Rebuilding a Sunken Ship

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In the church tech world, even missing one cue like forgetting to unmute the pastor’s mic can be a disastrous mistake. The behind-the-scenes stealth workers know as tech artists have a very high expectation every weekend. To be perfect is the normal. When every cue is right, every piece of equipment works the way it’s supposed to, everyone shows up on time and does their job, and everything goes perfectly, we did our jobs. We only get noticed when something goes wrong. It’s a crazy tough standard to live up to every weekend, yet we do our best to hit that mark every time.

So what happens when it’s not just one mistake or two, but several major misses on a given weekend? When total disaster strikes, what do you do? How do you recover and rebuild the ship so it can sail again?

For me, I’ve had the so-called disastrous weekend where it seems like one thing after another continued to go wrong. Some of it was an equipment problem: a digital file didn’t play when we needed. Some of it was operator error: forgot to mute a singer’s mic during a part they were not involved and they asked the bass player a question over the front of house.

Some of it was just miscommunication: dropped a screen after the second song thinking we were supposed to play a video clip but actually was moved and should have happened two songs later but was not communicated all around.

To be honest, I’ve found we tend to be our own worst critic. Some mistakes or problems happen and the attender didn’t even know there was a problem. But we beat ourselves up over it and it had no real impact. Those we have to let go and not let them devour us. But what about when it’s a legitimate disaster?

Here are a couple of suggestions from years of experience and dumb taxes I paid that I wish someone would have told me.

  1. Encourage the Team

Don’t offer fake encouragement or try to cover up the problem. “Oh, I’m sure it wasn’t that big of a deal. No one probably even noticed.” I don’t think that is helpful in the moment. I think honesty in an encouraging manner is the best first step. “Man that was a rough one. But remember God still works through our mistakes and people experienced God through the teaching and worship—with or without our help.”

2. People or Gear?

Move to find out the facts before they get to skewed on what really happened. Talk to those that were actually involved and not hearsay from someone who heard about it. Getting the facts is so important in getting to the root of what caused the miscues or issues. Was it an operator error and they weren’t paying attention or was it an equipment issue and it didn’t work like it was supposed to?

3. Summarize and Train

Summarize what happened and tell the team the facts so they are not assuming as well and can fill in others with what happened if asked. Use it as a way to come up with backup plans and systems in case it happens again. One of our plumb lines the production team has is to work to never make the same mistake twice. If we do, it means we didn’t learn from it.

Fortunately we have a God of grace and we have the next weekend to make things right. But my pastor told me something early on in my technical career at North Coast. He said, “Dennis, I would rather have a base hit every week than a home run one week, a single the next and a strike out after that… Because the regular attender will keep coming, but they aren’t going to invite their friends to something when they don’t know what the quality will be.”

I have lived by this directive ever since that talk, because people want consistency more than they want high quality. Do what you can to bring back consistency to the team, and you’ll find your tech ship sailing again.