Training technical volunteers in the church is one of the hardest things to do. The technical level expected at most churches is evidence.
If you think about it, training volunteers is already so difficult. The fact that most volunteers are available at best once per week, at worst once per month, makes bringing people up to speed a challenge. And the same is often true on the side of the trainer; they often don’t have either the time or the skill set to effectively train new recruits. Despite the challenges, though, leaders around the world dig in to raise up new people into ministry, only to make a highly common mistake that either lowers the potential of their volunteers or sets them up for failure.
In our effort to get people serving in their new role quickly, many leaders unintentionally short circuit their people by skipping the basics, leaving them only partially capable and reliant on others for too much. You’ve heard the expression “give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime,” right? I often see we train people how to use a pole to catch the fish, but that’s about it. We skip past teaching them how to figure what kind of fish are available and where, what kind of bait they should use, and how to fix their reel and pole when things aren’t working quite right. Let’s explore this a little further, getting more specific in each technical discipline.
Live video, which I’m labeling as camera and lyric operators along with their directors, is where I tend to see people get thrown to the wolves the fastest. While it’s true that pointing a camera and following someone or clicking on lyrics isn’t the most complicated concept in the world, there’s a lot more to each position and its mechanics than that.
Camera Operators: What kind of shots does the director want to see during worship versus during the message? Do they know the critical shots from each camera, making them able to hop on any camera at any time? Can your camera operator completely set up and tear down the camera, that way if something stops working mid-service they can get running again?
Lyric operators: Can they format a new song, or perhaps some sermon notes, without you in case these things get called for in the middle of a service? Do they know how to reboot the computer and get your software up and running in case the computer freezes?
Video directors: Can they fully operate each position on the video team and talk them through anything they might encounter, live during a service? Are they fully aware of the strategy for the desired result of worship video? Message video? Do they know what kind of shots are acceptable and how much movement is desired in camera shots? For video directors, especially, there is a ton to learn, and it’s my opinion that a video director should have mastered every other video position before moving into directing.
Like video, lighting volunteers are often thrown into their role quickly. In churches with a simple, fader-based console, volunteers are often shown once which fader does what with some general info on when to use each one, and that’s it. For churches with programming-based consoles, often someone else will program the cue list, and training consists of teaching them how to cycle through the cues – maybe what one or two other faders do. This lack of training sets your people up to fail. And of course, for those programming lights, a lot more training must come before they can truly be effective. Let’s look at more detailed training that should be required for each of these roles:
Lighting Playback/Faders: Do they know how to boot and shut down the console in case of a failure? Do they know how to get your architectural lights up in case the console stops responding? Do they know where other presets or lighting cues are in case the service goes off script? Do they know how to stop any lighting cues that have gone wrong? Is it all documented somewhere?
Programming: Do they understand DMX and fixture addressing? Have they learned how to troubleshoot fixtures that are not responding to DMX or change lamps on fixtures that have gone out? Do they understand basic color theory and how to apply it to the context of a service? Have they learned how using different lighting angles can create unique and more dynamic looks? Do they know what leadership considers appropriate in regards to color and moving lights?
This is an area I’d argue should require the most training, but in desperation to cover the faders, many people are thrown onto the console too quickly. The problem with jumping right onto a console is that you’re missing most of what makes music sound good. Whether you’re mixing the house or monitors, you need a deep understanding of audio to be successful. Let’s look at some general training that applies to all audio positions, and then some specifics to make a good FOH or Monitor operator:
General: Do you know how to wire instruments? Do you know how to patch audio to your console (both analog and digital)? Do you know how to listen to an instrument and adjust mics to get the best sound from your source? Do you know how to manipulate EQ to not only get good sound, but also eliminate feedback? Can you troubleshoot and fix wireless systems that may have issues mid-service?
Front of House (FOH): Do you know what good music sounds like? Have you learned to listen to how instruments play with and support each other? Have you learned where key frequencies lie for each instrument or vocal? Can you use dynamic processing to help create a good mix? Have you gained the trust of your worship leader to produce the mix they want?
Monitors: Do you know what each musician needs to hear? Can you use dynamic processing and EQ to carve out instruments in their mix, giving them clarity and the ability to hear exactly what they want? Have you gained the trust of each person you’re mixing monitors for?
Perhaps you’re ahead of the curve and already covering these avenues in your training. If so, you could have an amazing ministry partnering with leaders from other churches who are struggling to teach and raise up new volunteers. For the rest of us, please take this list as a starting point and invest in your techs before turning them loose on the equipment, potentially setting them up to fail. People are truly your greatest resource, and a fully equipped resource will do much better in ministry than one who barely got the basics.