and entirely control—the duration, intensity, and level of contact.  At any moment, we can simply stop.   But, the Christian life, and real Christian relationships don’t work like this…”
  • Here’s another piece about technology at church, as in Matt Hafer’s Showing VHS’s to a Blu-Ray World. “Our financial giving isn’t where it needs to be and we brainstormed on why. One of the reasons that was plain to us is, we pass a bucket around and tell people the drop in cash or checks. The problems is, no one in 2012 carries cash and most people under 35 write a check about once a month…”
  • To post or not to post?  Matthew Paul Turner found this picture of a rather disturbing piece of fashion he called The Jesus Mini-Skirt.  If the image isn’t here, then you’ll have to click; it means better judgment prevailed.
  • Not exactly a Christian story, but CBN News reports on Chinese students being given IV hookups to amino acids to boost energy as they prepare for college entrance exams. It’s controversial, but not believed to be harmful.
  • Eugene Peterson didn’t just get up one morning and start translating the Bible. Several steps led up to the creation of The Message including: “…He read translations of the Iliad and the Odyssey, from Greek to English. He discovered the translation principles use by these translators.”
  • The Grace Television Network now claims to be “Canada’s Largest 24/7 Provider of Christian Programming.”
  • As I type this, on Monday, Jon Acuff is at Stuff Christians Like #1199, but if I remember to update this, he will have passed the twelve hundred mark. [Later...] SCL #1200 was inspired by some people who chose to talk all through the service on Sunday… while sitting in the front row!
  • If you feel you must criticize something your pastor did or didn’t do, save it for Tuesday. Many pastors have a tougher time getting through Monday than Sunday.
  • Click the images to connect with more comics from ASBO Jesus (above) and For Heaven’s Sake (below).

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