Expect the Worst

Have you encountered a problem or failure during an event that made you question why you ever got involved with church production? What would happen if you could make a plan to get some control over your reaction to these problems?

When I first arrived at COTM in 2005, it wasn’t to join an amazing production and arts operation that was already in place. It was to help solve a multitude of problems in the hope that we someday could build towards a great production and arts operation. We had our work cut out for us in building a proper foundation to handle what God had in store for us.

Experience had made me a believer in always having backup gear and a backup plan in place in the hope of never succumbing to a failure. There wasn’t a backup plan in place at COTM so I started with this basic premise: Why buy one, if you can afford two?

Here’s how simple it was to get started: Anytime we bought something we needed (within reason), we bought a spare. I pushed on this in every department, venue, and room under my purview until we had until we literally had backup gear deployed in every area.

Backup gear was great, but it was the easy part. We still needed a literal backup procedure. How do you react when your gear fails? Or when your electricity fails? How about when your people fail?

As our team developed and grew, I started discussing failure with them. Talking about what to do WHEN, not IF, our carefully calculated plans failed. Rather than just write out a procedure on paper for everyone to read, I wanted it to be instilled as part of our DNA. When something goes wrong, I don’t want someone reacting to something they read, I want them reacting out of instinct. Over time when you come to expect a failure, not only are you more apt to be able to deal with it, it actually magnifies your successes. There’s a big difference between negative-thinking and just being realistic.

Over time, the more we embraced and expected failure, the more we began to get pretty good at heading it off. Because we were actually thinking about it more. Morbid, right?

Here’s a description of a few backups we have in place at the moment:

Backup lighting console.
In our main room, we employ a GrandMA-2 for all lighting control but we have a GrandMA-2 on PC running on the lighting network as a backup. It saved us from a colossal failure just this past Saturday.

Backup computer hardware for playback.
No matter what computer and interface we are using for video playback, we have a backup system ready to go. Sometimes running a backup file in sync with the master so we could switch to it relatively seamlessly if needed. We had to rely on this backup this past Sunday at our south campus when one of our Grass Valley DDR’s failed.

Backup wired microphone.
In most church audio setups these days, wireless mics are the norm. But how many of us have wired mics ready to go WHEN your wireless goes down? We have a wired mic with a long cable laying in the lighting trough at the foot of our mainstage just for this eventuality. It’s line-checked every service and is always ready to go. We burned ourselves recently on a large event in one of our secondary auditoriums by NOT having this backup plan in place. All of our wireless went down prior to a packed event and we didn’t have a wired backup. It was a detail we missed and we felt the pain. A simple wired mic would’ve kept the entire event flowing with no evident failure to our guests.

Procedure for power failure.
Most churches have lost power while in event mode. There’s not much you can do to keep this from happening but you CAN control your team’s reaction to it when it does. We have a very simple procedure: Everyone stays radio silent, checks out problems only related to their area, and waits until the Production Manager specifically requests an update. After things are assessed, the Production Manager is the only one who will give direction on what future steps are to be taken. A very easy procedure but one that promotes calm, collected, and cool reactions amongst the team. This procedure was put into play just a few weeks ago when we had a complete power failure right before our Saturday services. Some gear was damaged and we had to limp along in a few areas, but since the procedure was followed perfectly by all of our technical departments, our guests never knew what happened.

How prepared are you for all that our churches endeavor to do each week? Isn’t communicating the message of Christ important enough to warrant a backup plan?

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Andrew Stone
Production Manager
Andrew Stone is the Production Manager and Audio Director at Church on the Move in Tulsa, OK. His 27 years of touring experience have brought a unique, and sometimes unorthodox, perspective to his approach towards production in the church. He has been a key part of changing the culture behind COTM's live events and he loves sharing his knowledge with other churches. He's been married for 20 years, rarely wears anything but black, and genuinely loves to rock. You can find him on Twitter (@stone_rocks), Instagram (stone.rocks), and is a blog contributor on Seeds, COTM's free resource site.