Doing Great Production Work (in a Not-So-Great Environment)

Todd Elliott, Technical Coordinator at Willow Creek Community Church

Todd Elliott, Technical Coordinator at Willow Creek Community Church

[Gurus 2013 in Review: Todd Elliott]

Do you feel limited in your capabilities because your church doesn’t have the latest, greatest, biggest, newest, best WHATEVER?

Todd Elliott, the Willow Creek Community Church Technical Coordinator, told his story of when he was first working at a smaller church and would attend Willow Creek events.  He said it would make him feel depressed because he saw all the great production work and all he could think was “we don’t have those resources [to do that]”  Recently, he read an article in Fast Company magazine called “Five Paths to Doing Great Work at a Terrible Company” and he saw a direct correlation to his past situation at his old church.  It wasn’t that it was a terrible church; it was the ideas behind the Five Paths that caught his attention.

Todd wrote his own version of the Five Paths…and in my notes, I have four so let’s go with four for now.  REGARDLESS of your situation, all techs should consider these four points.  I’m posting the quotes from Todd and adding my own thoughts throughout.

Four Ways of Doing Great Work as a Church Audio Tech

Or lighting tech, or video tech; it works for all of them.

1. “Work as if you’re in the early days of a growing church”

You have enthusiasm.  You have eagerness to service.  You don’t see limits. You see potential.  Anytime you’re in a growing environment, you’ll be this way.  But when the environment changes, you shouldn’t lose that enthusiasm or desire to serve others.

Todd pointed out a question for everyone to consider; “why did you get involved in the first place?”  Your answer to that question is what you must remember if you desire to be the best tech you can be.  You need to return to (or keep)  that mindset.

2. “Great production teams aren’t more talented, they’re just more tenacious.”

The word tenacious can be defined as “holding firmly” but I like another definition; “stubborn or persistent.”  

Todd said that the purpose of a tech team is “to create life-changing moments through the fusion of technical and creative arts.”  You can only do that when you are tenaciously (persistently) working towards that purpose.

Figure 1

Figure 1

He took this idea further by developing a chart (Figure 1) where time is charted against the ability to create that fusion.  The area at the bottom is the foundational work (A).  Given time, you / your team should be able to consistently create that basic fusion in which the fundamentals of tech production are reached. Fundamentals could include proper microphone placement, proper mixing, proper monitor mixing…everything the way it should be done.  Only once you have those fundamentals established can you then extend your ability to create further fusion (B, C) where you have more advanced productions like Easter and Christmas services that involve aspects outside of the normal service.

You have to be tenacious about achieving the fundamental production needs of the service before you can consider greater creativity…and that might mean you have to get on your volunteers about improving their skills.

3. “Stretch yourself”

Todd gave a perfect method for doing this; “work on a non mission-critical area.”  This way, you are growing and learning but you don’t have the pressure on you.  It’s this stretching that brings joy, new knowledge, new experiences, and new excitement.

Examples of stretching yourself might be reading up on the basics of stage lighting, learning how to use a new audio plug-in, or studying up on leadership skills.

4. “Your best opportunity is right in front of you.”

I have worked at a number of churches.  In some cases, I was the person most passionate about the technical production.  This meant that if I didn’t take every opportunity to learn, no one else was going to come along beside me and motivate me.

Everyone at the Gurus conference received a small 2×2 card; on one side it read “You are Here” with a map arrow; on the other side, it said “So Be Here Now.”  No matter how bad your equipment or how frustrating your situation, you are in a position of opportunity and you must make the best use of that opportunity.  You have the opportunity to learn, to experiment, to practice your craft…and to change lives.  If I hadn’t taken those opportunities myself, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

An Underlying Theme

Through the conference, one theme became evident.  It started with Todd’s comment about the purpose of the production team; “to create life-changing moments…”  It solidified itself with Lincoln Brewster’s statement on the ultimate End Game, which you’ll read about tomorrow.  Alberty Reyes and Curtis Templeton showed ways in which this theme is manifest. It was a theme, an idea, a vision, a reality, a truth that underlines all that we do in the production world.  This Friday, I’ll attempt to define this theme, in detail, and give my own response to it.  I’ll attempt to answer the question; “why am *I* in the technical ministry?”  You might be surprised by my answer.


You can find Todd Elliot on Twitter or at First In, Last Out.

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  1. Nelson says

    I was at Gurus 2013 because of reading your site. It was my first time, and our senior pastor attended as well. We loved the session you wrote about above. The challenging questions put to us, the audience, were useful and activating. Coming from a small church, it was easy to pull back and admit defeat before even trying to get out of the gate, yet Todd Elliot gave us a reason and a goal in his questioning of us… the listener.

    Very good stuff!

    • says

      Nelson, great to hear Gurus was good for you and your pastor. And for that matter, it’s terrific your pastor went along with you. I think it would give them great insight into the why’s and how’s of the tech side of things…and the heart of tech people…something pastors might not normal consider.