A Change Will Do You Good

We just had a great service this past Sunday, celebrating and sharing some of what our young people had enjoyed at this year’s Soul Survivor. I put it together with our youth worker, Amy O’Melia, we led together and she also did the talk…her first (and a really good one!)

Change roadsign

A change is on the horizon

We had known for a while that we were going to do this, and although it was a special service, we were still continuing the current series from The Story, and it was also an all age service (as it was the last Sunday of the month), something else we wanted to keep. But to try and give a bit of a flavour of the Soul Survivor experience, we changed a few bits around. So:

  • We took half of the chairs out of the hall, and asked our congregation to bring picnic rugs, blankets and cushions (we did keep half of the chairs in the hall for those who might struggle to get up from the floor!)
  • We extended our time of worship at the beginning so it was a longer block of music, and we also got more of our young people involved in the band.
  • We picked songs that had been used at Soul Survivor (we did already have a lot of them in our list, but we leant more heavily on them when choosing for the Sunday)
  • We put some tents and camping chairs up in the centre of the stage
  • The first “talk” part of the service, we put together an interactive “24 hours at Soul Survivor” experience.
  • After the second talk we had a time of extended prayer, again copying the Soul Survivor style and presentation of praying for each other to make it more accessible for the younger people.
  • And after the service, our young people served up Hot Chocolate Mountains in addition to the usual teas and coffees.

It was great!

The whole thing was a great success, we got so much positive feedback from the congregation, and Amy’s confidence in her preaching has taken a leap…I can’t wait for the next one! And it has also led to us thinking about implementing some of these changes for future services, so:

  1. For our all age services which we hold at the end of every month, we’re going to try taking the front few rows of chairs out as a permanent feature…the children and young people prefer to sit on the floor, and their parents (especially of toddlers) find it easier.
  2. Rearranging the stage, something we had initially done the week before for baptisms, has made us realise that we can comfortably put the band to the side of the stage while improving sight lines, communication, sound and also the look of the stage.
  3. Being able to involve the youth for this one service is a great opener for getting them to serve and lead at other services…this is something that we have been working towards as a band, but hope to be able to do for all aspects of our church services.
  4. Amy: we as a leadership and preaching team have been talking about getting Amy to preach…well, she did, it was great, and she is a fantastic addition to our preaching team. I can’t wait for the next one!

Now some of these things may have already been in the process, or maybe in time we would have got the younger people more involved and moved the band. But the opportunity to do it at one special service meant we were able to experiment and try different ideas without getting too much pushback for being too different….we had already flagged up that it was a one off special service, and given notice of the changes they would experience. But because the congregation did experience it, and found it a positive thing, when we come to implement some of the changes outlined above, it will be a natural progression rather than the shock of the change!

Templates versus change

Andy Stanley talks in his great book Deep & Wide about templates, and how all churches have them for their Sunday services (even if they don’t realise they have them!). And your template will give you the results you get for your Sunday services. We have a template for our services at EBC, it is something we have developed over time and we stick to the basic structure as it works for us. But a template is just that, a guideline or framework for how to structure our services. And although we changed a lot of the content, presentation and personnel for our Soul Survivor Sunday, we still didn’t deviate very far from the template and structure. Just in the same way that all of our services use creative content, unusual ideas and sometimes colourful presentation…but the message remains the same.

So I encourage you to take a look at what you’re doing on a Sunday, and work out what you could do differently, how you could involve other elements and other people, and see if a subtle change (or a big change!) will do you good!

 

How 2 rehearsals are better than 1

This week we’re back to our normal routine again, having had the summer break…which means we’re back to our regular Tuesday night rehearsal slot.

Band Rehearsal

Now I’ve talked about rehearsals a lot. Probably because we do it a lot. But, a bit of history: We used to (around 5 years ago) be one church with three separate congregations who met at different locations. With three separate teams. As the leadership structure of the church has changed, as well as various other contributing factors, we are now in the position of having several meetings but now all in the same building. This has led to bringing all of our teams under one roof, and honing our song list, rotas and rehearsal schedule.

This has been a gradual process….the 9:15 band used to rehearse every other Friday, the 11:15 band every other Tuesday, the 10:15 rehearsed on site before the service…so the first thing we did was bring everybody together on one evening. This was fine when we didn’t have many musicians, as there was space for everybody on stage and enough inputs in the sound desk. But as time has gone on the band has grown (which is a great problem to have). And after having a few rehearsals when everybody turned up, and we had three to a microphone, more guitarists than a Passion concert and the unsolvable problem of how to share one drum kit between three drummers…we had to change our process.

New Regime

After a bit of deliberation, we have settled into our new pattern, which works like this:

The band for Sunday has full use of the main hall for their rehearsal, and they go through the set as if it was Sunday. Being in the same position, using the same instruments, being plugged into the same equipment means that come Sunday, there shouldn’t be any surprises and the services will go smoothly.

At the same time, every other Tuesday (as we have another group who use our church on alternate Tuesdays), we have a second rehearsal meeting in our backrooms. This is for everybody in the band not involved on the coming Sunday, but also open to any new team members and also for anybody who may want to attend and see what we do. We use this time to refine the songs which we are already doing, learn new songs (especially at the beginning of a term), work on our techniques together and also have the opportunity to share in some prayer together. I’ve also been able to set aside this time to have sectional rehearsals, so we had an evening with just the guitarists, or concentrating on the sound team with the band, and I have a music theory 101 evening up my sleeve at some time in the near future.

This has meant we are able to make much better use of our rehearsal time without taking up extra time in the week….I don’t know about you, but we already have so many meetings and commitments during the week that I don’t want to make demands on extra evenings with our band.

Benefits

Of course this requires a bit of administration, I have to keep ahead of what music we’re using and specifically plan what we’re going to do with our extra rehearsals. And I keep these fairly open…for all of the reasons above, and as we already have commitment that our band will be at rehearsal for Sundays, I am willing to cut them some slack for any additional rehearsal time. That said, most of our band come regularly enough, and seem to enjoy it! And the benefits have been huge to us all as a team…it means we are all meeting and playing together more frequently, we are learning the songs quicker and also growing much better as a team.

Now I don’t know how you schedule your rehearsals with your team…I have experienced all from weekly rehearsals three weeks out from a Sunday right through to pulling it together in the hour before a service. But I can recommend maintaining a regular frequency for all of our musicians, so they can grow musically, technically, spiritually and communally as well.

What is your rehearsal schedule?

New term, new songs

Well I think we’ve made it through the summer without too many injuries, avoided the worst of the weather and are now scrabbling around to find school uniform, work bags and car keys as we get back into the swing of things after extended holidays. And similarly, now we’ve completed our extended run of summer services we’re looking ahead to this coming Sunday when we resume our Manuscriptusual pattern of two morning services, a new series and new band rotas for the autumn. How about you?

Song Lists

Something I do on a termly basis is revise our song list*, and I particularly enjoy doing this after the summer break as so many from our congregation go to conferences such as New Wine and Soul Survivor, so have heard a great deal of new music. I always tap up those from the band, in charge of the youth, those with a good ear, even our senior minister, to get the low-down on what they thought was good, stood out and worked well in a worship and congregational setting.

There are so many good songs already in circulation, and so so many songs being released on a daily basis, it can be daunting to know where to start. We have a relatively small song list which has shrunk in number over time from the whole spectrum of the Songs of Fellowship book (circa 2000 +!) to our current list of 60 ish… but I do a regular rotation of this list three times a year, retiring some songs off of the list to make space for new songs while retaining some classics, some hymns, some popular favourites.

Sourcing songs

There is always a balance to strike between the desire to introduce the new and trendy as opposed to sticking with the comfortable old favourites…I have to work hard to resist introducing all of my new favourites, as the real danger is leaving the congregation behind and alienating your audience. Which is why I find this approach covers so many bases…getting feedback from a cross section of friends whom I trust, coupled with keeping an eye on the CCLI lists (we tend to look at the US version of the site) and new releases from artists who are a good fit with our style of worship at EBC (for us it’s Passion, Hillsong, Brenton Brown, David Crowder, Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin, Soul Survivor) gives me a generous selection of songs to start with. I then go through them and listen out for songs that are playable by our bands and singable by our congregation…which may warrant a key change, and may need rearranging to fit with our line-up.

I spent most of yesterday refining this, including a complete overhaul of our children’s/all age worship songs, so once this is finalised I’ll post it up in the resources section so you can all see what we’re doing for the next four months.

How do you pick and organise your songs?

*I will look at how we organise our songlist in a post soon.

Meaningful Mailing

This week we have been slowly winding down to a long deserved holiday, but before we get away on Friday, I still have the task of putting together the worship team rotas for the autumn. This is something which usually starts around 6 – 8 weeks out, as I try and coerce dates and availability from my team for the coming months. This happens with varying degrees of success. I started off by creating a paper form for everyone to complete, and I also set up an online submission as part of our worship team website. But these days I default to email as it is the general communication of choice.

But of course, everyone is bombarded in their inbox every day, and the last thing I want is to add to the pile of junk, while also making sure I get a response where it’s needed. So, wherever possible I follow the rules below when contacting my team.

The rules:

  • I only send emails to the relevant contacts. I have a “Worship Team” group email which easily allows me to send to all, and then I often copy (cc) others when needed (senior minister, sound team etc). They know if they are copied it doesn’t warrant a response.
  • I don’t send a long email, I try and keep it to the point as much as possible, and make it clear both in the title and the body of the message why I am contacting them and what I’m expecting in response. And if I am expecting a response, I also give a clear deadline as to when I want to hear back by!
  • Where possible, I try and keep each email about one subject. So if I’m planning rehearsals, sending the songs for Sunday and collating dates for the forthcoming rota, they will go out in separate emails. Otherwise confusion reigns, and I will either scare off my recipients, or create total confusion for myself in the responses (will be there/what key’s song 2/I’m on holiday 12th…) Of course this does mean you’re sending multiple emails, but as in point one they should be targeted (rotas will be sent to all, rehearsals and Sunday songs will usually only be sent to the week’s band).
  • I try to be consistent with regards to the days I send emails…especially when it’s for Sunday song and rehearsal reminders. Some of my team are so used to this now if I don’t send an email on a specific day they will remind me! If only it was always so straightforward. So we have rehearsal on the Tuesday before the Sunday, I make sure the songs are in the church office on the preceding Thursday and the band have them too, along with a reminder they are in the band.
  • I have been office based in my other jobs for well over 15 years now, and yet it still surprises me the number of people still don’t use spellcheck on their computers, whether in outlook, mail or online…there is an option in all programs to automatically suggest corrections when typing, as well as the option to check all before sending. Com on peeple, it doeznt look professional wen u send out error strewn messages!
  • And related to the above, read your email before you send it. Not only for spell checking (which by now should have automatically checked itself), but also for the accuracy of the other content. I’ve forgotten attachments, sent the wrong document, got my dates wrong and so on. A cursory check through of what you are saying should mean you won’t make those mistakes.

Going forwards…

None of these pointers are failsafe, you can guarantee not everybody will reply, and you will probably have to ask more than twice. And even now (we go away tomorrow), I still don’t have responses from everybody in the band! But, I have a big enough critical mass which has allowed me to complete the rota and send it out in draft status for all to check and confirm. (And of course, I’ve already had reported back one mistake…of course it was my fault….).

But follow these rules, and you should be well on the way to getting more timely and consistent responses from your team.

How do you organise your communications with your team?

Keep it shut!

We are in our summer schedule at EBC, and this means  our Sunday pattern changes from two morning services to one joint all age service at 10:15. And we also have a break from our weekly rehearsal schedule, so meet earlier before the service for sound check and a brief run through. So far so good. This week was the first of our summer series, and I had managed to scrape a band together from those that weren’t already away enjoying the sun! The band all arrived for 9, knew the songs, were plugged in and we were good to go. But then:Too Loud

Our sound man, who was also tasked with operating the lights, had a real struggle to get them switched on. After a few attempts, a more detailed look through the manual, and some third party advice, we eventually got the system running…having lost 25 minutes of set up and sound check time! Then we started on our level check and monitor mix, and started working through our set. All went well, sound was good on stage, and the band was sounding good. By this time we already had an audience, although the service was not due to start for another 45 minutes. We finished with plenty of time to spare (some 25 minutes…a miracle!), and so met to pray before the service and then on to do our usual pre-service preparation. And then as I came off stage I was accosted by several people to let me know it was “too loud”, “you were so loud the doors blew shut!” and another person who had spent the previous 10 minutes walking around with their fingers in their ears.

Too loud?

Now I appreciate that too loud is too loud, I don’t want the worship to be a painful experience in any respect, and everyone has limits. But, of course, the purpose of a sound check is as much for the sound man to set the levels as it is for the band to warm up and set their stage levels. And this happens in the context of sound check before we are ready to let the congregation in. We need the space and time to be able to do this privately, so when we start the service with a hall full of people, everyone is good to go in the band and the tech team. Of course there is going to be a bit of time needed to get the monitor levels straight, get some control on overall levels and EQ, and then move towards getting a comfortable balance. But this shouldn’t be observed, or worst still criticized by the congregation.

I make sure my team is well trained, well briefed and ready to lead, and I trust the sound on stage is representative of what is happening out front. And currently we are working hard on this extra dimension that I have little control of during the service…we have a great set of songs, a competent band who can play them well, and an excellent sound system and equipment which reinforce us. Our sound team are now moving beyond the basics of balancing levels to using EQ, discerning between instruments and different leaders, and more proactively mixing the sound during a service.

I am more than open to constructive criticism after a service, and I have had (and continue to have) many discussions about the music and the band we have in our Sunday services. But to have that reaction just before we start the service is deflating, demoralizing and destructive…I felt beaten up before I’d even set foot in front of the congregation. I rarely run closed rehearsals and sound checks, as we have a lot of through traffic in our church, and running two services on a Sunday morning does mean the hall is generally open from start to finish.

Keep it shut!

But after this experience, we’re going to make some changes. We’re going to keep the hall shut until 15 minutes before the service starts, so  our rehearsal and tech time is not observed and we have the freedom to test, make some noise, make some mistakes and get the levels right. This will also mean our Sunday set will be a surprise (I especially try to keep a closed door policy when we have a drama or performance song, as seeing the run through can lose the impact in the service). And we’re trying to move the lighting responsibility to another person, as running the sound is and should be a full time role for Sunday that requires 100% concentration for the whole of the service and before.

Do you have a closed door policy before your services? How do you tackle this problem?

Setting Expectations

Everyone loves a happy team. No one wants an argument. Disappointment is not a good way to start a Sunday morning.team

We have a team of around 20 in our band at EBC, and I’m pleased to say that they are generally diligent in their timekeeping and attendance, both for Sundays and rehearsals. But it hasn’t always been this way, and there are some weeks when it doesn’t all just come together. Just this past week, I had two drop out of rehearsal because of illness and a prior engagement. Which was fine…rehearsal still happened, although on a smaller scale, and Sunday went well, albeit with a smaller band. Because the decision, rightly, was made that if they couldn’t do rehearsal, then they couldn’t do Sunday.

Good Team

There are many elements that contribute to a good team, including good spirit, heart and passion, competence, reliability and the ability to work together. And when people come on team, I look out for these areas and try to encourage and develop them. And from my side I make sure that everyone has up to date and clear copies of the music, that they are regularly updated with meetings and emails, and that they know when they have rehearsal, what they are playing on a Sunday and that I don’t overburden when sorting out rotas for the term.

But I also make sure that I set expectations in return: if the band has signed up to play for a Sunday then they know that they have to arrive early, they need to keep the week before for rehearsal, it is their responsibility to have learnt the music and be ready for rehearsal and Sunday. The day can end up being long…we do two morning services, so the commitment is at least five hours of a Sunday morning. And that may be too much for some. But I’d rather be upfront about the commitment, and for my team to be upfront in return so that I have a dedicated and committed band every Sunday.

Job Description

This is something that I’ve put together over the years through learnt experience, and we have a Job Description for our teams, just as we do for our leaders and staff, so that they are clear right from the start about what is expected and how we do things. This means there aren’t any surprises, everyone knows what to do, and if there are ever any problems, we can roll back to the job description and affirm that we all agreed to it.

Of course there is flexibility, I am pretty lenient and laid back when it comes to the team (that is just a personality trait of mine) and it is rare that anything untoward ever happens.

Setting expectations up front makes for a much happier journey for all involved.

We’re all going on a Summer Holiday

The Great British Summer. Ice creams by the beach, lazy picnics, ball games…umbrellas, day trips stuck in the car and board games in a tent. We are now not far away from the summer break, we are all as a family counting down to the holidays (it can’t come quick enough for some of us), and hoping for more seasonal weather this year.
Cone
It’s also the time of year at church when everything slows down; we cut back on services and our regular gatherings enter a semi state of hibernation as everyone disappears on holiday. We’ve tried various different ways of tackling this in the past…from crossing our fingers and hoping for the best, turning up on a Sunday and seeing who else is there, to closing down all together and saying “good luck….see you September!”

Opportunity

But summer is an opportunity…while the attendance varies hugely, it’s often a time for regular members to bring visiting family, or for visitors from other places to check you out while they’re on holiday. And if they’re greeted by your third best speaker, a team who aren’t quite sure how to switch on the lights, and a worship team of drums, recorder and banjo…they possibly won’t leave with the best impression, let alone come back/
So this summer, make a point of planning for the break:
  • While we know our leaders and volunteers will be away (and for sure everyone needs a holiday), we still rota for each week (we didn’t always do this)
  • We set a complete summer series so there is a consistent plan for our speakers to follow (this year it’s “Barbecues of the Bible…”).
  • We only have the one Sunday service each week, and it is all age…so no children’s work to rota, a reduced time commitment on a Sunday and more of the day to enjoy the (potential) sunshine.
  • I get holiday dates in advance from my band so I can make sure we have a consistent line up for each and every week…not always easy, but better than “seeing who turns up on Sunday…” (again, we didn’t always do this, and had some infamous bands including the six guitarists and a singer, or the “Black Keys” week, drums and guitar solo).
  • And we get commitment up front…everyone knows what they’re responsible for and when.

Summer plans

Don’t let this Summer vacation be a vacation of your congregation. I am sure you already plan every Sunday…so make sure you continue to do the same for your summer holiday. Or else this may happen….

Jony Ive and the ANPP

I finished reading a great book this week about Jony Ive, the Apple design guru. Apple are notoriously secretive, so most of the detail and stories had been picked from interviews and morsels of information the author had managed to collate. None the less, it was a fascinating and educative insight into Jony’s background and his input and ethos into Apple’s design.

Checklist

Now I am quite happy to confess I am a bit of an Apple fan boy…when I got my first computer at university it had to be a Mac (I was doing a music course after all). And it set me back the princely sum of £3,000 +, which in 1996 was a collossal amount of money (thank the Lord for student loans…). It was a beige Apple Performa (predating the iMac by some years), with 10 megabytes of memory, a 1.2 gigabyte hard drive, and 120 megahertz processor. My iPhone is 100 times faster and better specified than this machine, but in 1996 it was absolutely amazing.

There have been countless books, articles and column inches devoted to Apple and it’s incredible Phoenix-like resurrection once Steve Jobs came back on board. They have the capability to consistently create amazing products, to think ahead of their competitors, and in some cases invent entirely new product lines. As Steve Jobs famously said,

“A lot of times people don’t know what they want until you show it to them”.

Apple is a company which is design led, creating incredible products people want to buy because they look and feel amazing, in all aspects.

“It just works”

…is a tagline I hear over and over again…and is part of the reason I buy Apple. They aren’t so focused on numbers, they won’t cut corners to make products cheaper, and they wait until their products are ready, resisting the urge to rush products to market.

Now you may wonder why I’m so focused on Apple this week? Is he after some sort of endorsement? Do Apple do freebies?

An Apple a (Sun)day…

I believe there are many ideas and processes we can pull out of the Apple ethos and apply to how we approach our Sunday ministry. In fact I’m tempted to do a whole series on it…let’s save that thought. But for this week, I’m going to pull out one process I read about in Jony’s book.

Apple have an incredibly detailed document titled the ANPP, or Apple New Product Process. For every new product Apple devised and then create, they complete the ANPP, which is basically a glorified checklist. You can view an outline of it here…Apple of course haven’t released the document for public viewing, but someone has noted down their understanding of it. And it got me thinking: “how could we apply this to our service planning?”

Sundays come around at least every week, and as Creative Arts Director, once Sunday is over I’m already thinking about the next week…if not before. And because of this constant cycle, there are times some elements slip through the net…or aren’t everything they could be. Inserting even a short drama requires a lot of pre-planning so the actors have time to rehearse it. Some creative ideas need to be mail-ordered and put together. Set design isn’t usually a five minute job. So I’m in the process of creating our own check-list template, the EBCSP, or Easthampstead Baptist Church Sunday Planner*. All of the critical elements are ordered by date, so service outlines, songs, media, drama are listed with due by dates. Then as a separate column we can enter the final elements (song titles, media clips, interactive elements etc) which will feed into the service orders when they’re created.

It’s simple. It’s straightforward and effective. And I wonder why I haven’t thought of it before. But then a lot of people said it about the iPhone…

How do you go about making sure you don’t forget? Are you a list maker?

*Once I have a finished template I'll post it up here for sharing