FILO: Empowering Technical Artists in Your Church with Todd Elliott

Thanks for tuning in to the unSeminary podcast. Today we’re talking with Todd Elliott, a writer, speaker and audio engineer serving the local church. He’s also the founder of FILO: First In, Last Out, which is built around supporting technical artists who serve the local church.

Do you ever feel like there is a disconnect between the senior leadership of your church and the production team? Do you wonder how to foster better communication between the teaching or worship pastors and the technical artists? Tune in as Todd offers help in technical skill development, community, inspiration and more.

  • Foster reconnection. // Technical artists can often feel alone in their roles behind the scenes at churches. A key component of the work FILO does is to help production team members become more effective, not just as tech people, but as followers of Christ. It’s important to remind tech people that they are more than what they do, and their relationship with Jesus matters more than their relationship to the gear they work with.
  • Give direction for tech. // We live in a technology-based society. Much of what our churches do revolves around it—from social media or streaming services online to lighting during worship services. Church leaders need technology, but we don’t necessarily know how much we want to use it or allow it to influence our decisions. Todd encourages senior leaders to give direction and cast vision in this area, even if they don’t fully understand it. Without their leadership, tech people can make the focus or use of technology bigger than it needs to be.
  • Foster good communication. // A tech person’s job is to be invisible in their work. One of the challenges is that people notice when things go wrong, but not when everything goes smoothly. This focus on the negative causes production team members not to feel trusted. There can also be a language barrier between church leadership and technical artists in regard to what it takes to achieve what’s being asked. It’s important that senior leaders and creative staff work together and share the responsibility to figure out what it will take to accomplish the ideas being discussed.
  • Recognize the good. // Don’t only talk about the things that didn’t work. Identify the excellent work the production team is doing and discuss that too. Don’t just tell technical leaders that they did a “great job”, but communicate that you recognize the time that went into their work and the high quality of it. Noticing the good work and calling it out does a lot to build trust.
  • Define reality. // The range of spending on tech can be vast because you’re making decisions on what you want your church to be about technology-wise. It’s the senior leader’s job to define reality for what the church is about and what is the best way to accomplish the vision, even on the technology side. Todd advises senior leaders to ask to see or hear the differences between equipment options when trying to make purchase decisions rather than simply taking someone’s word for what to buy.
  • Resources for your team. // FILO offers a number of resources for church tech people to become more well-rounded and effective as human beings, which then helps the church become more effective. Todd’s book, “I Love Jesus, But I Hate Christmas: Tackling the Challenges of Being a Church Technical Artist”, provides chapters that foster discussion on a variety of topics from collaboration and community to the difference between perfection and excellence. The FILO Conference this spring provides an opportunity for professional and spiritual development with breakout sessions, worship and more.

You can find out more about FILO and all the resources they offer for your production teams at Download a chapter from Todd’s book here.

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Thank You to This Episode’s Sponsor: CDF Capital

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Episode Transcript

Rich Birch — Hey friends, welcome to the unSeminary podcast. So glad that you have decided to tune in today. Man, super honored that you would tune in. We have got a great conversation today, uh, with a new friend, Todd Elliott. He was recommended to us by our friend, Brittany Crimmel, from out west. Todd is a writer, speaker, and technical artist in the local church and the founder of an organization called FILO – First In and Last Out. And they really are built around this idea of supporting technical artists who serve the local church. And they do all kinds of things around skill development, community inspiration. They have a great conference, a book. I want you to get to know Todd, get to know FILO. Uh, welcome. So glad you’re here today, Todd.

Todd Elliott — Yeah, thanks so much for having me. It’s great to be here.

Rich Birch — Well, this will be good. You know, the name of our podcast is unSeminary, stuff they didn’t teach you, or you wish they taught in seminary. Uh, you know, and there’s nothing like the technical side…

Todd Elliott — Right.

Rich Birch — …that is this fits this category perfectly. Uh, so tell us a little bit about your background. You know, bring us up to speed. Tell us about FILO. Yeah, give us this full the full story.

Todd Elliott — Yeah. So my, uh, my story starts like a lot of, uh, people doing technology in the local church. I was in high school. I, uh, had a friend who was sitting behind the soundboard, uh, and he didn’t show up one day, and I got kind of sucked into…

Rich Birch — Love it.

Todd Elliott — Okay, uh, how do we do this? So, I mean, and I would say this is dating me a little bit, uh, you know, back in those days, it was one microphone and a cassette recorder, you know?

Rich Birch — Yes.

Todd Elliott — So that was all I had to deal with. Uh, but, uh, just through that experience, I grew as the church grew. I learned new stuff. I, um, and so, you know, the next day it was there was a guitar and then there was some drums. And, you know, it just kind of added as as the church grew, my skills kind of grew with it. And I thought, I would love to do this for a living, but I had no concept of people doing that.

Rich Birch — Right.

Todd Elliott — So just volunteering like crazy, um, helped start a church, um, in, in Michigan. And then when I graduated from college, I started working there, uh, doing everything. I mean, it was, you know, uh, like most people do in a church start up, just like I had like, ten jobs and loved every second of it. Uh, but as time went on, uh, realizing, like, I started hiring production staff people. And then, yeah, just sort of leading a group of, uh, you know, volunteer team and a staff team. And really, the story of FILO, uh, comes out of this time. Because for me, I’m like, I, I’m an audio engineer. I have no idea what I’m doing leading people, leading teams.

Rich Birch — Sure.

Todd Elliott — I don’t know how to do it. Um, and I just felt like, who else is doing this that I could talk to?

Rich Birch — Right.

Todd Elliott — And at that time, there really weren’t too many places. Uh, but I reached out, I called information. This tells you how long ago it was. I called information on the phone, like Saddleback.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Todd Elliott — Uh, give me the number to Saddleback. Who’s there? Who can talk to me?

Rich Birch — Yes.

Todd Elliott — Um, Willow Creek, all these big churches.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Todd Elliott — And, yeah, people would respond and, um, yeah, got to talk to all these people and realized that my challenges weren’t unique. They were challenges that everybody was having. Um, you know, well, what do I do about the the youth pastors asking for too much technology?

Rich Birch — Right.

Todd Elliott — You know, Willow Creek’s like, well, we haven’t cracked that code either. So when you solve it, call us back, you know…

Rich Birch —And let us know.

Todd Elliott — Yeah. So there was a lot of that, which, uh, you know, really helped me feel like, oh, geez, I’m not alone. These these problems aren’t unique. And there are other people dealing with them. And, you know, I bet there are other people around me in the, I was in the Detroit area at the time, people in this area that that maybe be struggling also. So I just, again dating myself, I put, I sent out a postcard…

Rich Birch — Love it.

Todd Elliott — …uh, to, I don’t know, uh, hundreds of churches, you know, in a radius around where we were.

Rich Birch — Right.

Todd Elliott — And, hey, we’re going to have this thing Thursday night, this date. Just come, we’ll share ideas. It’ll be a time to hang out. And 250 people came.

Rich Birch — Wow. Amazing.

Todd Elliott — And they were all just staring at me like, tell us what you’re doing. And I’m like, wait…

Rich Birch — You’re the leader. You sent us the postcard.

Todd Elliott — Yeah, that’s right. I’m like, I want to know from you guys, what are you doing? Like, I don’t have all the answers.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Todd Elliott — Um, but it really, that was the beginning of me realizing that all the things I was feeling as a tech person in the local church, feeling misunderstood, alone, um, you know, overworked, under-appreciated—whatever that list was—there’s a lot of other people that are feeling the same thing. And so I need to be about doing this for people.

Rich Birch — So good.

Todd Elliott — Um, you know, it’s one of those, like, you see a problem and wonder why isn’t somebody doing something about it? Well, that’s probably a sign you should be doing something about it.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Todd Elliott — And so, yeah, just kept gathering people, um, in the Detroit area together. This time with a little more expectation, like, okay, they’re coming to learn something, so we’re going to give them something instead of just, uh me not being prepared.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Todd Elliott — Um, and then, uh, I ended up, uh, going to work at Willow Creek Church. Uh, on the production team, uh, for about ten years, uh, leading that team for part of that time and having an amazing experience. Um, all the time doing, you know, Willow Creek was doing conferences and that sort of thing…

Rich Birch — Yep.

Todd Elliott — …and so that was part of my jam. Like, okay, I’m into this. And then, uh, when that sort of ended, uh, kept trying to figure out how do we keep resourcing tech people

Rich Birch — Right.

Todd Elliott — They still need it, just because Willow Creek’s not doing it anymore.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Todd Elliott — Um, and so when I ended up leaving, uh, my time at Willow Creek, uh, in 2014, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with my life. Um, uh, but I thought this probably there’s something here…

Rich Birch — Right.

Todd Elliott — …that I need to keep doing. And so…this is probably turning into a longer story than we planned…

Rich Birch — No, it’s wonderful. It’s good.

Todd Elliott — …realizing that, um, okay, uh, gathering tech people together, helping them feel understood, and being in community with each other is kind of how God has wired me. I’m going to go down this road and see what happens.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Todd Elliott — Um, and if it if it falls on its face, then yeah, I will stop doing it. But if it keeps going, let’s keep going with it. And so that was nine years ago.

Rich Birch — So good.

Todd Elliott — Um, did our first FILO in 2015 and yeah, just learning as we went and um, yeah, just really seeing God move in great ways, just in people’s lives to become, for us, the important part is helping people become more effective, not just as tech people, because, I mean, they they do need to become more effective as tech people, but just as people.

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Todd Elliott — To reconnect with you’re not. You’re more than just a tech person. You’re a Christ follower and a church member…

Rich Birch — Yep, yep.

Todd Elliott — …and a part of the body of Christ. And you happen to do technology stuff too. So, um

Rich Birch — Yeah, I love it.

Todd Elliott — …trying trying to reconnect them with the fact that, uh, you have a relationship with Jesus that matters more than your relationship to gear.

Rich Birch — Yeah. So good.

Todd Elliott — Yeah.

Rich Birch — Well, there’s a ton to unpack there. I love the magic, uh, skill of calling people and, like, hey, I, you know, do you have, you know… and this is very this is very similar to my own story. Like, I in fact, our story intersects a little bit around Willow. I was, in early 2000s, I literally did the old 411 call…

Rich Birch — Yep.

Rich Birch — …and I to find Willow Creek’s number. And I called the front desk at Willow and I said…

Todd Elliott — Love it. Yeah.

Rich Birch — …our church is like doing something. We didn’t know it was called multisite at the time. I know that you guys are doing something similar. Who do I talk to there? And the person on reception is like, I think there’s this guy, Jim.

Todd Elliott — Jim, yeah.

Rich Birch — And Jim Tomberlin, who has become one of my best friends, and we spent a lot of time doing a lot of ministry together, but it literally came out of just calling the front desk and saying, hey,

Todd Elliott — Yeah.

Rich Birch — …uh, and here we are. And, you know, this podcast came very much out of that. We’re 800 episodes in and it really is very similar.

Todd Elliott — Amazing.

Rich Birch — I just love talking to church leaders and love, you know, learning from and and you know, so many people are so generous with their with their time. Well, let’s talk about kind of let’s talk about conceptually start to start. And then I do want to get really practical leverage…

Todd Elliott — Sure.

Rich Birch — …particularly for executive pastors, senior pastors who are listening in, some advice from your seat, you know, at dealing with the tech people and the technology in our in our world.

Todd Elliott — Yeah, yeah.

Rich Birch — But but man, there’s a time, you know, I made this joke lots with my own people. We dance with technology, like there was a I can remember back to those days where we like it didn’t seem like our ministries were so intertwined with technology. But but it is now.

Todd Elliott — For sure.

Rich Birch — Talk to us a little bit about that. What’s going on there? You know, we are it’s at the core of what we do – video, audio, video, lighting. Talk us, talk to us about that tension a little bit.

Todd Elliott — Yeah, I mean I think the, yeah, you’re right in that we, we can’t escape it. We, we live in a, in a technology-based society. And so much of what our churches are about revolves around technology, whether it’s social media or our services streamed online, our services in person, um, message graphics, um, yeah, just there’s a TVs in the lobby with the right information on them. I mean, there’s you can’t escape it. And so the reality is that, um uh, I guess there’s two parts of it. We need it. We desperately need it. On the other hand, I feel like we don’t necessarily know how much we want to use it, or how much it we want it to influence all of our decisions.

Rich Birch — Right.

Todd Elliott — I guess from a production person’s standpoint, the I want to go for it. I want to go all out. I want all the bells and whistles. I want all the haze. I, you know.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Todd Elliott — Uh, if you let me loose, I will do all the things. Um, I think, uh, you know, there’s something really great about that, that, you know, that there are people out there that want to, like, let’s push this envelope. I think a lot of times, and I’ve had seasons in my own life as a tech person, that without a whole lot of direction, I could become the biggest thing going at my church.

Rich Birch — Sure.

Todd Elliott — And so, you know, like the there was one Christmas service that I remember, I went to like a party after one of the services with just like regular people who were attending the service. Everybody was like, the lighting was amazing. That was everybody’s response to the service.

Rich Birch — Okay. Uh oh.

Todd Elliott — If you notice the lighting being amazing, we probably overdid it.

Rich Birch — Um, yes. Oh gosh, yeah.

Todd Elliott — Because the goal is all these things, uh, all this technology is the purpose is to advance the mission of the church, and to, to create a, like a, um, a transparent layer between the message and, and the people in the seats. And I think so often I think we see what other churches are doing online. We, you know, look at their Instagram feeds, we see all this cool stuff, and we feel like we got to be doing that, too, when it’s maybe not exactly right for our church. And I think…

Rich Birch — That’s good.

Todd Elliott — …uh, I would say the one of the tensions that exists then, for like an executive pastor or a senior pastor, you’re looking at the technology stuff. You don’t totally understand it.

Rich Birch — Right.

Todd Elliott — You don’t totally get the person who’s running it. You know, they’re just like, they’re so different than you.

Rich Birch — Sure.

Todd Elliott — And so part of what I’ve experienced in my own life is that then there’s a little bit of abdicating of leadership by that person to say, because I don’t understand this and I don’t understand you, I’m just gonna I don’t feel like, I don’t know what to say here.

Rich Birch — Let them do it. Yes.

Todd Elliott — But the reality is, without direction, like I said, uh, we’re gonna blow this thing up bigger than it needs to or should be…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Todd Elliott — …because that’s what we see other people doing.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Todd Elliott — And so my encouragement to senior leaders is like, just because you don’t understand it doesn’t mean that it it doesn’t still require your your direction and leadership and vision.

Rich Birch — Yeah. That’s good, that’s good. Let’s stay there for a little minute.

Todd Elliott — Sure.

Rich Birch — I’m sure I want to leverage your expertise. You talk to a lot of technical leaders, a lot of senior leaders across the country, and I’m sure there are some repeated conversations that maybe a tech director is having with you where they’re like, you know, help me with my executive pastor, or help me with my… And they they insert a common conversation that when they say it to you, you don’t like roll your eyes because you’re a good, caring Christian, but you’ve heard it so many times.

Todd Elliott — Yeah. Yep.

Rich Birch — What is that conversation that they’re having behind our back, and how can we help them? Uh, not in a not in a negative way, but, you know, how can we help…

Todd Elliott — Yeah, no, no. Yeah.

Rich Birch — …with that discussion?

Todd Elliott — Yeah. I mean, it’s so interesting. Uh, there’s probably a million things that are going on. Um, um, I would say from the executive pastor, senior pastor side, I hear a lot like, it’s so expensive.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Todd Elliott — And they all they want to do is spend money.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Todd Elliott — Um, and I would say, um, on the production person side, they don’t really understand what it takes to do what they’re asking. And…

Rich Birch — Oh, that’s good.

Todd Elliott — You know, they, um, frankly, the one of the challenges that we experience as tech people is that if the goal is to be transparent and invisible when things are going well, uh, nobody really notices that we’re doing excellent work

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Todd Elliott — They only notice when things are going poorly.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s so true.

Todd Elliott — And so the only time I’m having a senior leader conversation is, how could you let that happen? Or, uh, what are you doing wrong? Or, like, how did you screw this up? You know that. And so those things combined, uh, you know, make for a very kind of the tech person not feeling trusted, uh, the leadership, not really trusting them. Um, I think there’s also probably a language barrier there.

Rich Birch — Right.

Todd Elliott — You know, the language that a tech person speaks is different from a senior leader.

Rich Birch — Yep.

Todd Elliott — Um, and so all those things combined makes for lots of misunderstanding about what it takes to do what we’re asking. Um, and, um yeah. Just that, that thing. There’s a lot going right that nobody even notices.

Rich Birch — Yes, yes. Yeah, yeah. Let’s talk a little bit about that. You know, I can see that temptation of, and I’ve seen this, you know, and just even conversations, you know, you, you you mentioned the Instagram thing. It’s like a senior leader, they look at a they look at a 30-second clip from a church’s last year’s Easter celebration.

Todd Elliott — Right, yeah.

Rich Birch — And they walk in, you know, four weeks before Easter. And they say to their tech team, let’s do this.

Todd Elliott — Yeah.

Rich Birch — Um, you know, it’s crazy, right? It’s crazy.

Todd Elliott — Yeah.

Rich Birch — You know, anything that’s got that kind of traction, you know, churches have been working on for months, you know, maybe half a year kind of thing to pull off. They don’t do it last minute. Um, help help us unpack that a little bit. You know, what are some questions I should be asking as a leader, um, you know, in that if I see something that I’d love for us to replicate, how can I engage with my people well, on that?

Todd Elliott — Yeah. I mean, I think the one of the things that I really struggled with in my earlier years was just the, the idea of, um people are asking for stuff and they there’s it’s not open to discussion. You know, we just need to do it. Um, and really the, um, I don’t know that anybody was presenting it that way, but just in, in the time since, if a senior leader said, hey, I saw this online and I’m interested in, you know, could we do this for Easter? Let’s talk about it.

Rich Birch — Right.

Todd Elliott — And creating a safe place for me to kind of shoot holes in it, or bring bring up some of my concerns instead of it feeling like we’re doing this, figure it out.

Rich Birch — Right.

Todd Elliott — And so, yeah, I think I’m in some conversations with a church right now. And, you know, the pastor’s really struggling with I want to be able to do more last minute changes. Um, I’m like, yeah, okay. I could totally I totally get that. But you have, you know, ten plus campuses of varying degrees of, you know, people who know what they’re doing and people who don’t on the technology side. It makes for a very difficult, uh, you know, time to just do last minute changes if, you know, at at campus “X”, you have a volunteer who, you know, they’re an accountant during the day and, you know, just happened to be doing sound, you know, on the weekend. They don’t, the last minute change doesn’t really work for them.

Todd Elliott — So, um, anyway, just the the idea of let’s have a conversation about it. And I would I don’t know how many tech people listen to this, uh, podcast, but the, the thing I’m usually encouraging them is, uh, don’t, uh, don’t come at this defensively…

Rich Birch — Right.

Todd Elliott — …but just open-handedly ask questions and be realistic about if we did it, this is what it would mean, or it would mean this. And to to be willing to share the responsibility of pulling it off with the person asking. Um, and so even for a senior leader to say, hey, I’m not asking you to solve this by yourself, but let’s talk about what it would actually take to do this. Um, instead of just coming out and say, we’re doing this, and figure it out.

Rich Birch — Yeah. That’s good. I feel like this is as an executive pastor, this has been one of those areas where, um, as I can really help, particularly mitigate between the various departments, whether it’s maybe my lead pastor who’s got some great idea, or the creative folks, the worship folks, and they’re trying to work with the technical people.

Rich Birch — And, you know, even I found just calling out the tension, hey, that’s a good example. There are content people, maybe a lead pastor, teaching pastor who they want maximum flexibility. They they want to because they’re responding to what the Spirit’s saying. And they’re like, they want to they want to be able to change things. And and if you let them, they would love to be able to change it right up until, you know, the moments before the service. Um, while on the opposite end, there’s the people that actually have to pull this stuff off…

Todd Elliott — Yeah.

Rich Birch — …and they would love like six months notice and…

Todd Elliott — Right, they want to lock it down. Yeah.

Rich Birch — …let’s lock this thing down.

Todd Elliott — Yeah.

Rich Birch — And neither of those are going to happen. We’ve got to find some sort of tension in the middle.

Todd Elliott — Right. Yeah, yeah.

Rich Birch — And, and um, and I, you know, I find particularly it’s like being an executive pastor can be like a it’s like air traffic control in the midst of that.

Todd Elliott — For sure.

Rich Birch — Hey, let’s try to find where we can take, you know, take it, you know, one step forward, one step back on both sides of the dialogue. Um, it’s interesting stuff.

Todd Elliott — Yeah, and I would say to the, the, um, so the tension that I always felt as a tech person is that it needs to be perfect. It needs to, I need to execute this without distraction. And so if you’re asking me to do something that I don’t think I can do without distraction, my immediate response is, no, we, you know, we can’t do it. And so what I really appreciated for my senior leaders was the, the, um, so the permission to fail. Like, hey, if I, if I spell out, um, here’s three options. And I think option A is the best one, option C feels like more what you want to do, but I don’t have confidence that we can actually get it done. Um, and let’s say the senior leader says let’s do C. That the senior leader then says, hey, if it doesn’t go well, I’ll take the heat

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s good, that’s good.

Todd Elliott — I will take responsibility um, instead of you. Like I, I, I’m seeing that, you know, this is not going to be your problem. And I think even that little exchange is such a trust-builder for the for the production person to see. Hey, somebody’s willing to go to bat for me even, you know, even though I’m saying I don’t think this will work. Um, and I think maybe on the flip side, let’s say they choose option C and it actually works. You know, you know, the tech person said, I don’t think it’ll work, but it does. I think there’s a follow up conversation for the senior leader to engage in with the production person. Hey, let’s talk about why did it go well and why did you think it wouldn’t.

Rich Birch — Right, oh good.

Todd Elliott — You know, just so we can kind of instead of it being a trust, uh, you know, diminisher that, uh, but there’s a there’s still a chance to to build trust in that moment um, even though what the production person said would happen didn’t.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah. That’s so good. Love it. So I love that you, you know, named your community and events FILO, first in, last out. I think that’s great. And and that is, you know, that’s my experience with these folks. You know, these are the people who are, you know, it’s dark in the morning when they’re open in the door and everybody’s gone at the end of the day when they’ve packed up. Talk, kind of sticking with that idea. Talk to us from a pastoral point of view around how can we care for these folks? How can we, what are some other tips we could do, some other ways that we could engage that will kind of care for some of their unique concerns, some of their unique…

Todd Elliott — Sure.

Rich Birch — …maybe even personalities. You know, you’ve said it there. It’s it’s almost like this funny stereotype that, like, these groups of people have a hard time interacting with each other.

Todd Elliott — Yeah.

Rich Birch — Talk to us at a, you know, at a pastoral level. How can we help?

Todd Elliott — Sure. Yeah. I think that there’s, um, there’s a couple things. And one, I’ve kind of alluded to a little bit, like we usually only are getting spoken to when things are going poorly. So the, the, um, the exercise of looking for something going well is something that I noticed, even as a tech person, changed my perspective of what, you know, being a part of a service. I’m looking for good things, so that I can communicate good things. Um, instead of I think so many of us are geared towards how can we make this better? Okay, this didn’t work. This didn’t work. Let’s fix this. And they’re not bad things, but it creates this culture of we’re only talking about the things that didn’t work. Instead of, uh, saying, hey, I, I know that you spent a little extra on this and it worked. And it was amazing. I think goes a long, long way.

Todd Elliott — And I it’s interesting. I feel a little bit of a tension even as I’m answering the question, because part of it is the senior pastor or the executive pastor don’t fully understand what’s involved. And I don’t know that they ever should. You know, it’s not it’s not like…

Rich Birch — Right, right. That’s not their role.

Todd Elliott — …you know, they’re not wired that way. And you know, the the production team, that’s what they’re there for. That’s how God’s wired them. And so sometimes, you know, like, uh, just, uh, I was going to say flippant, maybe that’s not the right thing, but just a casual, hey, great job. You know, the tech person’s like, you have no idea. You know, that that’s how they that’s how they’re receiving it…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Todd Elliott — …a little bit like versus, uh, being very specific about, hey, I, I noticed something, and I wanted to tell you about it. Yeah. It’s, uh, so important. Now part of it is the you know, the the role of a production person is to be first and and last out. There is no getting around the reality that you got to show up, you got to prepare, you got to execute, and then you got to put it all away. That’s how it is. And so we’re not even necessarily trying to minimize that. We’re not trying to make that go away. That’s just the way it is. But um, I think for me, when I look back at kind of interactions with senior leaders and the ones that really mattered, yeah, there were specific and even, uh, something as simple as and I’m not sure, maybe this would be harder to do than, than I’m imagining. But there was a point for me where I, I realized the senior pastor is spending hours preparing a message, and I don’t have to I don’t have anything to do with that.

Rich Birch — Right.

Todd Elliott — I don’t have to be there. I don’t have to be there. You know, he’s working all Saturday to get ready for Sunday. I don’t, I never see that. And so there’s an unseen component to everybody’s role.

Rich Birch —Yeah, that’s good.

Todd Elliott — Um, it’s not just me as a tech person. Um, uh, but if nobody’s if nobody’s, uh, calling it out or mentioning it, then I just feel alone. Do you know what I mean?

Rich Birch — Totally, totally. Good.

Todd Elliott — Because the because the pastor just kind of waltzes in at the last minute. And here’s my last minute changes to the slides.

Rich Birch — Yes, yes. [inaudible]

Todd Elliott — [inaudible] It feels very much like that. Yeah. I’ve been here all day, and you’re coming in, you know, you’re just waltzing in at the last minute. Well, no, they’ve they’ve been busy, and I haven’t had anything to do with that either. So.

Rich Birch — Yeah. That’s good. Yeah. That’s good, that’s a good, uh. Found myself a lot of times trying to hero that, uh, you know, lead pastors, teaching pastors who spent a do you spend a lot of tremendous amount of time working on, you know, that whole message thing, and we don’t see that. And I you know, I’ve said many times, listen, none of us have to stand up there for 40 minutes every week and do that thing.

Todd Elliott — Yeah.

Rich Birch — We’re doing our piece. But like that comes with a unique pressure that none of us have

Todd Elliott — Right, right.

Rich Birch — Which is amazing. So.

Todd Elliott — Yeah. And I think for for me, on the production person side, uh, we’ve really encouraged people to say, when’s the last time you, you, uh, said an encouraging word to your senior pastor?

Rich Birch — Oh good.

Todd Elliott — I think so many, so many, uh, tech people just kind of, uh, you get up there, you talk for 40 minutes. It’s just what you do. It’s a foregone conclusion. You know, it’s easy for you. Uh, but I think, you know, most senior pastors or teaching pastors, you know, they don’t get any positive feedback from their coworkers, you know, from the congregation, maybe. But, um, yeah, to be able to say, hey, I know you’ve been working hard and I’ve noticed and great message this weekend. Yeah, it goes a long way too.

Rich Birch — Dude, that’s a great insight for tech leaders. Because there is that like you’re in the trenches with this person week in, week out. You know, you might be the the if you’re an audio person backstage, you might be the person that hands them their mic, you know, hits, fixes their lapel, you know, whatever that is. And even a quick like, man, that was great. Or here’s something that impacted me – that goes a long way.

Todd Elliott — Right.

Rich Birch — That’s you know, that’s…

Todd Elliott — Even how can I pray for you this weekend?

Rich Birch — Oh. So good. Yeah, yeah. So good.

Todd Elliott — I, I was, uh, when I worked at Willow Creek, uh, I used to do a lot of work for the Leadership Summit that they do once a year. Um, and so interacting with all kinds of speakers from all walks of life and, you know, uh, I don’t know, like, uh, levels of fame or whatever, you know, the, the, the audiences that they normally speak to.

Todd Elliott — And I was always amazed at how, even saying to one of them, hey, is there a way I could pray for you, or can I pray for you right now? Or, you know, knock them dead, or great job, all that. You know, it meant so much to them. And I’m just like…

Rich Birch — Yeah, so true.

Todd Elliott — …you’re like a, you know. Yeah, you’re you’re so big, you know, in our culture…

Rich Birch — Yes.

Todd Elliott — …it doesn’t seem like you would need that. But yeah, everybody needs that.

Rich Birch — Yeah. That’s good, that’s good. All right. Let’s pivot in a different direction. Uh, talk to me straight here. There seems to be some aspects of this technology particularly. It’s like a bottomless pit of spending, like and I’ve made this joke before, like, how much do you want to spend on video stuff? Well, how much do you have?

Todd Elliott — Right, all of it.

Rich Birch — You can do something for 20 grand, 200, 2 million, 200 million. You know, you could build the sphere in Las Vegas if you wanted.

Todd Elliott — Uh, for sure.

Rich Birch — Help us think about that. I know there’s people in projects right now that are, you know, and you talk to an AVL company and they’re going to give you one idea. You talk to, you know, somebody like me, we’re going to give a different idea. How do you think about that? How do you help churches think about that?

Todd Elliott — Yeah, I mean, yeah, I’m with you. I mean, it’s a bottomless pit of money. I mean, just there’s no way around it. You could spend a lot, a lot of money on technology. And it’s different than, so I would say, you know, the most expensive thing around churches is facilities and, you know, HVAC, but that’s very, you know, it’s a thing that you can…

Rich Birch — Yep.

Todd Elliott — …you know, we need to cool this space – this is what it costs. versus technology. You’re making choices on uh, like what what do you want to be about? What do we want the, uh, our church to be about technology-wise? And, yeah, the range of of spending is vast. And as a production person, it’s a lot of it’s a lot of money to me. You know, it feels like…

Rich Birch — Yes, yes.

Todd Elliott — …a ton of money, let alone to someone who, you know, isn’t in the middle of it every day. Um, and I would say this, this kind of comes back to the beginning of our conversation is that even though you don’t understand all the bells and whistles and the widgets and whatever people are asking for, the senior leader’s job is to define reality for what are we, what are we about? And then what’s the best way to accomplish that? Um, because I think, um, yeah, the, uh, for example, when I was at Willow Creek, very complicated setup. Um, by, by just by the very nature of the facility. Like it’s complicated. Complicated means expensive. I mean, there’s just no way around it. And so. Yeah, okay, there are varying degrees of how expensive can it be? Um but there’s no way around it.

Todd Elliott — For a church that’s smaller, if you’re if you’re wanting to, um uh, yeah, it costs less. It’s less complicated, but it’s still you have that range that you can talk to. I would say, I would encourage, uh, any senior leader, if you’re in a building program or an upgrade process, ask to see or hear the differences. Um, any any integrator, any manufacturer, if you say, hey, you know, I could spend $10,000 on a camera, I can spend $20,000 on a camera. I could spend $100,000 on a camera. Show me. Show me the difference. So that I can make an informed decision instead of just taking somebody’s word for it. Um, because I think, um, yeah, then if the if from a senior leader says, okay, wow, that $100,000 camera really makes the difference. How are we going to, uh…

Rich Birch — Right.

Todd Elliott — …justify that expense and raise that money? You know, then then it becomes a conversation about values, not about what’s the best thing out there or um…

Rich Birch — Right.

Todd Elliott — …and I think one of the challenges that we keep talking about is, you see, you know, Elevation Church on social media and they’re, you know, the things they’re doing are amazing. And we want to do those at our church. Well, gosh, I mean, they have their systems are crazy amazing/expensive.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Todd Elliott — The other part of it is, they have people there that know how to use them.

Right. Yes.

Todd Elliott — A lot of the the systems, the production systems that are happening there are built around a knowledge base at that church.

RIch Birch — Right.

Todd Elliott — And I think I was in a conversation with a church earlier this week and they’re they’re growing and need to expand. And the equipment that we’re starting to like, recommend to them, I’m like, this is a very dangerous step because now it’s more complex…

Rich Birch — It requires staff of a certain level.

Todd Elliott — …and you don’t really have the people who know how to, okay, this is an IT problem. We got to dig, you know, deeper, versus, you know, when I was coming up, it’s like an analog console. You plug the mic in with a mic cable and it works. You know, there’s no like hocus pocus going on there. But now, yeah, you can get so deep, so fast. And if you don’t have the people that that understand how to get it done, you know, you’re probably, uh, you’re spending a lot of money for a lot of, uh, headaches later for sure. Yeah.

Rich Birch — Yeah. That’s fascinating. I know, it’s like with this, the switch from analog to digital boards. I know it was I feel like we’ve been for years, at least from my seat. It was sold on this idea. Like, it makes everything so much easier. All you have to do is load up the last…

Todd Elliott — It’s true. Yeah.

Rich Birch — And it’ll be great. Yeah, but it really has not ended up like that, at least from my perspective. It’s like, gosh, it’s it is this a complex. It can be really complex or it can be simple…

Todd Elliott — I mean, I think one of the burdens of proof exists on the production person to talk about, what is this going to get us? And I think, you know, uh, it’s going to make everything simpler. It’s going to solve all our problems. I think, yeah, you’re just creating a lot more. It’s going to solve some and create a lot more.

Rich Birch — Right.

Todd Elliott — And, um, a again, I feel like the purchases of production equipment need to be tied to some kind of church value/mission…

Rich Birch — Right.

Todd Elliott — …thing.

Rich Birch — That’s good. That’s good.

Todd Elliott — Because otherwise, yeah, it’s just it’s going to be, uh, you know, dealer’s choice. Whoever the production person is… uh, and I, you know, one of the other big challenges is in a lot of churches, the the production person is a young guy with not a lot of experience. And so, like, yeah, when you spend 50 grand on a soundboard, you know, it’s easy for them to kind of throw around, um, you know, when the, you know, the senior leaders are the ones having to figure out how to pay for it. Um, it’s just a lot of responsibility put on a, you know, somebody who’s 25 or something like that, uh, to expect them to really, um, own it fully.

Rich Birch — Right, right.

Todd Elliott — And so, I mean, one of the big challenges is finding, uh, like a production integrator that you trust, um, uh, for senior leaders to trust. Because, uh, yeah, that’s a lot of money. It’s a lot of money.

Rich Birch — Yeah, absolutely. Well, and I love that even practical advice around, hey, let’s line up this gear, you know, and let’s actually look at the difference. And, you know, we did that in one of our buildings where, you know, we had an audio, uh, our audio tech was really pushing a certain set of speakers that were, you know, certain amount more. And I remember thinking, like, I just don’t know. But we did exactly that. The vendors brought the speakers in. We hung them in the exact room, you know, on this temporary scaffolding stuff. And I was like, oh, yeah, I can hear that. yYou know, like you… And I’m like, I get it right. And then and then the question is, you’re right, it goes back to the values and okay, do we, you know, is that is that does that make a difference for the, you know, the community that we’re trying to develop and all those kind of things?

Todd Elliott — Yeah. And I think too, there’s a I have a friend, uh, Marty O’Connor, who used to be the production director at Willow Creek Way, way back in the, in the 90s. And, uh, he used to have this thing called “the Kay factor”. So his wife was, her name was Kay. Will Kay know the difference?

Todd Elliott — Mic X, Mic Y. Like one’s twice the money. Can she hear the difference? She can hear the difference. We’re going for the more expensive mic.

Rich Birch — That’s good. Yes. That’s very good. That’s very good.

Todd Elliott — I think I think from a production person’s perspective, it’s hard to hear that because, you know, uh, it’s not all about gear, but, I mean, you know, the latest and greatest is pretty cool.

Rich Birch — Yeah.

Todd Elliott — More expensive, but not always necessary, you know?

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, yeah. Totally.

Todd Elliott — So that that is a challenge. But yeah, the Kay factor was something that…

Rich Birch — That’s a great. I love that. That’s a great shorthand.

Todd Elliott — …that’s been helpful.

Rich Birch — Yeah. Super, good shorthand. Well I really appreciate this, Todd. This has been so thankful. Tell us a little bit more about FILO. I know you guys do a conference. You’ve got a book. Kind of give us a sense. I think this would be a great resource for us, as you know, executive pastor types to lean in on. But man, you might win points by reaching out to your tech people and say, hey, have you heard of FILO? And I want to send you to their conference. That, you know, that would be a great way to help on that relationship. But talk to us about FILO a little bit as we wrap up today’s episode.

Todd Elliott — Yes. So FILO the the whole idea I said it earlier, is to help tech people become more effective, with the end goal of they’re more effective as a human being, but the church becomes more effective. If the if the tech person is a more well-rounded individual and better at their skill and inspired to, you know that what they do matters, the church is going to benefit from that. So that’s that’s our really that’s our big goal. Um, and so yeah, we do the conference May 7th and 8th this year, uh, at Willow Creek, uh, South Barrington is the location. And we do kind of, uh, breakout classes or all different skill development, uh, things audio, video leadership. Uh, you know, basics, advanced, uh, all kinds of stuff. And then we do, uh, worship and a message, uh, main sessions that the idea is just we’re reconnecting with, uh, who we are in Christ.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Todd Elliott — And for most of these people, you know, when they’re in a worship service, they’re behind a console, they’re running graphics.

Rich Birch — So true.

Todd Elliott — At FILO, they just sit and receive. They’re just, uh, they’re like a regular person, and you don’t have to worry about anything. We’ll take care of it all. Uh, sometimes it’s hard for them to stop, uh, you know, caring because that’s how you are.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Todd Elliott — But, like, this is not your problem to solve. We got it.

Rich Birch — Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s great.

Todd Elliott — But yeah. So that’s a great resource and something that, you know, with Covid we’ve we’ve done a lot of streaming of the event and that sort of thing. But nothing compares to being with other people that are in the same boat as you are, who get you, who understand, you know, a sea full of, uh, uh, you know, black shirts and beards and, you know, uh, some, some females. But the, yeah, just like we’re we know we can laugh at the same jokes. Uh, we’re here together. Such a useful, um, uh, thing. And I call it, like, summer camp for tech people.

Rich Birch — Love it.

Todd Elliott — Like, bring your whole team, pile in a van, uh, share life outside of Sunday morning rehearsals.

Rich Birch — So good.

Todd Elliott — Um, and, you know, uh, be together for dinners and, you know, late night, hang in the hotel lobby and all that stuff, uh, has been so we’ve seen so beneficial for teams. Um, the other big thing for us, we do, uh, something called cohorts. So it’s small groups for tech people. So we do these over Zoom. Uh, it’s a facilitator, and ten people. And we we have people from all over. I had one cohort I had two people from Germany and one person from Hawaii…

Rich Birch — Love it.

Todd Elliott — …in the same group. Uh, and even one of those weeks, the guy from Germany was on vacation in Turkey. So it was like.

Rich Birch — Oh my goodness.

Todd Elliott — Yeah, the time zone differences were crazy.

Todd Elliott — But the thing that was so amazing is same challenges…

Rich Birch — Right, yeah.

Todd Elliott — …uh different churches, portable, permanent Hawaii, Germany. Um, but you know, we we all were wrestling with the same things. And it was so just a great place to feel understood and seen and, and that sort of thing.

Rich Birch — Yeah, that’s great.

Todd Elliott — Um, and then uh, uh, we have a book called “I Love Jesus, but I Hate Christmas”.

Rich Birch — I love this. So great.

Todd Elliott — Tackling the challenges of being a technical, uh, church technical artist. So the whole idea behind the book is just, you know, based on my own experience, uh, but a a way to facilitate discussion on teams, to think, what do we think about the difference between perfection and excellence.

Rich Birch — So good.

Todd Elliott — Or, um, you know, just how do we do community together? Uh, how do we collaborate with the creative team? Um, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the production team and the worship team feel like two different groups, and yet God has, you know, designed it in such a way that we have to work together.

Rich Birch — Yes.

Todd Elliott — So how do we do that the best way possible. So, um, it has discussion questions in the back and um, of every chapter. And there’s just like short, you know, 1500 word chapters, real easy to digest. But the idea is to facilitate discussion.

Rich Birch — So good.

Todd Elliott — Um, and I think we’ll have a sample, a couple chapters, um, that will make available to your listeners just so they can check it out.

Rich Birch — Oh that’s great.

Todd Elliott — Yeah.

Rich Birch — That’s that’s sweet of you. We’ll drop that in the, in the show notes. I’ll link to that.

Todd Elliott — Cool.

Rich Birch — We’d love to, uh, point people in that direction, but. Well, this has been great. Todd, I really appreciate you appreciate what you’re doing. Love the the work that you’re doing to help so many people.

Todd Elliott — Thank you.

Rich Birch — And and it’s just, you know, it’s just so fantastic. So we want to send people to to learn more. Is there anywhere else online we want to send them to kind of connect with you or with FILO?

Todd Elliott — Yeah.

Todd Elliott — I would say the, uh, if you’re looking for social media stuff, uh, we’re @filocommunity at both, uh, Instagram and Facebook is kind of where we have a lot of stuff going on.

Rich Birch — Love it. Thanks so much. Appreciate you being here today, sir.

Todd Elliott — Yeah. Thanks for having me.

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Rich Birch
Rich Birch is one of the early multi-site church pioneers in North America. He led the charge in helping The Meeting House in Toronto to become the leading multi-site church in Canada with over 5,000+ people in 18 locations. In addition, he served on the leadership team of Connexus Church in Ontario, a North Point Community Church Strategic Partner. He has also been a part of the lead team at Liquid Church - a 5 location multisite church serving the Manhattan facing suburbs of New Jersey. Liquid is known for it’s innovative approach to outreach and community impact. Rich is passionate about helping churches reach more people, more quickly through excellent execution.His latest book Church Growth Flywheel: 5 Practical Systems to Drive Growth at Your Church is an Amazon bestseller and is design to help your church reach more people in your community.