Team Thoughts – Staffing Up: Part 2

In the first part of this article, I began talking about how large of a “staff” or team of audio engineers is ideal for a church. Today I’m going to get into specifics.

If I was aiming for consistent results with week-to-week Sunday services, I would aim for having 3 engineers. Let’s unpack that.

The “Sunday’s Coming” mantra of church production makes for a unique situation from many other productions. In church world, it’s often a “new show” every week, and the production never goes dark. So I believe it is unreasonable and unsustainable to have a single engineer who does every Sunday. People need breaks for their own mental health. They may also get sick and/or have other circumstances arise that prevent them from being there every week. This means a single engineer isn’t enough. I need at least 2.

So why the third?

I like having a third person because #1 & #2 will not be around forever. There is no permanent situation. You never want a lot of turnover, but it always happens sooner or later. Instead of getting frustrated when someone leaves, why not just prepare for the inevitable? My 3rd person is my next #2.

The next challenge is how to schedule those three people.

For the most consistency, I would use the #1 engineer 75% of Sundays. If we have 4 weekends a month, I would use him 3 out of 4 weekends. I would put #2 on for the 4th weekend every month. #3 would shadow and help out #1 and #2 as often as possible. When #3 is ready, I’d look to having him “drive” while being supervised when possible. Eventually I would look to get #3 on as the main engineer at least once a quarter.

Getting #3 up to speed in this situation would likely take an extended period of time. Repetition is key, and in this scenario #3 would be getting very little reps. #2 doesn’t get a ton of reps, either, which would likely impact his performance. This is one of the compromises that comes with scheduling this way.

If ultimate consistency wasn’t as much of a concern, I would vary the schedule more to get #2 and #3 into rotation more. This would help with their development and maintaining their skills because when you are working towards mastering a craft, shorter intervals between sessions are more desirable. In the case of church audio, it was my experience that an engineer who worked every week for a month developed faster than an engineer who worked once a month for four months. It was the same number of reps, but the time in between is often lost ground. Remember what I said in part 1, mixing is not like riding a bike.

Of course, more reps for #2 and #3 could also potentially compromise the performance of #1. Just as the first scenario compromised the #2 and #3 engineers, now #1’s performance gets traded. That’s what a lot of this comes down to, though: compromise. I believe that’s why it’s so important to understand what you’re ultimately trying to achieve so you can make informed and educated compromises as needed.

Now, one thing I should mention here is I’m thinking purely in terms of Sunday morning services above. If I had things like additional Saturday services, Sunday evening services, regular events like Student Ministries, and/or special one-off events to contend with, I would be approaching things looking for more people.

In my mind, a regular event always needs at least one regular person for consistency, and ideally there will be two for the same reasons I stated above. I might consider doubling up an engineer on more than one event/service type, but it would depend on the situation and other responsibilities someone might have. For example, maybe the #1 or #2 for Sunday morning could be the #2 or #3 for Students. That kind of thing can work, but in my personal experience and from working with other churches, these approaches typically lead to higher turnover and burnout over the long term. It also often depends on if I’m looking at a volunteer engineer or a staff engineer. It’s often a much bigger ask to double-up a volunteer than a staff member.

One-off events are a little different. Most engineers and staff can handle an extra event now and then. However, it ultimately depends on how often there are one-off events. Having a single one-off event in a quarter or maybe once a month is very different from having a different one-off event almost every week. For example, maybe there’s a one-off women’s conference one week followed by a one-off men’s conference the next week followed by a groups event the week after. In a case like this, these are only “one-off” events to the ministries or groups putting on the events. To a production team, this is recurring work and often outside the scope of what they were planning for.

In a modern mega-church, it is very common that making Sunday alone happen will net 40-50 hours of work for a staff member. Everything outside of that is either going to take away from Sunday or be overtime. And, generally, overtime is going to be a hit from regular duties because people only have so much energy. You can use the Google to look at all the studies floating around on when people on average pass the point of meaningful returns.

That doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea to expect or hope people will do a little extra from time to time. I just think it’s important to be realistic in this regard. When time-to-time becomes all-the-time, it is likely there will be issues sooner or later. Maybe one of these days I’ll get more into this idea, but I’ll leave it at this for now.

No matter how crazy the circumstances and needs might be, a general premise I would always use in approaching “staffing” is to make sure I have enough people on the team so they can all get some rest, they can all get enough reps to maintain and develop new skills at the rate I’m hoping for, and that there is always an extra member to fill a hole that opens.

I’d love to hear about what has been successful for you. Please let me know in the comments.

David Stagl

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Team Thoughts – Staffing Up: Part 2