Meet Bob!

Bob is an astute tech director of the First Church of Noname, USA. (You get where I’m going with this?) Bob has been doing his due diligence, having effective tech meetings, and really knows his stuff. So much so that he has memorized 45.87% of the entire Ministry Tech web site! Bob even checks Facebook daily for when Ministry Tech posts something new! It’s November now, and Bob has just communicated effectively to his church’s leadership team about doing it right the first time, and had made certain that he knows who’s in charge.

Bob get the word from his music pastor about the big Christmas production they are doing. To avoid scope creep a meeting is called, and everyone is sitting around the table coming up with ideas. “We have $1,000 in the budget for the production! And we want to do it big!” “We will be inviting people from all over to our church for a huge dinner after the performance and the gospel will be given. We expect lots of unchurched folks, so we want to do a bang-up job.” The meeting is adjourned, action steps are laid out, and everyone gets to work.

Bob has assigned the audio and musical part of the production to Ned, his right hand man. Ned has an idea about using some extra speakers to create an ethereal effect for the angel’s voice coming from behind the crowd. Bob agrees and they decide to use some of the budget to buy a set of quality speakers to hang in the back of the auditorium. Ned sets to it.

Bob tasks Joe with the lighting, and Joe immediately realizes that the big star of Bethlehem that needs to be lit up will require some extra lighting. Joe suggests, “Why don’t we rent some fixtures from the local theatrical supply house? We can wire up the outlets ourselves to power everything.” Bob agrees, great idea!

Bob then meets with a team of volunteers tasked with building the ultimate Bethlehem set. Not one of them has ever built a set before, but “How hard could it be?” The biggest challenge of the set build will be the massive star that will be hung. The choir director gets wind of the plans and asks, “Can we get choir members to fly in dressed as angels?” Bob thinks it through, the team of set builders think they have a few ideas… “Sure, let’s do it!” they say to each other.

OK, by now you hopefully realize that Bob is fictional and so are his merry band of technical people! Bob has been following a lot of good advice (wonder where he got that from…), but there is something lurking in all of these plans that has not been considered yet… safety.

Ned is planning to hang speakers from the ceiling at the rear of church, Joe is dealing with wiring special lighting, and the volunteer team is trying to hang a massive star, and most dangerous of all, fly people! You may have been reading this thinking, “OK, right… don’t be dumb.”

In the hundreds of churches Ministry Tech has been privileged to be in and serve, we have seen many things that are real life examples of what you just read! Yes, smart, intelligent, well-meaning people doing stuff that is just plain dangerous.

We could list dozens of examples like… the church that had a nautically themed kids’ program with a really cool ship and hundred pound speakers hung over the kids’ heads’ with a decorative Walmart fishing net! Or how about the church that wanted a lighting control board, so they used household dimmers mounted to a wooden board. The dimers were so overloaded they would smoke and get very hot. Or the church that used an old recycled dimmer that had been thrown out by a theater (they literally got it working with duct tape). The unit was placed in the back of the choir risers, it caught fire during a program, and a girl lost most of her very long hair from it. We have seen ministries try and “fly” people with industrial curtain rod and tracks (it looks like it should work). And we have personally witnessed what happens when safety is ignored with choir risers. An entire 4’ high riser with 20 people on it collapsed during a rehearsal. I’ve seen a ministry that hung speakers with a couple of wraps of packing string taped together. I’ve been up on a lighting rig 30ft off the ground having been told the power is off, and not checking it myself (like I should have) and had a very nice fireworks display. And the one that takes the cake, a church couldn’t figure out where buzz was coming from in their audio system.  Someone suggested that they hack all the ground pins off the system. Folks were getting seriously shocked every time they touched a mic. It only takes once and someone could have died. In my younger days I did a lot of stupid stuff too, like hacking the ground plugs off gear to get rid of buzzes, cutting electrical cords, and putting double the load on something that it should have. I’ve also been guilty in the past of not using graded hardware or checking weight loads before suspending stuff from the ceiling, but no more.

Let’s go back to our band of merry technicians and replay the scenario with safety in mind. After hearing his team’s ideas the first thing Bob does is get a copy of the blueprints of the church. He calls a meeting with the facilities manager and either a structural engineer or someone qualified in that field. He starts asking questions like, how much does stuff weigh? Where are the point loads? What’s the plan for rigging? and so forth. They purchase hardware that is rated, graded, and certified. They call in a certified electrician or someone extremely qualified (not Joe’s cousin who wired a bathroom sink light in his house 3 years ago) to handle the electrical needs, and do it to code.

After thinking long and hard they decide to go ahead with the flying angel and hire a special effects company that is certified, carries massive amounts of insurance, and has years of experience to supply training and gear that is rigorously tested and certified for rigging humans. After all, this is one effect that should NEVER be attempted unless the qualified team is brought in to do it.

In closing, it’s always best to err on the side of safety. Even though we know what we are doing and having been rigging stuff for years, we regularly consult a second source or bounce stuff off a structural engineer. Many times the cost is minimal for a consultation to look things over, and we’ve even had some do it for free. But how much is it worth to save a life? A good certified electrician will run about $100 per hour. Most normal jobs take a couple of hours, so that adds up to a couple hundred bucks to know that it’s done right and that it’s done safe. Isn’t that worth it? The bottom line is if you don’t know what you’re doing in this realm, although trying to figure it out and learn things on your own first is fine, make sure you get the right qualified people involved.

This is not meant to scare anyone, but we do want to make sure you’re going into your next production with your eyes wide open.

A few years back there was a group performing near my hometown. They had a portable stage setup. Folks were having a good time and the party atmosphere was in high gear. The folks in charge of the outdoor venue had received warnings about high winds but chose to ignore them. After all, the show must go on… The winds kicked up as predicted by the National Weather Service, and the cellphone videos tell the rest of the story. The stage started to sway. A senior rigger went up on top of the stage to try to add some extra support by tightening the cables and such that hold the stage together. The horror quickly unfolded as this massive stage collapsed like it was nothing, and that rigger who trying to help things lost his life. Other people were crushed by the rigging as it came down. Many were injured and some died.  All due to one foolish, yet innocent, decision from an experienced concert promoter.

Let’s keep it safe in our productions this year!

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