Saturday, November 12, 2011

What a Non-Techy, Normal Person Learned at a Tech Conference

*A Guest Post by Carrie Davidson*

I’m not techy by nature. I don’t have a knack for understanding networks, audio systems, or anything that requires electricity. In my home, I delegate the operation and maintenance of items that have wires to my electrical engineer husband, Chris. Given my propensity to not understand technology, it was definitely a “God thing” that, about a year ago, I somehow ended up as a volunteer in the technical arts department at Topeka Bible Church. And by some additional miracle (or accident maybe?), I recently travelled to Dallas with a group of technical arts staff and volunteers from Topeka Bible Church and Fellowship Bible Church to attend a technical arts conference. What follows is a plain, simple, non-technical recap of the tidbits I gleaned from a few days at WFX.

My conference began with a tech leaders retreat intended to help tech leaders and laborers network, relax, and figure out ways to do our jobs more effectively. This part of the conference featured a panel of industry professionals who had some serious competence in the field of church technical arts. They spent time answering questions posed by the larger group as well as facilitating smaller group discussions on various topics including audio, video, lighting, burnout, and volunteers. At these sessions, I was introduced to a few helpful online resources ( and Most significantly, I came to understand that the technical arts department is a ministry to all the people in the church, as well as the staff and volunteers who comprise the department. And as a ministry, the calling of tech leaders goes beyond making all of the audio, video, and lighting in the church work. The main focus of a tech leader is to minister to their churches and teams, and that’s an exciting assignment. That’s the reason that I find technical arts so exciting and energizing; it’s not about the DMX protocol or the equipment, it’s about building the body of Christ!

The only thing I know about video cameras is how to turn one on (and even that little bit required some training). So I was really jumping into the conference with both feet when I began my Wednesday morning in a hands-on-training session taught by Anthony Coppedge called Directing a Live Production. I still don’t really know how to do anything other than turn on the camera, but I appreciated leaving the session with dozens of practical principles regarding video. Here are the highlights, as best as I can recall them:

Consider why you are doing video before you actually begin doing video. If you are not leveraging video to accomplish the purpose of your church, do NOT use video. It’s a major black hole for money and bad video is worse than no video.

It’s important to capture the heart of the worship experience and not just the beat and rhythm of the worship.

Define the terms that you are using (does wide angle mean zoomed all the way out or just zoomed out to the edge of the stage?)

Love your group, whether paid or volunteer. You will never get the results you are looking for if all you ever talk about is “I need a wide angle on camera 2.”

Good stewardship is less about how much you save and more about what you don’t waste.

Directly following my video class, I attended a session called Lighting, Stage Elements, Set Design, and Effects taught by Alex Castro. If you know me at all, you know that I LOVE lighting. I love designing and executing a show, I love trying to figure out how lights work, and I love thinking of ways to program better. Lighting is definitely more up my alley than video or audio. I tell you this just so you understand that I thought that I would be learning about the technical side of lighting when I attended this lighting class. Instead, Alex Castro drilled home the fact those who are involved in building anything in the FOH (front of house) are called to do so, just as God called workmen to build the sanctuary in Exodus 36:1. As people who are chosen, God enables us through wisdom and experience to do excellent work and He equips us by providing the skills and resources needed to do His work. This was a valuable point to learn because it is a reminder that it is a privilege to do a job that brings the attention of the church to the altar of God. We should do so joyfully for an audience of One.

The keynote speakers focused on the purpose of using technology in worship. TBC’s purpose is to lead people to life in Christ, and it’s that very purpose that should drive the technology that we use as a church (not the other way around). Determining the technology we use involves classifying it as either necessary or helpful and to not confuse the two (this doesn’t mean that we can’t ever use helpful things). For example, in a 1,500 seat auditorium, a way to project sound is necessary. Having a video projection system is helpful. It’s the church that drives the technology, not the other way around.

When it comes to tech gear, I’m a little bit behind the times; hence, it was majorly great that a large part of my trip to Dallas was spent walking around the expo hall looking at gear. I had a wonderful time hearing about some really great new gear that my group found (example: Elation Platinum Spot 5R Pro Moving Head w/ CMY Color Mixing System) and discovering some cool technology that I thought was new but had been around for a long time (example: rear and short throw projectors). I even got to talk to the manufacturer of TBC’s lighting console (ETC’s Smartfade ML) and ask every question I could possibly think of. As an added bonus, I came home with some decent swag (some of which will possibly end up in my small group’s white elephant gift exchange)!

Last but not least, the most beneficial part of this conference for me was not the product demos or lecture sessions. It was getting to spend time getting to know the techs that I minister with on a regular basis. Like me, these are people who are passionate about serving in order to enhance the experience of everyone who walks through the same doors as I do each Sunday. Yeah, we had some good laughs (Bryan: I think we should go to the gas station. Cory: What do you mean? We just ate Mexican food; we ARE the gas station) and we talked geeky tech specs (Kaleb “The encoder on Citygate is really bad”), but most importantly, we grew together as a team. The technical arts ministry spans so far beyond pushing the right buttons and executing a flawless church service. It’s all about pouring into the lives of those we serve and those we serve with.

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