When Tech Fails

break computerThis morning I really wanted to kick a computer. Doesn’t matter if it was the computer that was malfunctioning or not, I just wanted to kick one.

You won’t have work with technology long before something, somewhere will fail. And it’s always at the most inopportune time. At church, you arrive to find a power surge has blown an amp, or the computer you use for lyrics won’t power on. Maybe someone let the magic smoke out of that video scaler. (You know, the magic puff of acrid smoke that lets everyone nearby know that this piece of gear won’t be turning on any time soon.)

This morning we were launching a major project, one I have personally been invested in for months. It’s awesome, you should check it out, get involved: #wearewitnesses First service went off without a hiccup. So far so good. That means that the video venues also get their video feeds without issues.

Near as I can tell, sometime in the 2nd service (maybe multiple times?) something spiked through our network, and caused some disruptions. Now, I’m not an IT guy. I can make my home network function, and get most computers online, but when it gets much beyond that I’m done. Don’t ask me to spoof a MAC address or explain the numbers in an IP address. I just don’t know how it works. But about 30 seconds before the key video piece was to roll in the 2nd service our ProPresenter machine lost it’s link to Planning Center Online.

Linking Planning Center Online and ProPresenter saves tons of time. And most weeks isn’t an issue. But this particular Sunday, the presentation software locked up, and when restarted, it wouldn’t let us access anything past the song portion of the service. Restart the program, reboot the machine, nothing mattered. Later we couldn’t even re-link the entire service. The final solution was to rebuild a new playlist that wasn’t linked to PCO for the last service. But in that moment…

That moment when the lights go dark and the video doesn’t roll, and then the pastor gets up and apologizes for technical failure that no one could have prevented… You just want to kick a computer. I finally just grabbed the sermon notes and the video for playback and threw them into a part of the ProPresenter playlist we could access. That got us through the service, and the video was shown, and the pastor was able to introduce the project.

So, breath deep, service over. Presentation rebuilt and fixed. Network issue bypassed.

Except our main projectors are also on the network. It’s how you power them off and on, and tweak settings. Whatever was happening in the network wasn’t done yet. And in the first couple of songs of the last service the projectors kept shutting down. Our lighting technician had the brilliant thought to rip the network cables out of the machines, and then they both stayed on and passed signal. So two major issues in two separate services. Both probably caused by the same network issue, whatever that might have been.

It’s just a horrible feeling knowing that gear you are trying to operate is causing disruptions in worship. I’ve seen videos that look like Max Headroom recorded them playback in service. (That’s telling my age) Had audio fail to start with video playback more times than I can remember. Had lights burn out, projectors bulbs go out right before services. Had what sounded like thunder go off through a sound system when a DSP died right in the middle of a sermon. These weren’t operator errors, just machine malfunctions.

Here’s the bottom line: In every situation- God was praised, the word was preached, and people’s lives were changed.

God doesn’t need fancy tech stuff to speak to his people. Yes, we use it to enhance and communicate, but technology isn’t required for church. It’s so frustrating when tech fails, but I try (am still trying today) to rest in the knowledge that God is bigger than that, and he speaks in spite of any issues. And then I try to figure out how to prevent that failure from every happening again.


Success and Failure

IMG_4080I got a box of DVDs in the mail today. It’s one year after they were first released for sale.

I remember that day. My whole family piled into the car and drove down to the local store that was selling them. We rolled into the store and started looking for the shelf. I don’t remember who saw them first, but what great feeling to see something you worked so hard on available for people.

I didn’t know what to expect from the retail release of the DVD. IMG_2597 I knew that we were a show filled with unknown actors, created by an unknown director. But I was hopeful. We had TV exposure and a few hundred fans on social media.

The weekend after the release we had the discs available at the church which helped so much with the production. Most of the cast and crew were from that congregation. And we sold a couple dozen that day. Through my distributor’s contract with Word, I knew we had several dozen in stores across the country. And I knew that friends and family were buying copies. I personally bought one just so I could say I did.

Fast forward 3 months. It’s the end of the first quarter. I get a small check. I had spent more on social media advertising. In the 2nd quarter my distributor loses a partnership, and has multiple copies returned. For the rest of the year the DVD is only available online, from a dozen or so different outlets.

I can’t tell you exactly how many were produced, or how many were sold. But it wasn’t very many. Despite my best efforts, we never landed a major retail placement. There are a lot of new video products coming out every month, and we were buried in the pile. After a year in relationship with our distributor, we decided to part company.

Thank God retail sales are not the only measurement of success or failure!

I actually wrote an ebook about this. I almost titled it “How to create a successful Christian TV series and still not make a living.”

So what makes me say the show was a success when it certainly didn’t do well in retail?

We made the show so people would be impacted by the content. Entertained by a biblically based comedy. The more people who see it the better. Yes, people who buy the DVD would be people who see it, but luckily that wasn’t the only way it could be watched.

All 10 episodes of Peculiar broadcast on multiple religious networks around the world. JCTV (now JUCE), NRB Network, CTN-Lifestyle, and The Walk TV broadcast the show in the US. Plus several individual stations. Internationally it’s on a satellite channel in Africa, and being translated for broadcast in Romania and India.

An episode was shown at the 2013 Gideon Film Festival, and the series won the 2014 NRB Media Award for best Creative TV Programming. And did I mention that we did the whole thing for under $9000, and no one went into debt to make it happen.

Retail has been a failure. But the show has been a success! I’m proud of what we accomplished, and I can’t wait until I can do more projects like it.


“Within 12 months you are going to fire me.”

My boss looked up in surprise. I continued, “You will, unless we change things before then.”

It was the first week of January, 2011, and our first meeting of the year. We were both returning from our respective holiday vacations, and I had taken some time to evaluate what I was doing. What I saw was trouble on the horizon.

When I first started at First Orlando, the Media and Communications ministries were separate. A short time after I joined the staff, the Communications Pastor was called to another church, Leaving an opening. About six months and a lot of conversation later, we restructured the Media and Communications Ministry areas. it was loosely configured into three strands: creative, experiential, and informational. Experiential included the parts that dealt with the experience of ministry and extending the ministry experience outside the walls of the church. Informational covered the ways people learned about the various ministry opportunities of the church. Creative was concerned with creative a consistent look and feel for elements needed to service the experiential and informational aspects. Generally, media and tech fell into Experiential while Creative and Informational fell into communications. There was overlap, but generally that was true.

Fast forward 3 years. The structure was still in place, but had been weakened by a few rounds of layoffs. The recession hit central Florida pretty hard. Every ministry across the church was affected. I had lost four full time employees and seen two full time jobs converted to part time. It was apparent that we were not going to return to previous staffing levels. Things were fine for a while, mainly because everyone was reeling from the reductions. The support ministries I was overseeing did not have nearly the amount of workload we had previously seen. But I knew that as the economy rebounded, so would the amount of work required to support new ministry initiatives. In fact, it was already building. I could see the cracks starting to form.

The long and short of it was that the current structure would not withstand the coming onslaught of work. We would either need to shore it up with more staff (Which wasn’t going to happen) or change the structure. So, I began to have very frank discussions with my supervisor and the Strategic Team member over Human Resources and Personnel. These were not comfortable conversations. I have both a BS and an MA in media and communications related fields. I had been doing this work for a decade. I know how to do it, but I was watching myself start to fail in leading these ministries. Most people wouldn’t notice the mistakes and missed items, but I saw them. I figured that if I put in another 15-20 hours of work each week I could keep everything going. But at what cost to my family?

It is very frustrating to be hemmed in by circumstances beyond your control. I did not have the power to change most of those circumstances, but I could change something. So we talked, and prayed, and thought. A few weeks ago I told my boss that I did not want to wait until there was some sort of major failure or mistake. If we thought that the changes we had outlined were strategic for future success, we should initiate them now. A few days later one of the Communications team members took another job. I knew that if the structure were going to shift, the new supervisors should be the ones to fill the vacancy. So this became the catalyst to shift responsibilities.

After seven months of conversations, the shift happened in less than two weeks. Communications shifted to the Support Ministry limb of the staff tree (under Administration), with a couple small parts splitting off. Media and tech remained on the worship limb. I put in for new business cards without the word “Communications” on them. Basically, I’ve gone back to what I was originally hired to do.

It’s weird. I spent the better part of two days giving away significant job responsibilities.

I had to deal with some pride issues. Frankly, any time someone has responsibilities taken away from them, the assumption is that they were removed because the leader could no longer handle the duties. In this case, that is technically true. I was the one pointing that out. The person pushing this was me. Still, I can’t take five minutes to explain why this is a good idea to everyone. So I know that people will be filling in the holes with their own guesses. I had to shove that part of my pride down for the good of the organization.

People don’t understand it. If another person says that we are doing this so I can be in my “sweet spot” I may slap them. While I will have time to do things I have not been able to do for a few years, that wasn’t the primary reason for this. I like a lot of things about the work of communicating effectively.

I still have not completely comprehended the full impact of this change. I keep remembering things I won’t have to do anymore. I experienced much more frustration related to communications than media. For every time I heard a complaint about something tech related, I received 20 related to communications. Most people don’t assume they know how to run a sound board, but those same people communicate every single day. With tech, as long as you provide the microphone, screen or projector for their class, people are happy. In communications you get to explain why their class of 20 people doesn’t get top billing in publicity pieces.

So I should have more time. I can finally fix some things and develop some things in media ministry. I’d like to think I might work less, but things don’t normally go that way. Still, I will have more time to work on my own dreams, to develop my show ideas. I’ve just got to get adjusted to the new reality.