Technically Speaking: Lessons from the Empty Room

As live streaming has taken on the primary role of communication and convergence in the local church, several iterations of progress have passed as milestones in our collective learning process. While typically churches started with just an iPhone and a single light, most have evolved through a series of production improvements focused on getting the image and sound consistently better. To that end, there have been thousands of new interfaces, mics, processors, lighting fixtures, video cameras and switchers installed during the pandemic. With this new equipment in hand, how do we best use it to create seamless, immersive, compelling events designed to draw people to Christ? Here are some thoughts.

Re-Learning Connection

The tech crew and speaking pastors have now become accustomed to serving in an empty room. What was once foreign now feels familiar: donning masks and lathering up on sanitizer, keeping our distance in the tech booth by relegating lighting to an area outside its confines, and using the Plexiglass drum shield panels as sneeze guards between camera positions. However, we now recognize maintaining interpersonal connectivity in these situations is difficult. To countermand the problem, at First Baptist Atlanta we set aside twenty minutes after rehearsal and before service to meet in the dining area where, though socially distanced and one per table, we can see and hear each other for a brief devotional. These few minutes of coming together remind us of our interdependence when creating content for services.

Secondly, we have exchanged one set of issues for another. While the band isn’t there to ask for “more monitor” and the congregation isn’t telling us “it’s too loud,” we now have to contend with CDN (Content Delivery Network) failures on a regular basis. As we have learned, since every church in the area goes live about the same time, the information highways become clogged rather quickly. What worked perfectly in the test at 9:00 fails miserably when the service begins at 10:00. Part of our streaming evolution has been to understand you get what you pay for. A free service has no reason to strive for perfection because there is no downside to failure. On the other hand, a paid service must maintain uptime if revenue is to continue their way. We’ve also discovered the benefits of using multiple platforms simultaneously and thereby spreading the risk of a lost connection. 

Reaching Out Still Matters

Next, most of us have uncovered a sad truth: numbers don’t really mean anything. With provider metrics derived by dubious means, it falls to the church to discern who is watching and listening. Part of this effort can be online real-time commentary, but it should also include post-service follow-up on social media to garner comments and create interaction with the congregation. As pastoral staff, you still need to find ways to minister authentic encouragement, comfort, and connection. An email blast the following day is also a useful tool to keep relationship going and perhaps generate some questions for the next service as well.

Cultivate Humor and Grace

And, we now know things go horribly awry because of the most insignificant issues. Everything from the one tech who meant to mute their phone, but accidentally turned it up to an unused intercom headset left on with com chatter now bleeding into the stream have occurred to many of us. A stray empty water bottle hidden from the naked eye somehow appears front and center on-camera while an air conditioning fan which has been quiet for the last ten years decides the sermon opening is the right time to fail with a piercing shriek announcing its departure. Rest in the knowledge it happens to all of us and isn’t nearly as big an issue as we consider it to be.

Amplify Encouragement

Speaking pastors who review their online sermons often comment how poorly their language control appears when the congregation is not there to reflect the moment. However, even the most seasoned public speakers rely on the audience to reciprocate and speaking into the void currently serving as our service space is a challenge for anyone. One answer we have unearthed is to bring up the lights around the tech booth and allow those manning the controls to visually respond in a slightly exaggerated form. In other words, as techs let’s nod like bobble-heads to encourage the pastor. 

If live music is part of your stream, take the time to accurately tune each instrument. A slightly off guitar is passable with a live audience, but will not pass muster on a steam. Also, take note of stance and position while on the platform as distraction takes many forms. For proof, simply look to any political rally and note the behavior of the people behind the politician

They can make or break the event.

Nothing Is Wasted

Finally, as we move toward reopening, cement the lessons learned by incorporating them into every service. Make it a practice to police the platform for unkempt cables, empty Starbucks cups and reams of sheet music on the piano lid. Since most churches plan to continue live steaming, the intimacy and urgency of the past two months will become a regular part of the service preparation from now on. Use newly honed networking skills to improve the experience in the kid’s area and for the seniors as well. Keep track of others in the local church community and provide assistance when needed.

A year ago, live event technologists were asking “what’s next.” Now that we know, let’s integrate it into a complete environment conducive to worship. 

Maintain connectivity as a team with prayer and devotions after rehearsal and before service.

Use multiple platforms simultaneously minimizing the risk of a lost connection. 

You’re on a learning curve; give yourself and others plenty of grace.

Crew, tech team, and those present, encourage speakers and musicians by responding in the most encouraging way possible.

Just as in live services, attention to detail pays off: cables, lights, camera, lead sheets, mics, water bottles, tuned instruments, etc. 

Minimize erratic movements with hands and body, pacing, and posing.

Stay in touch with your congregation between services via email, FB, text, instagram, Zoom and old-fashioned phone calls.

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