Do you know that moment in Tetris when you’re unnervingly close to the top of the frame, but those geometric shapes just keep inching down, faster and faster, piling higher and higher? You need that long, I-shaped piece for a 4-line bonus that will save your butt, and your veins pulsate faster and faster as beads of sweat form on your forehead. Finally–it happens. You heave a sigh of relief, and you’re back in the clear, strategically categorizing shapes and waiting for your next predicament. That’s the best way I can think to describe what it’s like to be a producer.
I used to think a producer was the person who financially backed television shows and movies, but a producer, in the context of church production, is actually responsible for giving cues, directing the team, and ultimately making a service happen. As production director for Club FX, our family worship experience, and Impact, our youth worship experience, producing is not necessarily required for my position; in fact, I think great production directors don’t always produce the show but instead make sure everything is in order and step back, equipping others to lead.
With that being said, however, most of the time I do serve as producer. It works well for me because I am the one who creates most of the media we use in Club FX and about half of the media we use at Impact, so I am very familiar with what media elements exist and how the service should flow. But hear me say this: I can’t stress enough the importance of training up volunteers to do what you do. I’ll talk more about that later.
Club FX and Impact are basically the two most jam-packed programs we offer except for maybe our weekend Christmas services. There is never a down week. Impact has grown from what used to be a bible study with a few songs into a full-on production with spectacular openers, worship, dancing, on-stage games, a recurring news-style announcement segment, videos, and themed sermon series with their own bumpers, set, and lighting design. Club FX is even more eventful. It’s basically Saturday Night Live for kids with worship, singing, dancing, drama sketches, a talk show segment, object lessons, intermittent videos, and much more. You can imagine that’s a lot to manage. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
In order to discuss what it means to be a good producer, I have to first explain what it means to be 212°. I heard the phrase early on in my career from Byron Malone, our pastor of family ministry. Water, as he explained, boils at 212°. It’s pretty warm at 100°. Pretty hot at 200°. Very hot at 211°. But until it reaches 212°, it’s not going to boil. It’s those few extra degrees that really get those atoms moving. Here are some lessons I have learned as a producer that can turn 211° into 212°.
1. Know your flow. “Flow” is a term we use to describe the master outline of a service. It’s the second most important text you’ll read next to the bible. It lists everything that’s going to happen: songs, dances, on stage action, message, videos, and instructions for every production position every step of the way. As a producer, you should know it like the back of your hand. It’s something I’m working on. Jeff Powell, our director of worship programming, is great at it. He leads production meetings without even reading from it. Because he plans it. He studies it. And he’s ready to give cues and answer questions when necessary. Trying to read and convey details at the last minute or even on the fly won’t make you a good producer. It will just make you flustered and ultimately embarrassed in front of the team. Know it, show it, bestow it. (See what I did there? Rhyming.)
2. Breathe. If you’re anything like me, you hyperventilate when there’s a lot on your shoulders. The moment you realize it, your brain shuts down, your eyes glaze over, and you want to go huddle in a corner. And sometimes you might just do that. (Just ask my team.) However, that’s when you have to remember that the God you serve is also the God of your emotions, fears, and predicaments. Everything you’re worrying about–He’s seen it. He knows about it. And He’s prepared for it. He’s surprised by nothing. (Not even that random light that won’t turn off during a blackout or the feedback coming out of that wireless mic.) God is the ultimate producer. And He’s for you. So step back, take a deep breath, and get your junk together. What you’re doing is for the sake of His glory, and He’s going to equip you to handle it.
3. Take notes and make lists. Stop saying, “I’ll totally remember that last-minute change.” FALSE. Write it down. I don’t care how good your memory is. I always carry a flow and a pen in my back pocket on Club FX and Impact days. That makes it easy to whip it out and make notes as changes are made or you get more details from the higher-ups.
4. “Don’t you ever for a second get to thinkin’ you’re irreplaceable.” Normally, I don’t take life lessons from Beyonce’, but this is a good one. As a producer, you should always be pouring into someone and training them to be you. Being the only person who can do something might mean job security in the business world, but not in ministry. Train up the next generation–or the previous generation–to be as skilled and knowledgable as you are. That way, you’re one step closer to stepping back and supervising. (Side note: I know all of this because someone poured into me. So put “everything you own in a box to the left”..and then hand it to someone else.)
5. Don’t cry over spilled transitions. Yeah, I know that’s a bad metaphor, but you get what I’m saying. In production, transitions are super important and have potential to be distracting if done incorrectly. Put time and effort into them. Practice them. Make sure your team knows what you want them to look like. But don’t beat yourself up if they’re not perfect. In the end, God’s word (in whatever format you’re presenting it) will not return void, even if there are a few extra seconds of lag time on a video, or lights come up too early. Also, being bummed about a bad transition can affect your focus for the rest of the service. Do everything you can do to prepare, guide, and direct others–and then let them do their jobs, trusting that God will be glorified no matter what.
6. Show love and gratitude to your team. Just because you’re running things doesn’t mean you can do it by yourself. Although I sometimes want to just do everything, I know that it’s physically impossible and not what I need to do. At the end of the day when things have gone well, praise God first and then your team. Affirm them for their successes, lovingly address ways they can improve, and encourage their development and contribution to the production. I often tell my team that I wish I could get “thank you” tattooed on my forehead. Still thinking about it. They’re that good.
Kelsey Walsh is a Family Ministry production intern at Venture Church.