Kim Fukai is the director of programming and production at Grace Point Church in San Antonio, Texas. She’s in charge of the weekend services, which include overseeing the worship arts, tech arts, video production and graphic design teams. You’ve also probably seen her around. She led the hospitality team for the 2012 STORY Conference in Chicago. She coordinated the worship conference and served on the tech team for the 2012 Creative Missions trip to Northwest Arkansas. She’s also written about the vibe before a church service, a piece that also appears in Dangerous: A Go-to Guide for Church Communication.
You do more production work than marketing—how do those two interact and what are some of the potential pitfalls in that relationship?
Kim Fukai: There’s a good amount of independence there. One of the main interactions is regarding our online presence. As an avenue to reach more people, we make audio and video recordings of our sermons available online. If we don’t get a good recording, it still gets posted. This makes it really important to consistently capture high quality recordings. We also try to drive people to our Twitter and Facebook pages. We’ve recently started to provide series-specific hashtags to encourage our people to post during the sermons. Knowing people post pictures of the preacher or from a feature music piece from the service online remind me of the potential exposure that exists and why every detail needs to be excellent.
What’s the one thing you wish you had known when you were getting started in church production?
Kim: I wish I had known how important an optimistic outlook is to production. Being in ministry is a first one in, last one out job. Being in production is above and beyond that and you have to get things done because so much is relying on you. I knew diligence and service were required, but it really challenged me to maintain a positive attitude. This role serves a lot of different areas of the church and keeping everyone happy while producing excellence is a large part of why positivity is required.
What are some simple (and cheap) ways a church can improve their production values with little or no budget?
Kim: It just takes intentionality.
While your service is being crafted, find a thematic thread to weave through the service. If the sermon is on obedience, craft your worship set to include songs about following God.
Use the series graphic look to connect your visual pieces from worship backgrounds to set design. If there is a grunge texture, choose similarly textured backgrounds or spend $20 to purchase a few new backgrounds.
Let’s talk about worship environment. If you desire to increase your production value, you have to be able to control the environment.
Block off excess light. People pay attention to the most illuminated thing in the room. If that’s anything other than what or who we are supposed to be looking at, then it’s a distraction. Think about how you can control ambient light.
If your sanctuary has two light settings—on or off—get someone to install a dimmer switch. This will allow you to create more dynamic environments without having to go completely black. If you have a dimmable lights, use them dynamically. If you’re not sure how to use them effectively, attend concerts or watch live videos of well-produced concerts (my guilty pleasure is Beyoncé’s Live in Las Vegas). Pay attention to how lighting supports the look and feel of each moment. Also, watch what happens during transitions between each song or element. Most of us aren’t trying to recreate a concert environment, but you can use some of the techniques at a scale that’s complimentary to your context.
As an aside, if your pastor is the one coordinating the Sunday service, find a volunteer to help manage the details. Your pastor has a lot to think about and adding another mind to help take over the minutiae will serve him more than you know. The right volunteer is optimistic, intuitive, detail-oriented, critical thinking and a good problem solver.
Make connections with other churches: If you have a relationship with other churches in your area with production staff, ask them for their thoughts on what you can improve. They may even be able to give you gear they aren’t using. These relationships can be really valuable. If you don’t have any current connections with someone at another church, start reaching out. It’s rewarding and encouraging to share stories with like-minded people who are in similar environments.
That collaboration with other churches can be huge. It’s why we push the Local Lab. How do you deal with congregations stuck in a ‘That’s how we’ve always done it,’ mentality and are resistant to change?
Kim: In general, no one likes change, but everyone likes finding solutions. You can only sell change to someone if they know there is a problem. First, identify the problem. Then investigate what it is about the current method that is keeping it stuck so you can determine how to build a case for a solution. If you uncover it is rooted in someone’s personal preference, then you can target that philosophy. At Grace Point Church, we place a high value on collaboration—for many reasons, one of them being because it produces ownership. That ownership translates to immediate buy-in. So if you’re collaborating with the right person or people, the solution, and the change that comes with it, will be championed for you.
I also found it helpful to remember small changes are more accepted than big changes. One of my mentors told me about a guy who was a newly installed pastor. The first day he told the leaders of the church the piano had to be moved from one side of the stage to the other. The leaders told him no and after a short time, he left the church out of frustration because he felt they weren’t open to his ideas. A year later, the man visited the church and saw the piano was on the other side of the stage. “How did you get the leaders to agree to that?!” he asked the new pastor. The new pastor responded, “I just moved it one inch every week.”
What was your first great success as a church communicator? What made it work so well?
Kim: Since joining Grace Point staff, I’d say my first success was when we had a message series that was particularly actionable and we wanted a way to encourage our people throughout the week toward action. So we used a texting service to create a text challenge aligned with our weekend series. Each day we would send a scripture verse and an encouraging word with it. By the end of the series, we had over 40% of our attendees sign up to participate, which was twice as many as I had anticipated. The messages were brief (160 characters) and reinforced the language of our series. Since it was the first time using a messaging service, it really helped that we were clear about what our people would be receiving and we were clear about when it would end. I think those two things made it easy for everyone to support it. We heard a lot of positive feedback and we are planning to do it again at the end of this year.
Related to production, I’d say I’m particularly proud of a mashup I created this year. If Glee has taught me anything, it’s that mashups always win. We combined Fun.’s “Some Nights” with U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” to setup a message about Solomon. My formula for mashup success is one part new top 40 song with a great hook plus one part classic song everyone loves. The result is something appealing to all ages. In order to make the entire element successful, we created a video introduction with a voiceover narrative of Solomon and during the song the video displayed animated lyrics. All this was tied to a click track so the band could stay in sync with the video. The song was pretty intense at times so adding dynamic lighting extended the experience into the environment of the room.
Watch the Fun./U2 mashup:
What was your greatest failure? What lessons did you learn?
Kim: I’ve been lucky to not have a major fail scenario but when failure slaps you on the hand regularly, I think it can have the same outcome as when it punches you in the gut. It’s really important to understand the context you are in and the audience you are serving. In creative planning, sometimes there are good ideas that get thrown out and bad ideas that get pushed through. I used to get really frustrated by this, especially with so many of my own awesome ideas getting tabled. I realized it’s not about the most brilliant idea, it’s about what serves the message we are communicating to the people we are influencing. So maybe that new song by that band no one knows won’t be as effective at reaching your audience as the song that’s 10 years old that everyone knows. If you have the right people in the room, rather than putting your ideas at odds with their ideas, use them to develop your ideas.
There’s a lot of pressure in live production. What’s the best way to handle the stress and pressure, especially for someone just learning the ropes?
Kim: Deep breathing. I’m just kidding—kind of. In live production there are a lot of moving parts so it’s really easy to get tripped up by details in the moment, especially when plans don’t go as expected. The better you plan details before an event goes live, the better prepared you will be to make the best decisions when something unexpected comes up.
As a behind-the-scenes leader, no one puts more pressure on me than myself—taking on the expectations of those on stage, those in the seats and even my own team. Then add to it the goals for the event and on top of that the continuous execution of sequences. Worry, anxiety and stress start to set in. When that happens, I have to take a deep breath and remember the burden I’m hanging on to is what the God I serve came to take from me. He is in the details and in control and I get the privilege of joyfully serving him in it.
- Check out the rest of our Getting Started interview series.
- The Certification Lab is coming to Nashville in October. This two-day training event includes six months of virtual mentoring and is designed for those new to church communication.
- Another resource that might be a big help is our new book, Dangerous: A Go-to Guide for Church Communication. It covers a lot of the basics, from big picture strategy to practical stuff like sound and video.