Two years ago, God moved my family from a large multi-site church in Austin, TX to a mid-sized church in Frisco, TX called Providence. Worship at Providence had always been led faithfully and Biblically, but the music and production ministries had been in “church plant mode” for many years. The church was growing, and I was tasked with helping Providence take the next steps in excellence when it came to music and production.
We did not have a production staff member, we did not pay any audio engineers or musicians, and I did not know what I was doing. I wanted God to shine a floodlight onto the road ahead, but He only promised that His Word would be “a lamp unto my feet” (Psalm 119:105). He was asking me to trust Him, as I took one step at a time. Over the past two years, here’s what “taking one step at a time” has looked like regarding music and production. I. We Held an Audition
Whether a musician had just arrived at Providence, or they had been serving on stage for ten years, everyone was asked to participate in an audition. They were given one song with easy parts (Cornerstone) and one song with more challenging parts (Singing in the Victory). In an email, the musicians and vocalists were given four expectations for the audition:
1. Learn the parts: Aim to learn the exact parts on the recording in Planning Center. This includes learning the exact song structure. 2. Play in time: Playing in sync with a click (metronome) helps the band to sound like one cohesive unit, instead of a collection of individuals. The click should be prominent in your monitor mix. 3. Play in tune: Make sure your instrument is tuned and intonated. If you’re a guitarist, choose the chord voicing that sounds most in tune. If you’re a vocalist, pay attention to your pitch. It helps to feature the keys and your vocal in your monitor mix. 4. Simplify when necessary: Although we aim to learn the exact parts, it’s not always realistic to replicate the recording note for note. When that happens, we’ll simplify.
Psalm 33:3 says to “play skillfully on the strings,” and one of the reasons that David was invited into King Saul’s court is because he was “skillful in playing” the harp (1 Samuel 16:18). If King Saul had skillful musicians in his court, how much more does King Jesus deserve our skill?
Based on this email, some volunteer musicians chose not to attend the audition, as they did not have the desire or the capacity to be held to this standard. Some had demanding jobs. Others were not comfortable wearing in-ear monitors and playing with a click. That’s ok! There were other meaningful opportunities for them to serve at church. For those who did audition, the expectations were clear. II. We Put People in the Right Positions
After auditions, it was important to prayerfully consider whether or not people were serving in the right positions. Were the most gifted, faithful female vocalists leading? Did a guitar player need to shift to bass? Could one of the electric guitarists better serve the church as an audio engineer?
One of the most trusted audio engineers at Providence is a guy named Jason. He ran sound on tour with Student Life camps for many years. His wife, Taylor, has great vocal pitch and a natural ear for harmony. This year, Taylor and a girl named Kelly have combined to sing most Sundays at our church. Kelly studied vocal performance in college and is a powerful lead vocalist. When I arrived two years ago, Jason was playing electric guitar, Taylor was playing keys (but not singing), and Kelly was serving in our children's ministry.
While these were all great ways to serve, we needed to strengthen the culture of female vocal leadership at our church, and we needed an audio engineer who was comfortable mixing in a very difficult room. That brings me to point #3.III. We Trained our Audio Engineers
For a one time fee, we brought in a professional to assess our audio problems and train our audio engineers. In a room that seats 400 people, this assessor told us that the high frequencies (above 5k) in our room were 18 decibels louder at the front of the room compared to the back. We found out that our current acoustic panels weren’t absorbing any frequencies below 1K. We discovered that the low end was phasing (cancelling out) in the middle of our room. Each issue required an adjustment to our EQ and a change to our mix philosophy. We got good presets into our board and learned how to best manage the challenges that our room presented.
Notice that points 1, 2, and 3 are all centered around people. If our people aren’t faithful to play their instruments well, it won’t matter how expensive our drum kit is. If we don’t have properly trained audio engineers, it won’t matter which sound board we buy. Our people are created in the image of God, and so our people are the primary way that God will display His beauty in our worship ministries.
Secondarily, it’s important to have the right equipment.IV. We Upgraded our Audio Equipment
1. We eliminated stage noise The Providence sanctuary is an old Dodge Dealership garage with a corrugated metal ceiling. Before we turned on the sound system, a full band already sounded noisy, so we needed to eliminate stage noise. First, we got a good drum enclosure. What can feel like blasphemy to a drummer, was necessary in our garage. In place of the loud guitar amps, our guitarists now run through a Kemper (or HX Stomp). In place of a bass amp, our bass players now run through a Fatboy DI. Providence didn’t have a large worship and production budget, so I made a detailed pitch to our elders to explain the cost and benefits of these purchases. 2. We upgraded our sound system and acoustics We brought in an acoustics company to assess our room. They estimated that it would take a quarter of a million dollars to fully transition our garage into a great sounding sanctuary. After much thought and prayer, our elders asked them “What can you do for $115,000?” For $115,000, we were able to supplement our sound system, upgrade the preamps on our sound board, and line most of our walls and ceiling with custom acoustic paneling. It cannot be expressed in words how much of a difference in sound quality these upgrades have made. We may not have the best sounding sanctuary in Texas, but we are no longer worshipping in a garage. Praise the Lord. V. We Upgraded our Visual Arts
1. We painted When our sanctuary was first painted, it was trendy to look like a now outdated version of Starbucks, so our walls were beige and our ceiling was brown. I didn’t realize how much a worship environment could be affected by paint color. One of our photographers told me that he always avoided having the ceiling and outer walls in his shot, simply because of the color. We neutralized this distraction by having the outer walls painted functional grey, the ceiling painted a much darker grey, and the front walls painted a “refuge” blue.We are still taking one step at a time
2. We empowered videographers in our congregation We do not have a full-time production staff member or videographer, but we do have people in our congregation who work with cameras and video editing software on a professional level. When the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 hit, a couple of Providence videographers stepped up to develop a visual plan for capturing and editing our “worship from home” services. They’ve also begun to capture the stories of how God is moving in the lives of our members.
, and we still have a long way to go, but I praise God for the progress He’s allowed us to make and the people He’s provided. If you are a worship pastor, join me in praying that we would have a holy contentment to appreciate what God has given us, and also pray that we would have a holy discontentment to see Jesus do far more abundantly than we could ask or imagine through our worship ministries.
For those who would find it helpful, here’s one of our Providence Church "worship from home" services.0:10 -
Call to Worship3:55 -
The Passion (led by Kelly Joseph)8:15 -
Come Thou Fount (Above All Else)47:00 -