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?

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.
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!”


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….

Leaky Buckets

I had the privilege this week to do some more training with our sound team. We had already done some training focussing on the technical side (how to switch things on, how to plug things in, where everything goes etc), but this was a very different session. I wanted to concentrate on the actual sound which was being achieved through the system; having invested so much time with our band on arrangements and dynamics, I wanted to make sure this was actually being heard through the PA.


Training our sound team is something we do at least twice a year. Rehearsing and training with the worship team happens pretty much weekly. And annually we remind all our volunteers why and how we do what we do. Vision leaks. People have short memories. We often slip back into old habits, or positions of comfort…it’s a completely natural reaction. Which is why we need to regularly remind all of our staff and volunteers of our ethos.

Leaky Bucket Syndrome

It’s just like a leaky bucket…you fill it up with water, and it will hold the liquid…but slowly the holes allow it to drain away…sometimes gradually, sometimes quickly! So it needs topping up to keep it full. We are exactly the same. If we are regularly serving in areas like the band or tech team, we should keep ourselves “topped up” both spiritually and mentally. But still, the longer between training sessions, rehearsals and seminars, the more our vision leaks, and the more we revert to our old habits and what we are comfortable with.

So a regular top up for whatever team you are serving under keeps everyone focused, reminds everyone of the how and why, and should mean all are serving the same purpose. We as a team are reminded regularly of the ethos behind our worship and who we are there to serve. We use written training materials, I send email reminders, we’ve been to seminars and held training days. Everyone on the team has access to this, and to the notes which serve as reminders. And when we train the sound team, we make sure it is done in conjunction with the band to reinforce the team ethos and mentality. This has to be a practical event…the notes are great for reminding and helping with knowledge, but nothing beats the doing to help remember. When we held the sound training on Tuesday, I could have talked theory for hours, but it only makes sense when we actually start EQing the band, adjusting the volume levels and hearing the effect the adjustments made.

Keep Topping Up

Back to your bucket. You’ll never patch all of the holes. Your bucket will always leak…sometimes slowly, sometimes fast. But regular refilling and occasional top ups will keep your bucket full and working to capacity.

How do you fill your leaky bucket?

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.


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

Pick a key….any key…

Read a great post on the Musicademy website today…which reminded me of this great song…

We have this problem at EBC often these days…the current crop of worship songs have a real trend for octave leaps, low verses/high choruses, and generally congregationally difficult keys.

Whereas before it was simple enough to take a Chris Tomlin or Matt Redman song and just transpose it down a bit, where there is a huge range between the verse and the chorus, we’re either growling like we have terminal laryngitis or breaking all of the glasses at church while we do cod BeeGee’s falsetto and try to hit top G’s…as the YouTube link attests to!

Something we have tried to do with songs like Here For You and Cornerstone is to aim for the middle ground… Cornerstone was in C which meant hovering around a high F in the chorus (and the odd top G!)…we’ve moved it to E which admittedly loses the impact from the octave leaps, but does keep it singable!

Is there an answer to this? Well I see it three main ways:

  1. We continue to use songs that use a sensible range (as the Musicademy article alluded to, there is a reason that 10,000 Reasons won two Grammy’s.
  2. We resist the urge to use songs that are “trendy” in worship circles if there is no way they will work in our churches (there is a lot of good worship out there, but a lot of it won’t translate to our congregations or bands).
  3. We focus on our church, the place and the people that we know best.

How do your approach song choice in your church?

Father’s Day

Father’s Day is coming up (15th June), and we as a church have been working out how to celebrate it. Mother’s Day is a relatively big deal for us each year, as we get the kids down from their children’s work early to distribute flowers/cards/chocolates to all the mums…then to all of the ladies in the church. Easy.

But dad’s don’t really do flowers and cards. And possibly already eat too much chocolate. We also have some broken families in our church where dad is no longer around…which can be a source of upset if we celebrate fathers. And while I understand the feeling behind this, there are still plenty of fathers in the church who haven’t left (I am one of them!), and I’m keen that they be celebrated in some way along with the men of the church, on this wholly commercial day! So this year:

Dads Only

We’re having a “Dads Only” section of refreshments, where there will be Man Snacks (Yorkie Bars, Pork Scratchings, Chilli Doritos, Nuts) and drinks (cans of various description (no beer) and extra strength coffee) which they can take to the Dad Cafe and consume while reading the papers and car magazines. Whilst re-runs of Top Gear and humorous sporting events run in the background (pre-service of course).

It’s a simple thing…but we dads are. And possibly slightly stereotypical…but then aren’t flowers? And I am sure that despite the wrapper, I will end up sharing my Yorkie Bar with my two daughters…

And if you’re stuck for something to purchase your dad for Father’s Day, I can wholeheartedly recommend this.

What are you doing for Father’s Day this year? Do you recognise it as a church?

Choose to Lose

We had an unusual opportunity to attend another church this morning…I say unusual, as we are usually attending or serving at our home church in EBC. But this Sunday we were at Hillsong Surrey to share in the dedication of Tara, the youngest daughter of some great friends of ours.

Hillsong Surrey meet at the Leatherhead theatre, and it was great to experience a different style of service. The music was LOUD with a capital L, a 10 piece band in skinny jeans pumping out some modern worship. I loved it…and got the set list too so that we could incorporate some of the new songs into our Sunday Mornings.


After analysing the form and content of the service (don’t all church leaders do this at other churches?) one of the things I was most struck by was the talk…(again, given in skinny jeans…); he was looking at the feeding of the 5,000, a familiar story. But one of the key things that he teased out of the text was the fact that out of 5,000 (and including the women and children it would have been a much greater number), that were gathered, there was only one young boy that had some food. So either: The disciples weren’t very good at sourcing food….or, as is more likely, the majority of the crowd didn’t want to share the food that they had.

The difference was that the boy chose to lose…he could have kept it for himself, but let it go for the greater good. And then look at what happened…5 loaves and two fish fed the crowd, with food leftover. We don’t know his name. We don’t know if he was given back the twelve baskets of leftovers. We don’t know what happened to him after he’d made his sacrifice. But we can be sure of the difference it made, and there must have been some sense of pride in what his offering had achieved.

Fast forward a few thousand years, and how many opportunities like this do we allow to pass us by? Is there food to share, lifts to be offered, time spent with others that we are not doing as we choose to keep it to ourselves? If we choose to lose on occasion, will we really miss out, or will we actually be more blessed by giving up and sharing what we have? I know what I’d like to be known, and remembered for.

What can you choose to lose this week?

Badminton for one

Have you ever tried to play badminton on your own? Or tennis? Or squash? (Actually, squash is feasible….) Or any bat and ball or team sport, but without a partner…or team? It’s not much fun, is it?

This week at EBC we were looking at community in church, referencing Acts 2:42 as our reference. Church should be all about community…it’s one of the many reasons that we meet together each week.

So to illustrate how commun20140519-173444-63284637.jpgity works, we played badminton….on our own. You could do the same with indoor cricket (soft ball recommended), or have a party for one, or football with an empty goal. Whatever you choose, the point is that community is no fun on your own.

disclaimer: I have never attempted to do any of the above in my normal life, but the I am also rubbish at sports.

How do you cultivate community?




It’s Hymn or Me

There is an ongoing debate about the use of secular songs in worship services…so I thought I’d add my two penneth (or two cents’ for any American readers) as I’ll be looking at a lot of it on this blog.
We at EBC regularly use secular songs, movie and TV clips and illustrations for our services…this is something that we have been doing since we started. The initial inspiration came from Willow Creek Community Church, and their seeker focused events. Why do we do this as a church, or, why do we still do this as a church? A bit of background first:
When we first moved to Bracknell in 2002, we came to plant a new congregation in our local sports centre. Having been strongly influenced by the Willow Creek model, we wanted to launch something that was seeker friendly, used contemporary arts to make it accessible to non-christians, and made sure that our messages, while being wholly biblical would be received, understood and applicable to anyone that visited. So using secular songs and media was essential to us for the inclusiveness of the event…it became a talking point for many of our services.
Scroll forwards to 2014, and although we no longer run the plant at the sports centre, we still use secular media in our services. And we have kept the majority of our plant congregation with us…on the last count out of our regular attenders, some 47% of them had no church background (were not from Christian families or were regular church goers)

So why do we continue to do this?

  • For any non-church visitors, or even regular attenders, it makes the service more accessible. For visitors, everything is new: new faces, new songs, new environments. If we can provide some common ground that is settling it will help visitors to engage more.
  • It can start everybody from the same place: if we start the service with a familiar song, TV clip or Media, there is a shared response across the congregation, be it laughter, setting up a question to be resolved, some sort of common emotion.
  • It shows that we are relevant: we as a church still have a lot to say and a lot to offer, as Bill Hybels memorably said: “The local church is the hope of the world”, which I strongly believe. But if we are so purposely not in the world, we will struggle to be the hope that we can be. Shared secular media will show that we are aware and a part of the wider world, as we like to say: “I’m alright, you’re alright”.

All that said, there have to be some guidelines…which may be common sense to some, but are worth writing down:

  1. Choose media that is cross generational, or at least fits with your congregation: Using a High School Musical clip or Vera Lynn song may be a great fit to the theme of your service, but it is possibly not a great fit to all of your congregation.
  2. Choose media that is appropriate: Probably fairly obvious, but using Die Hard 5 to illustrate father son relationships could alienate some of your congregation (or at least make for interesting conversation over coffee afterwards)
  3. Choose media that is achievable: So Pharrell has released Happy, an impossibly perfect summertime song that even has a gospel choir. What’s not to like! Problem is, you don’t have a choir…or a drummer…or a half decent sound system. Or you have the perfect drama skit to illustrate Joseph’s relationship with his 12 brothers…but your drama team consists of two really good actors. When picking performance media, aim to pick according to your skill set…Only have two actors: source a drama for two. Only have a pianist and a couple of singers: get the piano vocal version. And practice practice practice.
  4. Mix it up. You don’t want to have an opening song, drama skit and movie clip every week…it makes more work for you, you’ll be constantly searching for new content, and everything will eventually be predictable. So have a great opener once a month…use a drama/skit every so often…drop in a media to add flavour. You want to add some “Wow” factor by using these elements in a sparing and targeted way.
We don’t use media, performance songs or drama every week. And we never incorporate these elements for the sake of it. But if there is something particularly relevant, helpful and applicable, then we will use it.

What are your thoughts: do you use secular media elements in your services, or do you purposely steer away from it? And if you do use it, what is the reaction from the congregation?