Technology in a worship ministry
The way ministry operates in the 21st century is an ever-moving target. Really, the way the entire world functions within the context of technology and productivity is ever-changing. Part of most of our jobs now is to, not only, know which technologies are new and how to use them, but also which technologies are changing and what's next. The simple reality is that it takes work to stay current.
The workforce within ministry is no different. The lives of the people we shepherd are not getting any less busy. So, how do we use technology to best communicate with them, be respectful of their time, and lead them in the most effective way? In addition, what are the best uses of technology within our presentations?
At Thomas Road, we do not believe that production drives the presentation. We believe that we use all things to create an atmosphere where the people's hearts are open to be obedient and respond to the Holy Spirit. Technology is a part of that. What we do is by no means a "gold standard" or "cutting edge", but is fairly functional. To help answer some of the questions above, I will cover some of the technological tools we use to manage the worship ministry and in the presentation of our worship ministry.
Technology in managing our worship ministry
Planning Center: If you do not use Planning Center to plan your service and schedule your people, you should. J We started using this platform about 2 years ago and it has greatly made our systems more efficient. As the orchestra director, I can schedule people in advance and schedule subs as needed. Planning Center (PC) also allows people to block out the dates they will be gone so you can plan accordingly. We use PC to manage our praise teams as well. Go to www.planningcenteronline.com to learn more or register.
Dropbox: I think most of you probably use Dropbox in some fashion, but if you don't, stop reading now, go to www.dropbox.com, start downloading the program, and then come back and continue reading. Dropbox (DB) is, in my opinion, the best file-sharing platform out there. We keep most of our charts in DB so anyone on our team can access them and print what they need, when they need it. We also keep pertinent mp3's loaded in the DB folders so we can reference them or upload them to needed sites at any time. DB also houses our yearly overview - a spreadsheet we developed to view our sermon series for the year, choir songs, new worship tunes, special projects, and special events - all laid out week by week so everyone can see what's going on, add info or make changes, and fill in with regard to their specific area. One thing to keep in mind though: DB is a free program with 2GB of free storage space, but sometimes managing the files so everyone can stay under their 2GB of free usage gets tricky, unless you want to splurge for the upgrades.
Mailing lists: There are a variety of platforms and programs out there to handle mailing lists. No matter which platform you use, we have found them useful when communicating with larger groups of people. We use one program for our choir so everyone gets an update or instructions via one email. I use a different program when communicating information to the players in our Christmas program because the needs are a little different than for our weekly group.
Evernote: This is more of an organizational tool than a productivity tool, but it is really, really helpful. Need to take notes in a meeting, but don't want to open a word document, save it, create a folder for it, then wonder where you saved it 3 weeks later? Use Evernote. Open the program, start typing, call the file whatever you want, and use tags to identify key phrases or words. When you need to reference it later, just start typing the things you remember and there it is. Also, the file is saved on Evernote’s server, so everything is contained within the app. If you are a Mac user, like all smart people J, and have more than one Apple device (iPad/iPhone), the app syncs and you have everything up to date. Oh,.....and it's free. :)
Facebook group/page: Here's the reality....Facebook has taken over our lives. Here's another reality, we don't have time to manage our own profiles, much less manage a group or page for our music ministry. If you do have time, you need to work more :) I suggest that you find someone you trust, a volunteer; someone who is a team player, gets your vision, and has an understanding of tact. Most likely, a female, in your ministry can meet these standards. I never want to be accused of stereotyping, but I feel with certain confidence that I know more females than I do males who are quite active on Facebook. (Side-note: as to attest to cultural takeover of Facebook, my iPad is auto-capitalizing the word, denoting that it is, in fact, a noun.) Facebook can be a great forum for the people in your ministry to interact and share some life together, share prayer requests, as well as stay updated on events in the ministry. As with all things Facebook, it should be closely monitored and guarded so as not to get out of control. However, this is not something to be rejected, but to be received and used for our good and the glory of God.
Technology in our presentation.
There are churches and worship ministries that do far more intricate and forward thinking things in this context than we do, but what we do works really well for us. With that said, here are a technological tools that we use in our services.
Ableton Live: Ableton has become the industry standard for track playback, loop integration and click generation in the church world and the music industry at large. I won't get into all of the schematics of the program here, but it's customizability (is that a word? :)) is its greatest asset. For many years, we were not able to use loops in our services at Thomas Road because our value of flexibility held precedent over our desire to have loops. We rarely do things the same way, even from service one to service two within a Sunday morning. We needed something that would allow us to drop things in whenever we needed, regardless of where in the song it fell. Ableton allows this flexibility. For all things Ableton, including loops and tutorials, check out my friend Will Doggett with www.loopsinworship.com. I'm sure his site will be informative and helpful.
The MD (Music Director) microphone: If your band is on ear monitors, and you have a spare lav mic or headset mic, this can really make communication on the stage a breeze. On Sundays, I have a wireless headset mic that I wear to communicate with the rhythm section’s ear monitors, as well as the production team. This allows us to adjust things as necessary without making a big scene on the stage by keeping everyone up to date on what's going on and where our worship pastor, Charles, wants to go.
If you have an associate or orchestra director, he can manage the stage while the worship leader keeps his focus on the people and obedience to the Holy Spirit. The worship leader only has to worry with getting the message to one person (the designated “MD”) and he takes care of the rest.
Having this extra communication also allows the worship pastor and pastor to adjust things in the service as they see fit because the MD can let everyone know the adjustment.
This is a combination of two roles that you see in churches: the orchestra director or bandleader and the production director. Many of your, what I call, "cool churches" have a production director just off stage on a headset, who makes sure everyone knows what's coming and any changes on the fly, and, often times, has the spiritual gift of letting someone know when they've gone too long. Our philosophy at Thomas Road does not incorporate this particular role, as we believe the pastor and worship pastor are responsible for the flow of the service.
So, to summarize, having an MD mic allows us to be both flexible and communicative, which enables us to equip our people as best as possible without being disobedient to what God wants to do with His church service.
In closing, let me offer this admonition. We should look for and seek out new ways to use technology in our services. We should not, however, let technology take over the priorities of our services so that we have no room to adjust, and we become rigid about our use of these things.