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8 Tweaks For The Ultimate Projection Computer

TheCreativePastor.com – 8 Tweaks For The Ultimate Projection Computer

Live media has changed a lot in the past 20 years for churches. Overhead transparencies have been replaced with presentation software. Keyboards have been replaced with MIDI controllers and laptops. And while computers have brought a new world of convenience into the worship environment, they are not perfect machines: apps crash, batteries die, and hard drives fail.  

As it turns out, many of the convenient features about owning a personal computer become inconvenient when that computer is used in a live production environment. What if I told you that by eliminating some of these features you could prevent most of the blunders that cause distractions in your services?

Here are eight tweaks that I’d recommend making on your church’s projection computer immediately:

1. Disable Instant Messaging Apps (Including FaceTime)

We’ve all been there…the pastor is in the middle of a powerful message when suddenly, an innocent but obtrusive chime comes over the PA.  Someone is receiving a message during service…and now the entire crowd knows it.  Make sure to disable – nay, uninstall – all instant messaging apps, including FaceTime.  The last thing you need is someone trying to video chat with you in the middle of worship.

2. Close Your Web Browser

Web browsers can cause computers to crawl sometimes. Many websites have popups that include audio – be it a minor chime or a full musical track. Most web-based e-mail services (i.e. Gmail) have a chat feature that, if left open, will play a sound as soon as you receive any chat-related alerts. With all of this being said, it’s best just to leave your browser closed during services.

3. Turn Off Wi-Fi

Yes, I said it.  If a computer is being used for media in your environment, it should be disconnected from the internet during your services.  In addition to solving the problems in tweaks 1 and 2, this will also prevent any alerts in the event that your computer loses wi-fi signal temporarily. (Tip: To continue using apps such as the ProPresenter remote without internet, try using the “Create Network” feature on your Mac.)

4. Disable Mouse Shortcuts (Including Hot Corners)

When using computers on a daily basis, a mouse shortcut to reveal your desktop is great. In a worship environment, it’s a nightmare. No one should be seeing your “Hang In There Kitty” desktop in the middle of worship.  I’ve also found that when training a volunteer that is not as familiar with computers, their first response to accidentally activating the desktop shortcut is to raise their hands away from the computer in panic. Your life will be easier if you just disable all mouse buttons/shortcuts except left and right click.

5. Disable Screen Saver & Display Sleep

This may seem like an obvious one, but when setting up a new computer, it can be easy to forget. Make sure to disable your screen saver, as well as display sleep, to prevent them from coming on mid-service. I’ve seen this happen too many times right in the middle of a Pastor’s message.

6. Disable Bluetooth

Again, this is a feature designed for convenience: If any bluetooth accessories that come into signal range of your computer, they’ll automatically connect.  Unfortunately, since many people are carrying around bluetooth-enabled devices, this can cause some issues.  To prevent accidentally connecting to a phone or wireless mouse that someone in the crowd has, just disable bluetooth.

7. Set Your Wallpaper To Solid Black

As convenient as presentation software is, it’s not bulletproof.  Every once in a while, it crashes.  Having a black background on your screens will ensure that, in the event of a crash, it will be less of a distraction (maybe even unnoticeable).  Having the default desktop background appear on screen is a sign to everyone that something is wrong in the booth. 

Update: Thanks to Jon Sheperd for the suggestion: As an alternative to a black background, you could use your church’s default slide or your current sermon series graphic as a background in case of a software crash.

8. Use A Wired Keyboard and Mouse

Nothing is worse than having your mouse batteries die in the middle of a fast worship song.  By using wired mice and keyboards on all your production computers, you’ll never have to think about batteries again. 

Conclusion

A good friend once told me that production is more about covering mistakes that happen than running everything perfectly.  While there’s no such thing as a perfect Sunday, using these tips will hopefully help you to prevent some of the failures that can be a distraction in your services.

Do you have any other tips that you’d add to the list?

The Right Way To Handle Church Media Fumbles

The Right Way To Handle Church Media Fumbles

I’m one of those weird people who rarely dream at night. Seriously – we’re talking nearly once every six months here. I’ll often hear my friends telling funny stories of the silly circumstances that their subconscious cooked up in their dreams. Sometimes they’ll even share their eerie nightmares that followed a late dinner of Chinese takeout. But, that’s not me.

On the rare occasion that my subconscious constructs a story that plays out as I sleep, it’s usually about a church media fumble. That’s right. I have nightmares about things going wrong on Sunday morning with production.

It may be a video freezing in the middle of playback, a click track skipping, or accidentally pressing the Live Video button in ProPresenter (which then defaults to the webcam and shows my embarrassed face to the entire audience).

Chills…

As I examine these nightmares, one thing stands out to me about myself. I can get WAYYYY too focused on my media being flawless. Church media shouldn’t be about the pursuit of perfection, but about building a team that uses their talents to enhance Sunday services for others. Sure, it’s okay to strive for error-less services. But, when is the last time you kept your “scorecard” on your team’s wins, rather than how many mistakes you made in a service?

A few weeks ago, I got the opportunity to shadow the production team at the Auburn campus of Church of the Highlands. It was there that I first caught a glimpse of a healthy way to approach mistakes in live production. On this particular weekend, they were experiencing a lot of heavy rainfall and it was slowing down their internet connection quite a bit. A solid connection is vital to the flow of their services because they are an extension site that projects a live video feed from their main campus in Birmingham.

In the three services that I joined them for that Sunday, they experienced trouble with the live feed in each service. To make matters worse, the one safety net that they have established for this, a hard drive with a recording of the earlier service, was malfunctioning for the first time in campus history. Let me be clear here—I would have been freaking out.

In the midst of all of these chaotic circumstances, their team kept level heads. While they may not have been able to prevent some problems, they worked hard to make all of the areas that they could control right. In fact, to sit back and watch their team come together in those moments was really incredible. Rather than cussin’ and fussin’ as it’s easy to do in the heat of those moments, they communicated calmly and executed their tasks with precision. When mistakes were made, they quickly picked themselves up and encouraged each other to keep moving forward. In a day filled with stress, I even saw them highfiving each other when things would go right.

Have you ever celebrated what went right with your media on Sunday morning?

At the conclusion of my shadowing, I spent a few minutes with the team’s leader, Marc Johnson. He shared with me a very simple, but profound truth. Their production booth is located in a very visible area in the back of their auditorium. If their team was to outwardly express whenever things were going wrong, everyone in the room would take notice. Not only is the worship team and campus pastor looking directly to them, but the entire audience can see them. If they will keep a level head when things are going wrong, everyone else will, too.

He also shared with me a great silver lining of publicly making fumbles. When everything is going great with production, potential volunteers assume they aren’t needed. Sometimes the smallest mistakes on a Sunday morning will prompt newcomers that help is needed and they’ll make a move to start volunteering. While it’s never intentional that a mistake is made, this has inspired many people to get involved in his time there. (They have a current rotation of around 40 production volunteers.)

Overall, you must realize that perfection is impossible. What’s important is that you always work to nurture an atmosphere of excellence, while still providing the grace necessary to make fumbles and learn from them.

Learn from your mistakes. Be proud of your accomplishments. More than anything else, understand the importance of what you do for the Kingdom.

How To Create Big Stages With Small Budgets

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We’ve all seen them. The sets and stages at larger churches with bigger budgets that make your mouth drop. You get super excited about creating something similar on your stage, only to find out that the design you’re trying to recreate costs more than your entire annual production budget. It’s easy to give up any hope of having an amazing stage design when you have a small budget. But, with the right materials and a little creativity, you can make a stellar stage design without breaking the bank.

In this post, we’ll cover a number of low-cost materials to create stage designs with, but first, there are a few things you need to consider when building your set.

Stage Designs Are 75% Lighting

There’s only so much that a stage design can do on its own. Lighting is what changes a plain stage into a dynamic environment, and it can really control mood of your room. Stage designs will come and go, but chances are, you’ll be using whatever lights you have until they die. If you have the option, set aside a portion of your set budget to buy at least 1-2 new lighting fixtures. By the time you’ve gone through 4-5 stage designs, you will have built up a nice lighting rig.

Angles = Shadows = Depth

One of the easiest ways to give your stage a dynamic feel is to add depth.  Flat designs can easily become boring, but depth can make for some very cool shadows on your set, which will give you a wide array of options when designing your lighting cues each week.

Your Set Won’t Always Have “Cool” Lighting

It’s easy to make a set look good with lights that are constantly changing color and intensity, but your set needs to look good when the lights aren’t in motion. Also, if your room is used for more than just weekend worship, you need to make sure your set looks good without being lit at all.

 

With those things in mind, let’s look at some of my favorite building materials for constructing stage designs, along with some real-world examples for inspiration.

PVC Pipe

PVC Pipe - Church Stage DesignPVC pipe comes in a variety of lengths and diameters, and since it’s commonplace in every household, it’s quite cheap. At about $5 for a 10ft section, your money will go a long way towards creating some great designs using PVC. Pro tip: Use acetone to wipe away the manufacturer-printed information on the side of each piece of pipe.  Leaving the text on will just be a distraction.  (Example 1  •  Example 2  •  Example 3)

Coroplast

Coroplast - Church Stage DesignPossibly the strongest contender on the list due to its sheer flexibility (both literally and figuratively), this corrugated plastic is an excellent building block for any stage design. Coroplast can maintain its lightweight, yet sturdy, form in just about any shape, which means your options are virtually unlimited when building. In addition to opaque white, coroplast can also be found in translucent varieties, which will give you the option of lighting it from behind to create some stunning effects on your stage.  Again, keep in mind that lighting is what will really create great looks with a coroplast set, not the material itself.

The best place to find low-cost coroplast sheets is your local sign shop.  Any shop that prints yard signs & the like will most likely have 4′x8′ sheets of coroplast on hand.  Prices vary from place to place, but a 4′x8′ sheet will usually run around $12-$20. You can also pick up sheets at some home improvement stores such as Home Depot.  (Example 1  •  Example 2  •  Example 3  •  Example 4)

Window Screen

Window Screen - Church Stage DesignLike PVC, window screen is widely available at any home improvement store and it comes very cheap. Crinkling up window screen can create some serious shadows, which can add depth and texture to an otherwise boring set. Make sure to wear heavy duty gloves when working with this material though; the sharp edges of a roll of screen can shred your hands if you aren’t careful.  (Example 1)

Wood Pallets

Wood Pallets - Church Stage DesignWood is yet another solid choice for set building.  Lumber is already pretty cheap, but often times you can find pallets for free from local warehouses and storage facilities. Pallet wood is usually rustic and textured, which can make for some very organic set pieces. A word of advice: A freestanding pallet doesn’t look that great as a set piece.  Strip the pallet wood apart and create something amazing: a textured wall, a drum riser, or a prop piece for your set, for example.

(Example 1  •  Example 2  •  Example 3  •  Example 4)

MIO Foldscapes

Mio - Church Stage DesignMio is a company that creates environmentally-friendly architectural pieces for use in the office environment (ceiling tiles, room partitions, and the like). Luckily, their materials also can make for some killer sets! Prices vary from product to product, but their Foldscapes ceiling tiles, which make for some very cool lighting effects, are $98 for a box of 24 2′x2′ tiles.  (Example 1  •  Example 2)

 

Do you have any other low-cost set materials you love to build with? Post your suggestions in the comments below or send us a tweet to @CreativePastor!

Photos used with permission from ChurchStageDesignIdeas.com

7 Foolproof Tips For More Creative Sermons

7 Foolproof Tips For More Creative Sermons

Lead pastors, preachers, and teaching pastors, your job does not come easy. There is an incredible amount of pressure to deliver excellent messages week after week. You spend a ton of time and energy preparing to deliver sermons that you just pray will connect with your audience. Then, you hear stats like 90% of unchurched people choose a church based on the pastor or preaching. (Thom Rainer) You have my respect.

Because of this high demand for engaging sermons, I set out to offer my most practical tips to add some creativity to your messages. My hope is that they will inspire you and help make your sermons fresh and unique for your audience.

1. Tell More Stories

People love a good story. From the dawn of time we have shared stories as a method of communication and that’s because they work. Audience members who have checked out in the first ten minutes will spring to life when you say, “Recently, when I took my family on a camping trip…” or “I was reading recently about Stephen Spielberg’s first days in the movie business…” If a story is well-chosen and told effectively, you’ll get your point across in a way a normal lecture never could.

2. Brainstorm With A Few Creative Friends

This works hand-in-hand with the previous tip. Have you ever attended a church so long that you learned all of the pastor’s go-to stories? I have. I’ve been the person sitting in the pew thinking, “Seriously? You’re telling this story again?” Keep this from happening by inviting a few trusted friends into your sermon prep. This immediately adds to your illustration arsenal. For example, your last point may be about integrity and your colleague may have the perfect story to really drive that idea home.

3. Include Movie, TV, or Audio Clips

Playing clips from popular movies, TV shows, or even songs can be a powerful way to enhance sermon points. It gets people excited about your message and creates memorable teaching moments. Not to mention you get to leverage the skills of Hollywood’s most talented storytellers. Luckily, it’s fairly easy to obtain the rights to play clips like this with a simple CCVI license and there are clip services like WingClips.

4. Show A Mini-Movie

Similar to playing a clip from a feature-length film, mini-movies are a great way to communicate ideas in a powerful way. What makes this option so effective is that these clips are specifically created to be used in churches. Far too often I see these videos only used by pastors on special occasions like holidays. I would encourage you to build these into your normal preaching schedule or aim for at least once a month. Take a regular visit to WorshipHouse to see what’s new or consider a subscription from Igniter or Centerline.

5. Incorporate A Prop

Several months ago, I visited a Sunday service to hear a pastor friend of mine speak. For full disclosure, I’ll admit that he is one of my all-time favorite preachers. One thing that he has always been amazing at is including a prop in his sermon. On this occasion, he brought out a simple umbrella for his illustration and, yes, he opened it! The moment that umbrella opened every eye in the auditorium was focused on him. He first used it to complement a story of his family stuck in the rain but then brought it back to illustrate the covering of God’s protection. I’ve seen everything from baseball gloves to pizza boxes to medieval swords used like this. Don’t be afraid to get creative to make a memorable moment.

6. Show A Testimony Video

I recently visited a church where the pastor communicated a fantastic sermon on giving. Weeks later I’m still feeling encouraged that my giving makes a difference in both my life and in the Kingdom. But as I look back, I cannot recall the pastor’s exact sermon points or give you a list of specific scriptures. What has stuck with me, however, is a 3 minute testimony video of one of their members sharing how tithing changed their life. It was an incredible video that validated everything the pastor had been preaching for 30 minutes. (Watch it here.)

7. Include More Photos

One of the best ways to make your sermon more alive is to display photos to accompany your words. For example, if you’re sharing a quote from C.S. Lewis, why not show a photo of him alongside your quoted text? Or if you’re telling a story of a snowstorm from a few years back, why not display a photo of just how deep it was. It can even be helpful to lighten the mood with a funny photo of your kids or something that you saw during the week. The key to all of these is to be intentional that it all has a purpose and that it adds to your message rather than distracting.

 

Have you tried any of these tips? Is there anything that you would add to the list? Let us know in the comments below!