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get your campus ready for christmas

Tips to Get Your Campus Tech-Ready This Christmas

Christmas is one of a church’s two biggest services of the year. And it’s potentially one of the only services that some people will attend all year long.

Perhaps most important of all, it’s your chance to convey the most impactful Biblical story you will ever share as a campus pastor.

To help you pull it off with less stress, Campus Pastor shares this interview with a seasoned church technical professional, Greg Persinger, the owner of theatrical lighting system design company Vivid Illumination in Jefferson City, Missouri.

What three technical areas should campus leaders be mindful of when prepping for church services this year?

  1. If you are currently prepping for services and think you might need equipment rentals, you might be a bit behind the curve. [So], if you need a rental be sure to check on availability before you solidify your plans. With all the events happening this time of the year, equipment can be in short supply.
  2. If you think you need a new piece of gear but only plan to use it once or twice a year, it is more cost effective to rent than it is to purchase.
  3. Rehearse [Christmas programs the same way] you plan on doing the program. I have been in so many rehearsals where a song ends and the pastor says that he will talk there, and then we [plan to] move on to the next song. But once you get into the actual program, talking between those songs just doesn’t feel right [to the pastor] — and so they just decide to skip the talk and wait till later. This leaves everyone confused and could negatively affect the program.

What’s one of the greatest cheap and easy fixes you’ve used that helped your worship arts team in a pinch?

Tie line and gaff tape. I always have tie line and gaff tape on hand. Also, spare cables and batteries.

Most of the time a show-stopping problem isn’t because the console has failed, it is a bad cable or a dead mic that needs new batteries. I try to keep the basics on hand to help fix and eliminate the simple things.

What’s an area of potential danger to watch out for when it comes to technology — things that campuses may not always consider?

The biggest danger is anything that you hang overhead. Many churches don’t know what constitutes safe and what doesn’t.

I have seen some crazy DIY rigging over people’s heads that if it would have failed, it would have killed people. If you are not sure about what you are doing, do not do it, or hire a qualified professional to do it.

A good rule of thumb is that if you think that the hardware you purchase at your local hardware store is adequate to hang things over people’s heads, you are not qualified to hang it. Rigging requires specialized rated hardware that you typically cannot source locally.

The next item is hazers and smoke machines. Every entertainment atmospheric effect made will set off smoke detectors. While not a danger per se, setting off the smoke detectors generally means the fire department is going to show up and make you evacuate the building until they can clear it.

I have been told multiple times in different venues that haze doesn’t set our smoke detectors off, only to prove them wrong and invite the fire department to come see [our] show through a false alarm. If you want to invite the local fire house, save them a back row and give them tickets.

If a campus doesn’t have much money, what’s the most important thing to do at a multisite to help impart the story of Jesus’ birth with the greatest impact on attendees?

I have been doing this for 30 years and what I have learned is that technical people doing technical things and the equipment they use does not automatically equate to ministry. Yes, we support ministry, but ministry is about the people and not the gear.

The biggest thing you can do is eliminate the distractions so that people can hear the story — the greatest story of all time. A great story with great storytelling doesn’t need massive production to support it.

Get creative with what you have available. But to do this, you have to look internally and not externally at what other churches are doing that you can’t do. God has blessed you with what you have, He can use it for His glory. You just need to think and pray as to how best [you can] use your available resources.

[In addition], figure out how to get families involved. Doing special Christmas events generally pulls parents away from kids. Some of the best memories I have from my childhood are from working as a family on our Christmas productions. Save your money and use your volunteer manpower.

Tell us in detail about a lesson learned the hard way – one that campus leaders and church technical staff can both learn from.

I was lighting a Christmas choir and orchestra program for a prominent Christian University with a professor that was very well known in the Christian publishing, performance and touring world. He was a very experienced performer but when we ran the rehearsal, he was most concerned with the performance groups than where he was going to speak and introduce groups or songs.

We did the rehearsal and he got up and grabbed a microphone and said, “I am going to talk here.” Perfect, I marked the song order to make a note to light up his speaking position. After the rehearsal I spent another day programming all the lighting cues, but we didn’t get another chance to do a full run through in order, and instead, we jumped around.

The first night of the program we were running along in show order and when the song ends, I faded to black, and then the next lighting cue brought up the speaker’s light — except the professor that was supposed to speak was nowhere to be found.

Before I could figure out what was going on, the next song started, so then I was a couple of lighting cues behind. I played catch up and moved on.

A couple of songs later I faded the end of the song down and the professor walked out and started talking, but my next lighting cue brought up the lights on the orchestra for the next song, so I grabbed some lights and lit up the speaker, and then the lights went out, so I turned them on again. They stayed on for five seconds and then went out again, so I turned them back on and now they stayed on until I turned them off when the next song started.

I could tell the professor was upset, but at this point there was nothing I could do. When I programmed the show, I placed cues for lights where I was told he was going to talk. Where I didn’t plan for him to talk, I had automation cues running that were presetting the lights for the next song. Because of the way I set this up, every time I turned lights on manually, the automation turned them off. This happened five or six times through the evening.

At the end of the program, I had a visibly mad college professor headed my way to read me the riot act. I let him yell at me for a minute and when he stopped, I grabbed my set list and said, “I’m sorry but this wasn’t caused by me … Here is the set list that your assistant typed up showing where you said you would talk. But here, here and here is where you actually spoke,” pointing to where I had scribbled on my set list the places he actually spoke, “So now, [we] need to figure out what you are actually going to do so I can program it into the correct places in the show.”

He sheepishly stammered a bit of an apology, we made some decisions of where he was going to speak, and I fixed my programming. That day we both looked stupid.

From that show I learned two [important] things: practice how you are going to do the program and practice it in detail, and always have a quick and reliable way to light the speaker.

Finally, in your experience, what are some of the best ways for a campus pastor to thank tech staff and others after they pull off one of the year’s biggest and most important services?

Public recognition. Praise in public, correct in private.

I can tell how well a pastor treats people by how they handle technical problems from the platform. Those that chastise the technical crew or make them the butt of a joke while they are scrambling to fix the problem typically don’t appreciate their people …

After that, a nice dinner and a small gift is always appreciated.

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