Thank You

As I was taught when I was younger, manners cost nothing, and it’s generally polite to say please and thank you. And as I write this post, from my Salvation Army days I have the song “I nearly forgot to say thank you” going around my head…Oscar

This Sunday we are celebrating with our annual (ish) EBC Heroes day, where we recognise all of those who volunteer in our church. My role as Creative Arts Director and Worship Leader, as well as fairly regularly leading services means I am pretty visible in church, being on stage most Sundays. But it goes without saying there are many, many volunteers and staff who do so much behind the scenes.

Besides Sunday services our children’s work, youth work, older people’s work, our cafe and Messy Church, clusters, social events and small groups all rely on volunteers. I may be paid to lead on a Sunday, but it would be pointless without the rest of the band, our tech team manning the sound and lights, operations staff to sort out the words and the caretaker to open up the building.

And we, all of us, do make a point of regularly thanking our teams, whether by email, cards, chocolate or dinner…nothing is assumed or taken for granted. But as we have this one big celebration every year we can more publicly acknowledge, thank and celebrate all of the time and effort that our volunteers offer.

Nominations

We have nominations so members of our congregation can actually put forward any unsung heroes that they know of, and we also have some categories ourselves which we as a staff team nominate. So we have the “Feeding the 5,000” award for catering and refreshments, the “Bridging the Gap” award for those who work with young and old people and the “Edward Scissorhands” award for copious amounts of cutting out, as well as recognition for long service, reliable service and all round good egg.

It’s run like a mini oscar ceremony with red carpet, guest presenters, everybody on stage in suit and tie (which is unusual in our church) and of course awards. But it’s more than recognising just the small number of volunteers who “win” awards. It’s all about saying thank you. It’s all about the recognition that we can’t do it on our own. It’s all about acknowledging the local church is the hope of the world, and grows, blesses and cares in the community because of it’s congregation.

Who can you thank?

So next time you’re sat in church, look around and see what everyone, and I mean everyone is doing. And maybe after the service, as well as thanking the minister for his excellent talk (or not as the case may be…), see if you can thank the band, or the organist, or the choir, or the tea lady, or the welcomer, or the sound team…all of those volunteers who make Sunday happen. They’ll appreciate it. We appreciate it. And we appreciate all of you, so much, who help us, support us, and enable us to do what we do at church.

Thank you.

Try a Different Hat

This coming Sunday my good friend Colin is leading the band for our morning services. Now usually I take the opportunity to have a Sunday off and just “be” at church…something which is important to do, and something I encourage all of our musicians to do on a regular basis. But this Sunday (probably because of Easter holidays), we were really short on numbers so I became part of the band.hats

The songs were all familiar, (Indescribable, Happy Day, How Great is Our God, The Stand, Holy Spirit You are Welcome Here and Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)), and we had a nice little band line-up with drums, bass, guitar, keys and four of us sharing vocals duties (we were doubling up…there were only five of us in the band!).

I’m not saying I’m an accomplished player by any means, but I do know my way around a guitar, and this year especially am taking a bit more time to concentrate on different aspects of my playing. My musical background primarily was as a drummer and bass player, I kind of fell into playing guitar and leading by accident (probably wasn’t an accident…), so historically I always fiddled with the guitar but never approached it seriously. And these days, as I’m mostly leading the band on guitar, I concentrate 90% of my efforts on straight(ish) rhythm and remembering the words.

A time to Stretch

But for me this week, it was a great opportunity to stretch a bit as a guitarist. I didn’t have to lead the band, I wasn’t having to sing the tune to lead the congregation, I didn’t just have to play rhythm. My inner John Mayer could come out, I was able to play at the dusty end of the fretboard and employ much more of my pedalboard. We rocked! I didn’t even bring an acoustic to rehearsal, and I’m going full electric for Sunday!

Now I know this isn’t possible for everybody, that in some churches the band is the band, and there simply isn’t the space or opportunity to do anything other than lead/play bass/be the drummer. But where there is opportunity to play or contribute something different on a Sunday, I really encourage you to do so. We are fortunate to have several musicians in our team who can play different instruments, which we make full use of. Not only does it make putting the rotas together simpler, I also strongly believe (from my own experience) that having an understanding of different instruments makes you into a much more rounded player.

My background in drums and bass has meant my guitar playing is very rhythmic…possibly too much sometimes! And if you think of a band as a jigsaw puzzle, if you understand and or play some of the other instruments in the band, you will have a much better overview of how they fit together, and what your piece contributes. This week I was able to play the things I can’t think about when I’m leading…it’s a different challenge, and a different mindset from leading. But it was releasing, challenging, enjoyable and developed me further as a guitarist and musician.

Make an opportunity happen.

So try and make opportunities like this in your bands. If possible, don’t always lead, just be in the band. And if you’re usually “just in the band”, maybe you could lead some songs in a rehearsal and see it from the other side. Maybe you could sit in with the sound team to see what they do to make you sound great. Try a different hat. See what fits. It could all sound quite different.

Nothing New

So we’re almost in April, the clocks change this weekend, and summer is almost upon us. Hurrah! This means I have the enviable responsibility of creating new rotas for the Summer term, and also the opportunity to revise our song lists for another four months.music pile

Now this is something I have talked about before here as well as our song list, which is generally quite small but revised often. When I come to revise the list, I look at what we’ve done over the previous term, and I also collate ideas from others about songs they have heard, songs which will suit our church and songs which may be speaking to us as a congregation. I generally listen to a lot of music, and when there is a new release from Hillsong or Passion, I tend to get hold of it, partly for my own personal worship, but also for inspiration for new songs for our church.

I also read a lot of blogs, and scan the CCLI charts to see what is popular in case there is anything I’ve missed. So I had a look at the US CLLI list, and the top 10 included 10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman, This is amazing grace by Phil Wickham and Jeremy Riddle, and Oceans from Hillsong. In fact, from the top 25 there were only four songs we didn’t have on our list.

Let’s do the Timewarp

What really surprised me was looking at the UK CCLI list. Sure enough, 10,000 Reasons was on there, as was Mighty to Save and How Great is our God. But generally it was all stuck in a bit of an 80’s timewarp. Sure, there were some great songs on there (which we still use also), such as Faithful One, Blessed Be Your Name and How Deep the Father’s Love. But there were also still such classics as Shine Jesus Shine, Be Still and Lord I Lift Your Name on High.

Now I’m not saying these are bad songs, I acknowledge we probably run a fairly progressive church in terms of our music and media, and I don’t have any issue with hymns and older songs if they are right for the service and/or context…we have both on our list and always will. And I know everyone has favourites…I am still the biggest Level 42 fan, and just this week have been revelling in the latest release from 70’s AOR rockers Toto! But what troubles me is that these lists seem to stay so static (I check them every term, and I worked with Kingsway UK on a project some years back)…when there is so much great music out there. I don’t advocate throwing everything out and starting from fresh, but I also don’t agree that we just stick with what we’ve always done. A change will do you good…

Church and Culture

I was at a conference last week on Church and Culture hosted by Mecklenburg Church, and something (among the many things) they did as a church was take their congregational songs and rework them into a more contemporary arrangement…yes, we were introduced to breakbeat worship. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t convinced…but then it probably isn’t supposed to appeal to me and my culture. And they didn’t do it every week, or for every song. The point is, they were doing something different to reach out to a completely new demographic. And we do the same in our own way, we use contemporary secular songs, we use media from today’s TV and films, we have a worship team…this blog is here to share all of those ideas with a wider audience.

If we haven’t updated the songs we use on a Sunday for 30, 40, 150 years…are we serving others, or are we just serving ourselves? Do we use Shine Jesus Shine because it’s the best song to worship to, or to illustrate a point…or is it just the leader’s favourite? If we as churches are never looking to change our music, our culture, our outreach, then we will continue to shrink and decline as we are seen as more and more irrelevant in today’s culture. And please don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to knock Graham Kendrick or dismiss the effect which one song can have on a person…

I spent most of January looking at “new“, and at the end of April we will have our new songlist for the summer. It will include some songs from the new Passion album, it will include the new old song I talked about here, it will also have hymns, old songs and classics. I just hope the next time the CCLI UK report is updated, it will see some of the same changes.

Step Away from the Microphone

We have a fabulous bass player in our team called Kat. She plays double bass rather wonderfully, and sings along as she plays…but she will not ever sing into a microphone. I’ve never actually heard her sing, but she is there to play bass and play bass only. And, I think it was on a conference we went to together, the phrase “step away from the microphone” arose, and has hung around ever since. Now this post is absolutely nothing to do with Kat’s singing (or lack of singing), and it’s not here to discourage anyone in their singing. Unless you’re our Senior minister…in which case, Chris, sorry, but yes, you must put the microphone away all together. (Chris will freely admit his singing ability is as good as my rugby knowledge. It’s really that bad. But we are praying for him.)

MicrophoneThis past Sunday at EBC we ended up with a slightly bigger band than usual, which was great. And we were continuing with our Follow series looking at the topic of Cost and what we need to give up to do something. Now among the songs I had chosen for the band was the song “Light of the World” by Tim Hughes, an oldy but goody which we don’t use as often, but which had the wonderful bridge “I’ll never know how much it cost, to see my sin upon that cross”.

When I was planning the rehearsal (you do plan your rehearsals, don’t you?), I thought it would be great to start the song on the chorus acapella. So we did, and it worked really, really well. I was fortunate to have a group of musicians who are able to harmonize without too much direction…in fact we even got an extra microphone out for our bass player (Graham this week) who wanted to sing some extra harmonies. We had a really good rehearsal, the music went very well, we had fun together, it was worshipful…it just worked. It just worked! So I was really looking forward to Sunday, I knew it was ready and should go well.

Sunday outcome

So come Sunday we did our services, and besides Light of the World we were also using One Thing Remains, Brian Doerksen’s The River and The King of Love. And I found that as we had a seven piece band (Cajon, Bass, two guitars, a violin and six of us singing), I was able to lead but hardly play, and I was able to Step Away from the Microphone. Now this may not be much of a revelation to some of you, and it is something I have written about, and have been working towards. But this Sunday I was able to actually do it without having to plan it too much…and it was so releasing for me, for the band, and I’m sure for the congregation too.

Karen (who was flitting between violin and vocals depending on the song) took the lead in some of the songs, the rest of the team handled either harmonies or male lead, and I just chipped in with some harmonies and the tune in certain parts. And it was the same with my guitar…especially as the songs didn’t require too much drive, I was able to sit back, strum, use some open chords and let the rest of the band carry the song.

The Fraction Principle

I have mentioned the fraction principle before, and it’s a post worth a revisit. But this Sunday we were really on it, each of us playing well within our limits and abilities, listening to each other and just being incredibly sympathetic to the songs.

Now that’s not to say we’re generally unsympathetic most Sundays and have a competition to see who’s the loudest/fastest/biggest show off (clue: it’s usually me….). But this week really stood out…and the feedback we got from the band (excited and slightly elated), the congregation (they noticed the difference!) and the leadership (we even got a small round of applause…!)…all went to illustrate how we had just eeked out a little something extra.

So please, try it. Rehearse your rehearsals. Use the fraction principle. Try something new. Step away from the microphone! And maybe something a bit wonderful may happen.

Turn it up!

Pretty much anyone who’s been in a band will have watched Spinal Tap, and I know from personal experience of rehearsing and gigging when I was younger, the situations, exploits and “band discussions” in the movie happened with surprising frequency in my bands (although I never had a drummer explode….so far) As Nigel Tufnel (Spinal Tap’s lead guitarist) explains here in this classic scene…all of his amps go to 11…

Now towards the end of last year at EBC we replaced our acoustic drum kit with an electric kit. It’s something we had held off of, partly as being a drummer myself, the sound and feel of an electric kit is nowhere near the same as an acoustic kit unless you spend a lot of money, something we couldn’t justify. But we were able to borrow a really good Roland V Drum kit from one of our members, so we thought we’d give it a go. And on the whole, it has made a huge difference.

  • Firstly, we have so much more space on stage, as it has a footprint at least half of what the acoustic drums had, and there is now no need for the large perspex screens we had around the kit.
  • This has also led to improved sight lines across the stage, as we can get the kit in a better position and again, no screens to peer through or over.
  • And the sound on stage has crucially changed immensely, whereas before we had to turn up the stage monitors to counterbalance the drums, now we can run everything at a much lower level. Which has also meant we on stage can now hear the congregation more clearly…they actually make some noise!

So far so good.

A little is enough?

But, and this is where the title of this post emanates from…everything has now got a little too quiet!

  • Whereas before the acoustic volume of the drums meant the PA had to be run at a certain level…now the level of the drums is dictated 100% by the soundman.
  • Where before if the drums weren’t going through the system (we did mike up our drum kit), you could still hear them over the system, now if the drums aren’t turned up enough by the soundman…they won’t be heard.
  • And similarly on stage, while we are able to have much quieter monitor mixes on stage…if we can’t hear the drums properly ourselves, then as a band we start to fall apart a bit…often the drums are driving the songs and creating the rhythmic glue which holds us together.

I’ve been to plenty of venues…not just churches…where volume is an issue to overcome. Just like the scene in Back To The Future where the teacher (Huey Lewis) stops the audition because “I’m afraid you’re just too darn loud”…limiting volumes is a hurdle to overcome especially when you have an acoustic kit, plenty of exuberant musicians and a large PA. But working out how to persuade the mix needs to be louder…is a different problem altogether, and something we are surprisingly struggling with.

We’ve done plenty of training in the practicalities of sound, so all of our team know how to operate the desk, where to plug things in, how to eliminate feedback, phantom power, DI boxes etc. And we’ve done training in how to mix, practical EQ, balancing the band, lead musicians and instruments. Everyone knows when to turn up, what their responsibilities are as a team, how to get the monitors set during soundcheck and how to problem solve during a service. All bases covered.

Subjectivity

But we’re finding more and more the actual overall level during a service is so subjective it is really difficult to teach. Everyone has their own mixing style and preference, which is fine within certain parameters. But how do you dictate what is deemed too quiet? How do you justify the drums are too quiet, when the sound man thinks they’re great? And when it is too quiet in the front of house, just as if it is too loud, you start to run into problems, as the congregation doesn’t engage, the mix sounds weak and without depth, and (based on the songs we sing), losing the drums often means we lose the drive from the band.

I’ll be honest, it’s not a problem I was ever expecting (having been on the wrong end of many comments as a drummer over the years) and I don’t yet have a definitive solution as it is so subjective…what I deem too quiet, others deem about right, when I think there’s not enough drums or bass…others think it’s nicely balanced for the lead vocals… What I am going to try is to employ a decibel meter, and then aim for a minimum level we have everything at. So I’ll keep you updated, and if you have any other ideas to counteract this interesting phenomenon…drop me a line, always interested in new ideas and discussion.

But in the mean time….Turn It Up!

Small Change Big Difference

I have another day job aside from my day a week with EBC, as a royalty auditor and royalty accountant. This generally involves sorting and manipulating huge amounts of data on big spreadsheets…which requires a decent computer and a good knowledge of excel shortcuts! Recently when I was out on an audit, my computer (which has been getting progressively slower) needed rebooting three times in order to work! I’d already got accustomed to getting into the office in the morning, switching on my laptop, then hanging up my coat, using the bathroom, making a cup of tea and checking through the post…by which point my computer was just about through booting and I could log in. Pile-of-Laptops

Clearly this wasn’t productive, the laptop is only a few years old and pretty high spec…so I got in touch with our IT support to see if it was something worth saving, or whether I just needed to invest in something newer and faster. To my surprise Simon at Response IT said “just replace the hard drive with an SSD (solid state drive), it’ll fix everything. We’ll pick it up and take care of the rest!” So they did…

Now I’m not by any means technophobic, I handle most of the IT issues in our office, and I generally have a good overview of how these things work. And I had already got a decent laptop on which I had doubled the memory…I didn’t think replacing the hard drive would make that much difference. But when I got the machine back…it was incredible!  My three year old laptop was now a sleek, speedy and capable machine again! When I switched it on…it booted in about 20 seconds. It was ready before I was ready. Programs opened seemingly instantly. There were no perceived delays when switching windows. It had no errors, no crashes, no need to reboot. It just worked…but like it did when it was new. I was simply amazed…so much so that my home tower is this week going in for the same treatment!

Small change big difference?

This got me thinking: are there other areas in church life where a small change can make such a significant difference? I’m not talking significant and expensive overhauls of equipment, programs and teams, but the small and life changing adjustments which can make a really large and readily discernible difference. If I look back over the past few years at EBC, I can identify a few small changes which have made a big difference to us.

Our Song List: we cut our regular list of Sunday songs from …well basically the contents of Songs of Fellowship…around 2,000 songs, to a smaller list of around 150, and ultimately we now operate a list of around 60 songs which are revised on a termly basis. Result: The band and the congregation know the songs much better as they are on a regular rotation, so we are all freer to sing them without thinking about them too much.

Lowering music stands: Now I am approaching the other side of 40 (41 this coming May), I am finding I have to resort to glasses when on my computer and reading. We used to be in the habit of having our music stands up pretty high on a Sunday morning…probably because we were still using the small print out of the Songs of Fellowship books and the rest of us needed glasses. But this creates a real barrier between the band and the congregation. So when we revised our song lists and stopped using Songs of Fellowship, we created our own song sheets on A4 paper in big print…so moved the music stands down more to waist level. Result: the congregation can see us worshipping and so follow, we can see the congregation. (in addition to this, when we did our main hall redevelopment we installed a comfort monitor which displays the words to all on stage…potentially eliminating the need for song words on stage at all.

Smiling on stage: So we reduced the height of our stands, and now everybody can see us. Us, the worship band, singing songs about love, happiness, isn’t life great…although we weren’t always reflecting this in our facial or bodily expressions. Now our bands (especially our singers) are reflecting far more what they are singing on stage, which models how to sing in worship to our congregation…and they soon follow. Result: A congregation who are far more understanding and in tune with our musical worship.

Service Orders: I have talked about this a lot before, so I won’t cover it too much here. But suffice to say, if you want your service to run smoothly, to time and coherently, having a planned order with timings, transitions and technical directions will make a big difference to your services.

What else?

There are many more small changes we have made, and are continuing to make which are making big differences to our services, and I know will continue to do so. And you’ll also notice from the small selection above, there was no significant financial impact, generally just a bit of planning and some printing! Why don’t you take a fresh look at how things are operating in your setting, and see what small change can make a big difference?

Expect the Expected

Henry Ford started manufacturing the Model T in 1908, and while it wasn’t the first mass produced car, Ford did implement manufacturing techniques and refined the assembly line process to make cars more accessible to the general public rather than the rich persons plaything. By 1918, half of all cars in America were Model T’s, and they were all black…as Henry Ford famously said,Any colour as long as it's black...

“Any customer can have a car painted any colour that he wants so long as it is black”

 

Do you ever find church can feel a bit like that? We follow the same tried and tested formula, perform the same rituals, sing the same songs (hymns) by the same people in the same order, week after week after week. Even forward thinking churches can fall into following a routine, as it’s “normal” for a Sunday. Like the Model T, Sundays can all come in the one colour…we expect the expected.

This past Sunday we held our regular All Age Sunday which always happens at the end of the month. This has meant in the past always having a kids song, breaking the talk up into smaller parts, maybe a children’s story or some sort of interaction…again, falling into a tried and tested routine.

But this Sunday we got our youth group to lead the whole service….from the welcome to the notices to the story to the prayers at the end. And Amy our wonderful youth worker did the talk, which was amazing. And it was all great. It was really good. And it was only 45 minutes long.

So we came away saying “wasn’t it great” and “didn’t they do well” and ” fantastic talk” and other backslapping, positive things. And then we said “it was a bit short” and “the talk could have been longer” and ” probably room for another song” and other similar observations.

Which got me thinking…well, why? Why does it have to be an hour long? Why do we start with three songs? Is the talk (or sermon) the most important part of the service? Why Sunday morning…and so on and so on…

Too long or too short?

I can think of many films which have perfect endings…and then carry on for another half an hour (I can think of many sermons which have done the same….) We in the UK are used to series of six episodes…so when Top Gear has a run which only lasts four episodes, I feel somewhat cheated…where are my missing two episodes?!

And albums used to be around 50 minutes long as that was as much time as you could fit on the two sides of a vinyl record…around 8 – 10 songs. So when all of these classic albums were re-released on CD, you again felt cheated as you knew there was an extra thirty minutes of space…no, wasted space on the CD. And then record companies started filling the space with bonus tracks, remixes…live versions…and so we bought them again, and again, and again.

Nothing wrong with order

Now I’m all for a template, we need to have service orders so everybody knows what is happening, and lets be honest, if your services are radically different from week to week, everybody (including you) is going to come away confused. But at the same time, be willing to change, try and think differently, do mix it up from time to time, and always always always make sure there is space for God to take control…

Having a slightly shorter service meant more people stayed afterwards…we shared coffee and cake (as we usually do) but giving an extra (and unexpected) 15 minutes from finishing early meant the congregation felt less pressured (or knew they had more time) so they hung around. And talked about how good the service was, how well everybody had done, how great to have some different faces leading. Which in my book is a good thing.

Ford Model T’s aren’t still all black…

Also available in green...

 

How to Play Oceans on the Drums

This coming Sunday we have an all age service, which has been entirely organised by our young people. They’re also going to lead it, Amy, our wonderful youth worker is going to do the talk, they’re going to tell a story for the children, prayers, announcements…the lot! And my marvellous daughter Abi is joining me in the band. I know it’s going to be great.

They also chose the songs from our list, including Rend Collective’s My Lighthouse and their reworking of Be Thou My Vision (You are my vision) and of course, Oceans.

Now I’m sure a lot of you have already seen this clip doing the rounds last year…in fact this video has had over 1.2 million views, and it’s an edit of the original! But in case you haven’t…here it is again. I particularly love watching the leader…despite the hero drummer getting in as many notes as possible (and we’ve all done it at some point….) even the double kicks…she carries on with the song as if it’s completely normal. Maybe it is normal? Would love to go to some of their rehearsals and see what occurs…

The Fraction Principle

I did talk about The Fraction Principle some time ago…this isn’t an old Big Bang Theory episode, but is a useful lesson from the ever wise Brian Doerksen. The theory goes you temper your ability according to the number in the group…so if there are five of you (as there usually are in our Sunday band), you play to a 5th of your ability. Which is not to say you play badly, but that you are aware of not overplaying to give everybody else space.

Of course everybody has different levels of ability and competence, but as a principle it’s essential to avoid the lead guitarist drowning out the piano, all of the singers trying to leader over harmonise, or even the drummer taking the spotlight from the leader in Oceans… There should always be space to add…whether it’s vocal harmonies, guitar and key riffs or tasteful (not tasty) drum fills. But notice the use of the word space there…if you all try and do it at the same time, it potentially turns into a free jazz gig…not necessarily what all of the congregation were expecting…?

Always be listening

I know this is something I have to be aware of…having a drumming background and only in recent years having more of a band around me, my playing style has by experience and necessity been very rhythmic and driving…something which works on your own or with a small group of musicians…but when we have a band including drums, keys and bass…I can drop back a bit…not that I always do.

I remember someone incredibly famous, (so famous, I’ve forgotten their name…), saying “musicality is as much about knowing when not to play, as much as it is about knowing what to play”.

So remember, fractions, space and taste. And how not to play Oceans on the drums….

Horizontal Design

I fully acknowledge I am a bit of an Apple fan boy…my phone has been exclusively an iPhone since about 2009, we have several iPods, iPads, an Apple TV and four! MacBooks between us… There is even an old 90’s Performa in the loft from my university days…when Mac’s came in beige and had less storage than my phone (1.2 gigabyte hard drive anyone?) But there is a reason so many of us choose Macs…they look great, are highly functional, and as the adage goes…”they just work”. Apple Heaven?

There’s been a lot of discussion this week amongst the Apple fans as Jony Ive has done an extensive interview with The New Yorker. Now I read the Jony Ive book last Christmas, and it was a great read; very interesting and inspirational…I highly recommend it. The interview in The New Yorker is possibly the most informative piece of writing on the inner workings of the Apple design studio (the Jony Ive book was pieced together from snippets of interviews and research), and just highlights how central Jony Ive and the creative team are to all of Apple’s output.

Segregated Departments

Many organisations have design teams alongside marketing, development, sales etc…but often they don’t properly hook up together. If you read the Walter Isaacson biography of Steve Jobs (again, another great read), it was apparent when Jobs came back to Apple in 1997 that it wasn’t working…they had a desktop computers department, laptop department, computer monitors, printers, handhelds….and none of them were talking to each other. Hence the design, compatibility and infrastructure were completely disparate…hence the near bankruptcy of the company. What Steve and Jony did was to simplify and reunite all of this…initially the company shelved everything and went back to making four main products…a professional desktop and laptop, and a consumer desktop and laptop.

What is especially apparent from this New Yorker interview though is how central Jony Ive and the design department is to everything Apple does. They oversee from beginning to end, and control and integrate design into the whole Apple experience…from the case to the keys to the software…they even pay special attention to the design of the box so the unboxing experience is a special event in itself.

It struck me that we as churches should pay attention to this. I talked a while back about templates and orders, and how every church has a template even if they don’t realise it. But it is also incredibly important to have a central, horizontal design to our church services. What do I mean by this?

Service Elements and Orders

When putting a church service together, there are several different elements which are pieced together. They may include prayer, music, bible readings or liturgy, drama, announcements, an all age or kids section and a talk or sermon. We may include media, some sort of interaction, sometimes communion and a benediction. I am sure your services will have some or all of these elements at some point. But when it comes to putting them into an order of service, how do you approach it? Do you follow a similar pattern each week: welcome, song, prayer, song, announcements, sermon, song, prayer. Do you make an attempt to try and join the songs with the theme of the talk, or reading? Does your worship leader attempt to create a set which works together musically, in key, tempo and style? And who is in charge of putting this together: the service leader, the minister, the worship leader? Or someone in the office who types up the service order?

As you can see from the examples above, assembling service elements like this is a very vertical, blocky form of construction. We all know of churches who have the hymn/prayer/hymn sandwich as it is called. Which is not to say it is wrong. But if we took this horizontal design approach to all we do, I believe we can construct a much better order of service:

So the opening song or welcome or Opener sets the theme or background to the service…this transitions smoothly into the songs which are also transitioned musically into the next section…maybe a drama or media which illustrates or highlights a question which is going to be tackled in the talk. The talk answers the question and then leaves the congregation with a challenge…this transitions into a time of response…the band come to the stage during prayer and start to play…moving into an end time of worship, which finishes on a prayer or benediction and then an invite to personal prayer and/or coffee.

You can see this overview of a service (which is something you would experience most weeks at our church EBC) contains all of the elements mentioned above, but there is more of a horizontal thought as to how the different elements and sections fit together, link, interact and complement and support the whole message. Part of the reason Microsoft’s Zune never really took off was because it wasn’t a very appealing package….it played songs as well as the iPod, but didn’t look very good. Similarly there are many phones which look stunning, but the software embedded in them is buggy, counter intuitive and slows you down. This can be applied to websites, books, shop signs….and church services. Good design is pointless if it doesn’t work, and the best machinery, software and technology are pointless if no one understands how to work them. This is one of the reasons Apple do so well, as the design is thought about and integrated from the start, and again from the New Yorker article it is clear the involvement happens every step of the way through to completion.

1,000’s of possibilities

There are many different ways of putting a service together, and I don’t believe there is one “correct” way. However, I do believe with just small amount of horizontal design, and thinking this way from the start to the end, it is possible to make service orders, not matter what elements or style, far more impactive to the congregation who are attending them. And this is also easy to do if there is one person responsible for putting the order and elements together…be it a service leader, producer…whatever or whoever, just one person will be able to join the dots. This doesn’t mean they’re responsible for creating all of the elements…but they are able to have the horizontal overview and control.

So next time you’re putting together a service order, try to think of the whole experience from end to end…a horizontal design.

January ideas and resources

So we’re (almost) at the end of the month, and as we looked at all things new this January, I thought I’d share some of the things I’d been using for inspiration and training and will be for the rest of the year:

Resource heaven?

Resource heaven?

  • Choose Life by Simon Guillebaud is a great collection of readings for the year which I was introduced to by my boss, Chris. Each day has a verse, a reading, and a prayer. We did Simon’s course More Than Conquerors as a small group, highly recommended.
  • Become an Idea Machine is a book I bought off of the back of James Altucher’s book Choose yourself! It’s a great premise, you have an idea muscle which needs to be exercised, so the more you do it, the stronger it gets. So you have to come up with 10 ideas a day, every day, for 180 days. Each day has a separate challenge/inspiration, so far I have journalled 10 things I don’t like which I’ve turned into things to be grateful for, 10 apps I would like to use (that don’t exist), 10 movies which caused a deep impression…and so on. I do it at the beginning of every day, and it’s hard…but good!
  • With by Skye Jethani is a great book I started last year and am just finishing. He looks at how we often approach God from four angles: Over, Under, For and From, and how we should be With God. Thought provoking…
  • …as is his daily email With God Daily. Skye is one of those inspirational writers who thinks different but is approachable and understandable. Really enjoying these in my inbox.
  • The Passion movement is something we always draw inspiration from, and their annual album often forms the basis for our musical worship for the year. I get the Digital All Access Pass every year as there is so much content. Great music, great messages, great organisation.
  • Truefire is an online guitar teaching resource, you can access it on your computer, there are apps as well, and there are plenty of courses to help you improve your playing and get some new ideas. I’ve bought the course on open tunings (something I’ve wanted to get a better understanding of), Fretboard Phenom and 50 blues licks you must know (as I wanted to learn some better lead). The courses are cheap and often discounted, and you get video tuition, music and downloads. I am not yet John Mayer, but I still play a mean rhythm guitar!
  • I do a daily reading on YouVersion, it’s a free app, and they have lots of different daily plans you can follow. I’ve just finished the Catalyst Leadership plan and am currently working through a 30 day Oswald Chambers plan. They’re really easy to follow, it’s a great bible reading/study app. And did I mention it’s free!

So that’s my lot for this month…I will update on things I am reading, using and writing. And I hope you will come back to paulkerslake.com for some resources and inspiration yourselves!

What resources have you discovered for 2015?