Category Archives: Tech

Church Media (Part 3) – For Media Operators

The final post in this three-part series will focus on the oft-overlooked member of your ministry team: the operator. This is the guy or gal scurrying awkwardly before service. He’s keying in and ordering songs, choosing backgrounds, getting scriptures from the pastor, and generally panicking five minutes before every service.

Let me say it one last time before continuing: unless you’ve sat in his seat, you don’t know just how nerve-wrecking this job can be.

That being said, media operators can take many steps to ensure they’re serving their church and pastor to the best of their ability.

1. PUT THE LYRICS ON SCREENS BEFORE THEY ARE SUNG

I’ve actually fought with fellow media operators about this, but I feel it’s important enough to place at the top of the list (this is particularly important in churches with a screen on the back wall for singers to reference during worship service).

Every church has a library of hundreds of songs. Each worship song consists of around 200 words (based on 20 of our church’s worship songs that I’ve selected at random and averaged out). Realistically, we have around 60 songs that are in our regular rotation. That means that if you make the argument, “Well, the singers should know the words,” then you expect them to memorize the arrangement of around 12,000 words.

That’s just crazy talk.

Worship teams consist almost exclusively of volunteers. They have lives — jobs, children, schoolwork, finances, and other sources of stress other than memorizing thousands of lyrics to dozens (or hundreds) of songs. They need help!

As the worship leader gives signs to the musicians and singers, prepare the next verse/chorus/bridge, and place it on the screen as the last two words of the current slide are sung. This will ensure an easy transition into the next slide, and there won’t be an awkward pause when half of the worship team neglects to come in at the right time because they forgot the words, or worse yet, sing the wrong words.

Additionally, placing the slides on the screens with time to spare will help the congregation join in when a new song is being played for the first or second time, assisting them in learning the song.

Finally, the most important reason for you placing the lyrics on the screen beforehand is that if you don’t, the awkward transition has the potential to snap someone out of worship. You actually have the potential to make or break the worship during a song. If they’re focusing on the mistake made by the singers, then they’re not focusing on worship, period.

2. PAY ATTENTION

At our church, the media operator is the floating head atop the media booth, perched high in our church’s risers. This is often the case — very few media computers are situated in open sight for the rest of the congregation to observe. The good thing about this: members of the congregation are less likely to bug your media operator with personal complaints (oftentimes unrelated to the media operator’s responsibilities) at inopportune moments because of close proximity and accessibility. The bad: media operators can be surrounded by distractions of their own.

Techies are chronic multi-taskers by nature. This benefits us in many situations, but it can also be a great hindrance when unobstructed focus is required. If you’re playing Angry Birds at the same time you’re supposed to be paying attention to the worship leader’s hand signals, you are about 5,000,000,000,000% more likely to miss the sign, make a mistake, and send the service into a realm of awkwardness.

Just in case you weren’t paying attention, that’s 5 trillion percent. I arrived at that figure by pure science.

It’s true.

3. ARRIVE EARLY

Running media requires time. If your pastor needs you to take a look at a video that he wants played before his message, and you’re not there at least 30 minutes early, then you’re not giving the job the respect it requires.

No, you won’t be needed early 90% of the time, but for that 10% you are, and you’re not there — that spells trouble.

4. DON’T REQUIRE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

As I’ve stated several times in this series of posts, your job as media operator is to never draw attention to yourself. The only times that people will acknowledge your presence is when you make a mistake.

If you throw Ezekiel 2:2 on the screens instead of Ecclesiastes 2:2, then people will look at you and scowl. If you start Verse 3 instead of the Bridge, singers will look at you in terror, then they will scowl.

But if you do your job properly, almost no one will be aware of your presence, and that’s okay! I’m sure your media team leader will thank you from time to time and your pastor might say, “Thank you, ______” when you look up a scripture quickly, but for the most part, media operations is a thankless job.

There is a certain nobility to doing a job faithfully and never requiring a pat on the back. It’s the heart of a servant, and God will certainly reward it.

IN CONCLUSION:

The demands of the modern church have changed over the years, and media has been an integral part of that change. Used properly, it is a fantastic tool that can aid in adding a level of accessibility and polish to your services.

Used improperly, media could be a constant distraction for your congregation. Whether your’e the pastor, worship pastor, media team leader, or media operator, be sure you’re doing what you can to help make your church’s media flow smoothly. It WILL make a difference.

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Church Media (Part 2) – For Worship Pastors

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I had a friend joke several years ago that it was “time to praise the screens.” I shot him a puzzled look, and he nodded towards everyone who was standing for worship service. As the music started, hands were lifted, eyes were turned upward, and lyrics were sung with passion — all towards the projector screens.

It’s humorous (and perhaps slightly sad), but considering that decades ago, our faces were turned downward to page 142 in a battered hymnal, it’s hard to be critical. Would you rather crane your neck slightly upward to read the lyrics from the screens, or emphasize your double chin by looking down at a weathered book? You get my point.

Regardless, it’s nice that even with our new songs, we can still sing alone fairly well because of the accessibility of the lyrics to the entire church. This is probably the greatest benefit to having projectors set up in your church, but for it to run optimally, we’ll need your help, worship pastors.

Note: if you read my last post, some of this will be slightly redundant.

1. SUBMIT YOUR LYRICS EARLIER

Our worship pastor, Brad Crow, Emails new lyrics to the entire media team, usually at least a day before we sing them for the very first time. I cannot emphasize how helpful this is to all of us who run the screens. He also gives us the worship sets for both AM and PM services the day before. I don’t have to ask him for a set list or bug him for lyrics — he’s already on top of it.

Keying in lyrics takes time. An average song at our church consists of at least two verses, a chorus, and a bridge. This might not seem like a lot, but when you also have to select backgrounds for each song, ensure formatting is correct, make sure all announcements are up to date, and other small items on the checklist, throwing a new song on a media operator ten minutes before service can cause a minor emotional breakdown.

Preparation is absolutely essential. Getting new songs to the media team at least 30 minutes before service is the minimum amount of time you should allow. It’s even better if you submit them a day before.

2. DON’T TELL THE MEDIA OPERATOR TO “GET THE LYRICS ONLINE”

Do you ever read Facebook and wonder if there’s anyone left in this world who remembers any of their second-grade spelling lessons? Have you noticed that no one understands when to use a comma, what to capitalize, or the difference between “they’re” and “their”?

These same people are often the ones responsible for entering lyrics on these “song lyrics” web-sites.

If you don’t care about your worship lyrics being correct on the screens, then by all means, send your media operator to that lyrics database web-site with inappropriate banner ads. However, if you want it done right, then type out the lyrics yourself, or at least check them for accuracy before printing them off and handing them to a media operator.

3. HAND SIGNALS: MAKE THEM EARLY, MAKE THEM VISIBLE

If you have a responsible media operator, they should be watching you like a hawk to see whether you’re going back into the second verse or the bridge. Don’t just assume they know the song as well as you or have some kind of telepathic superpower — give them hand signals that they can clearly see, and give them 2 or 3 seconds in advance. Obviously, you need to give the hand signals to your musicians first, but don’t forget the media operator!

DO NOT:

  • Point the hand signal at them like a gun. Your singers/musicians to your right and left can see it, but for your media operator, it looks like an indiscernable, mangled nub of human flesh.
  • Assume that a centimeter-wide separation between your index and middle fingers constitutes a clearly-visible distinction between “verse 2” and “unison.” You’d better make it look more like this.
  • Make your hand signals behind your back. This isn’t 1972, your torso isn’t transparent, and your media operators don’t have Superman’s x-ray vision.

4. DON’T BE AFRAID TO ADDRESS WHAT COULD BE IMPROVED

If you see room for improvement, communicate it to the team. If the lyrics aren’t formatted correctly for a particular song, shoot the media team an Email and let them know that it’s confusing for the worship team.

If the media operators aren’t getting the lyrics onto the screens quickly enough (especially if you have a rear-wall screen set up for your singers), tell them to put them up in advance (much more on this on the next post).

Whatever issues you might have, talk them over with the media team with confidence and clarity. We’re all working for the same team, and the ultimate goal is that media provides a service that basically disappears into a person’s consciousness. The goal of media operators everywhere should be to run church media in such a way that is always a subtle help, but NEVER a distraction. Help them accomplish this goal by communicating often.

IN CONCLUSION:

I can honestly say that we have almost no problems with our entire worship team here at POBC. They all have a tremendous grasp on what they’re doing. Our pastoral staff and worship leaders are exceptional in the areas that I’ve addressed in the first two blog posts.

When a guest attends your worship service and a horribly misspelled word or grammatical error pops onto the screen, it’s not just embarrassing — it’s distracting. Being concerned with ensuring quality presentation of the worship lyrics on your church’s screens isn’t being overly-concerned with your image. On the contrary, it’s making sure that image is never a concern one way or the other.

I’ll say again: MEDIA SHOULD DISAPPEAR. All sloppy spelling and grammar does is draw attention to what should be ninja-like in its application. Make sure you’re doing what you can to help.

Next: Church Media (Part 3) – For Media Operators.

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Church Media (Part 1) – For Ministers

Over the last two decades, nearly every church has incorporated at least one media projector into their services. Instead of people burying their heads into a hymnal or mouthing nonsense words as they search for the correct lyrics, they now lift their heads, read along as they sing, and can understand even the most mumble-mouthed soloist.

We read scriptures from them, play announcement videos on them, and share videos from missionaries and religious organizations. Media projectors can be incredibly useful in every church service, but we need to be aware of how to use them, how to prepare for them, and how to interact with those who are performing the unenviable task of running them.

I am in a unique position of serving from both behind the pulpit and the iMac on a regular basis, thereby having an understanding of what is required from both sides. Unfortunately, many ministers have no idea what is going on in the media booth. From time to time, that creates massive problems.

Luckily, at The Pentecostals of Bossier City, we have Pastor Dean and Pastor Stanley, who fully understand that media operators need to be given as many tools as possible to help them prepare, and do everything within their power to make sure things will run smoothly, even when late inspiration strikes. This ensures fewer miscues during our services. Even for funerals, Pastor Dean often reminds the funeral home or family that any slideshows or media need to be handed in well in advance.

However, I have often seen ministers embarrass media operators during the middle of service, sometimes in front of large crowds, and the entire congregation laughs at the clueless media operator as the omniscient preacher continues to rush and chastise the hapless soul from the pulpit. In actuality, I would estimate that in 90% of these cases, the fault actually does not lie with the media operator, but with the minister who is publicly shaming him.

Fellow ministers, listen up.

1. MEDIA OPERATORS NEED YOU TO HELP THEM PREPARE

Media presentation software is not magic. If you fail to give your scripture references before service, you cannot scream, “2 Chronicles 2:14-20! Get it on the screen! Get it on the screen! What’s taking so long? Are you asleep up there? My God, we can’t get it together today…”

First of all, it’s not as simple as typing the scripture reference and hitting a magic button that sends it immediately to the screens. For a multi-verse reference in ProPresenter (my recommended church presentation software), it takes me an average of 8 seconds to have it on the screens, and I type over 90 words per minute.

If you decide to incorporate video into your service, it is even more important that you get the video or DVD in the hands of your media operators at least 30 minutes before service. There are a number of things that could go terribly wrong when dealing with video files, and they need plenty of time to prepare. Again: MEDIA SOFTWARE IS NOT MAGICAL. If you’ve ever had a problem setting up a Powerpoint, formatting a Word document, or paying a bill online, then you should know that things don’t always work the way they’re supposed to.

Hear me now: if you publicly ridicule your media operator for something that is actually your fault, then it shows one or a combination of these:

  • A lack of understanding.
  • A lack of compassion.
  • A lack of character.
There are obviously times when you might joke with a media operator when things go awry, but if it’s done with the right spirit, it goes a long way in not alienating one of your volunteers. It’s especially difficult for those who are more introverted, as most of your tech-minded volunteers tend to be.
Ministry is a stressful job with many demands pulling you in every direction, but we must remain aware that for media operators, what they’re doing is their ministry, and they should not be unnecessarily humiliated. Please help them by giving them your scriptures, videos, and graphics as soon as you have them yourself.
Email them. Dropbox them. Give them a USB thumb drive. Whatever you have to do, equip them.

2. MEDIA CANNOT BE RUN ON ANTIQUATED OR UNDERPOWERED HARDWARE

If you expect to run your church media off of a computer that is older than the double-breasted suit you haven’t taken out of the closet since the AOL days, then don’t be stunned and angered when that video of an Argentine missionary starts skipping uncontrollably, creating those horrible awkward pauses that leave the congregation cringing.

The most taxing things you can do with a computer are graphics-based. If you’re running media software, it’s already taxing your system. If you’re running video, especially HD video, it’s probably going to be pushing your church’s computer to its limits. If you underfund your media department, then don’t be surprised when it all grinds to a halt.

I understand that every church has to operate under a budget, and media often seems like an unnecessary expense (until you desperately need it). There are bargain deals to be found. Search Apple’s refurbished section on their store. Search NewEgg.com. Search for a slightly-used iMac. Just please don’t bust out the Packard Bell and hope that it plays that 720p video your youth department put together.

3. DON’T BE AFRAID TO ASK FOR HELP

Pastors are often required to juggle study, hospital visits, prayer meetings, outside jobs, counseling sessions, church finances, and family time in a way that would make most people’s heads spin. I know this, and I know that for most of you, it’s a daunting task to not only prepare a sermon, but also gather together media or create a Keynote or Powerpoint presentation to accompany your sermons.

Ask for help.

The person running your media for church can probably put together a serious presentation and gather supplementary images/video much faster than you can. Give your media operator 30-45 minutes of heads-up time before service, and they can likely put a level of polish on your sermon media that greatly enhances the vibe of your church.

Find a member of your church who is artistically and technically inclined, and put them to work. They want to help. They want the church to be represented well graphically. Throwing up a Powerpoint using the default styles will get the job done, but using an interesting graphic and unique text/formatting will go a long way in making your church’s media look more professional.

IN CONCLUSION:

Your church’s media solutions might not be the fanciest or the prettiest, but with some training, investment, and encouragement, you can have a staff put together that will do the best job possible for your church under whatever budget you can assign. Ministers are becoming more tech-savvy every day, and companies like Apple have changed the way we approach media and design, whether it be for our businesses or our churches.

Even while operating under a basic budget, our church media can look good enough represent us well. Just imagine where we will be twenty years from now.

Next: Church Media (Part 2) – For Worship Pastors

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Apple Exhaustion

I have used Mac computers exclusively for almost a decade. I remember being one of the handful of students on my college campus using a Mac — a 12″ iBook, to be exact. It was different. It was exciting. It was better than what everyone else was using, and I knew it.

Admittedly, it was a source of pride.

Today, you can’t turn your head in any direction without seeing a MacBook, iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad. Apple is worth $600 billion. Read that once more: $600,000,000,000. They are a corporate behemoth, with their current public image differing sharply from the renegade hammer-throwers of yesteryear.

Why has Apple succeeded?

  • Simplicity – This philosophy is best displayed through their simple, intuitive user interfaces. Using an iPad is like second nature, even for children and the elderly, because it feels so natural and unimposing.
  • Culture – First it was the Apple loyalists, then the hipsters, then their families, then the world. Apple is a magnetic force, drawing everyone towards its fiercely loyal user base.
  • Strategy – Steve Jobs said (paraphrasing here), “We control the hardware, we control the environment, and you guys can deal with it.” Geeks have cried foul for many years, but Apple’s control-freak ways have made for the world’s most secure and manageable experience.

So what’s the point of this post? I’m kind of tired of Apple.

When everyone is saying the same thing, it usually means that the last group of stragglers have finally jumped on board. When I first bought a Mac, everyone shrieked, “It’s not compatible with anything!” Today, that long-untrue lament is a relic in the tech industry. Even Apple’s most ardent critics have to admit that Apple has been on to something very smart all along.

But now that everyone is using a Mac and talking about how incredible it is and how everyone who uses a PC is a neanderthal, they’re getting annoying. The media is mostly to blame for this, as they cover every whisper of every rumor from every corner of the world so long as it’s related to an upcoming Apple product.

I’m an Apple apologist and fanatic. I own an iPad, iPhone, and MacBook Pro. I get excited with every Keynote’s announcements (even the most recent Steve-less one). I’m NOT getting rid of my products anytime soon.

But Google is at least making a challenge with the Nexus 7 and their Android phone OS. I’m excited that they’re making strides, because that means Apple must (and certainly will) step up their game.

I just hope they lose a few customers in the process. It’s getting crowded in here.

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Steve Jobs (1955 – 2011)

Steve Jobs died yesterday, taken at the early age of 56. Under his guidance…

Apple changed the way we think about computing.
Apple changed the way we buy and listen to music.
Apple changed the way we use mobile phones.
Apple changed the way we read.
Apple changed the way public speakers present their material.
Apple changed the way computers look and feel.

And yet this is an oversimplification of all that happened under the watchful eye of Steve Jobs. Wearing the same black mock turtleneck, jeans, and white New Balance shoes, Jobs dazzled the masses with one product launch after the other, almost always ending the presentations with “one more thing.”

Unfortunately, there will not be “one more thing.” But the fingerprints Steve has left on the technological, musical, artistic, and entrepreneurial worlds are everywhere to be seen. Steve will be missed, but he won’t be forgotten any time soon.

I’ll miss you, Steve.

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Happy 15th Birthday, Playstation

I’m a gamer.

I can’t help it. When I was in junior high, I sat at what was referred to as the “Nintendo Table.” It was not a compliment; at that time, games were for nerds. Fast-forward to 2010: games are not just mainstream, but they’ve outgrown the movie industry. Millions of gamers log in with their PS3s and XBox 360s every night to play games like Halo 3, Madden, and Modern Warfare 2. It’s actually mainstream.

Fifteen years ago today, Nintendo and SEGA’s death grip on the industry was dealt a massive blow by the arrival of the Sony Playstation. Sony was the new kid on the block, and after their CD-based game system alliance with Nintendo dissolved, they decided to release their own home console.

I remember when my brother first came home with the Playstation. He hooked it up in his room, and we spent hours going through the 12 games on the demo disc. I don’t remember what game we bought first; I know Crash Bandicoot was one of them. What I do know is that the original Playstation (and the PS2 after it) brought a lot of happiness to one nerdy, short, awkward white kid living in northwest Louisiana. I couldn’t get girls, but I got the Knights of the Round materia (if you get this reference, you’re just as geeky as I am)!

Happy Birthday, Playstation.

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iPhone 4

As usual, Apple detractors are turning their nose up at the latest upgrade to Apple’s iPhone line, the iPhone 4. Unfortunately for those people, the newly announced features make the phone more compelling (or even more compelling, depending on who you ask) than the Android phones that are on the market.

Here’s why this iPhone upgrade matters:

1. THE PROCESSOR

iPhone 4 features the same A4 processor found in the iPad. What this means is that the iPhone will be mind-numbingly fast. The iPad almost never lags, even as it is performing fairly complex processes. The A4 processor within the iPhone was almost certainly a necessity considering the iPhone 4 will ship with the new iOS, bringing multitasking to the iPhone for the first time. Speaking of which…

2. MULTITASKING

We’ve known this was coming for several months, but I felt it’s necessary to address Android and Windows Mobile users’ claims that multitasking should have been included all along since their mobile OS has featured it for quite some time. I respond with a question: have you actually used multitasking on an underpowered phone? It’s almost unusable, and it drains battery life quicker than you can say, “Cardinal Ratzinger.” And as we all know, a quickly-draining battery on a phone is unforgivable, especially when you’re out and about for long periods of time.

3. RETINA DISPLAY

In case you haven’t read up, the Retina Display is Apple’s way of saying, “Oooooooo, pretty!” According to popular tech blog Engadget (iPhone 4 Hands-on):

“We’re not being hyperbolic when we say it’s easily the best looking mobile phone screen we’ve ever laid eyes on.”

A screen that is easier to read means less strain on the eyes. It’s now running at a 960×640 resolution, and according to those who have seen in the device in person, it has to be seen to be believed (much like the iPad).

4. MIC + SPEAKER

Much like the A4 processor, people seem to be overlooking this feature as well. Apple has two mics: one next to your mouth, and another on top of the device. Why? It allows for noise-cancellation technology to do its work, helping you sound clearer and crisper to the person on the other end of the line. Nuances like this help make a product a cut above.

5. CAMERA, LED FLASH, AND FACETIME

The iPhone 4 now includes 720p high definition video recording. I’m sure it won’t replace my Flip Ultra HD, but it’s definitely a nice feature to have, especially now that you’ll be able to edit the video on the iPhone using iMovie for the device. The LED flash is no big surprise (and a bit late to the party, to be honest), but the front-facing camera which allows for Apple’s FaceTime video chatting is definitely a welcome addition. The ability to switch between the front-facing and back-facing cameras with a press of a button is nice. You’ll be able to show people what you’re looking at, then switch back with minimal effort.

The camera is now 5 megapixels, by the way. I just thought you should know.

6. HARDWARE REDESIGN

We’ve all dropped our iPhone a time or two (cracked screens, anyone?). The iPhone 4 will feature flat sites, along with a flat back. This might seem to be a subtle change, but I believe it will make the phone more usable and steady.

It’s gorgeous. 1/4 thinner than the current iPhone 3Gs, the iPhone 4 will also feature a new glass screen. I’ll use AppleInsider’s article to help explain:

The front and back are made of aluminosilcate glass, chemically strengthened to be 30 times harder than plastic, more scratch resistant and more durable than ever. The front and back glass have an oil-resistant coating that helps keep it clean, and encircling iPhone 4 is a highly finished stainless steel band made of a custom alloy that is forged to be five times stronger than standard steel.

Additionally, the structure of the phone is now connected to the antennas, giving the iPhone 4 stronger reception.

7. BATTERY LIFE

The new hardware also has a larger battery that offers longer uptime, including 7 hours of talk time 3G, 6 hours of 3G browsing, 10 hours of Wi-Fi browsing, 10 hours of video, 40 hours of music, and 300 hours of standby.

Battery life is absolutely crucial to the value of a mobile device. Apple has clearly taken note of the incredible reception the iPad’s battery life has received, and made sure the iPhone 4 won’t skimp on the juice.

8. GYRO & ACCELEROMETER

The iPhone 4 will feature a 2-axis gyroscope and accelerometer that will be able to detect “much more precise movement,” according the Steve Jobs. This, in short, will be good for games and gesture-based commands. I’m not personally ecstatic over this upgrade, but there are quite a few who seem to be excited by it.

In short, this iPhone upgrade makes the most popular smartphone on the planet more functional, more usable, and cooler (it’s an Apple device, after all).

There is a reason that you hear countless stories about Blackberry users, Android users, and Windows Mobile users switching to the iPhone, but almost never hear of others going the opposite direction: the iPhone is still the best smartphone on the market. I’m excited that Android has brought legitimate competition to Apple, but after having used several of the devices (and gathering opinions from those using them), I can still say that I’m quite secure in being an iPhone fanboy.

And yes, I’ll be getting one to replace my barely-functional iPhone 3G. And I’m getting white.

And no, white is not girly.

For more reading, go to Apple’s web-site, laden with PR terminology – http://www.apple.com/iphone/

For Engadget’s coverage of the iPhone, click the following link – http://www.engadget.com/2010/06/07/iphone-4-announced/