Technology heroes enhance worship experience online
By Lindsay Peyton
The coronavirus pandemic made it apparent that churches would have to move online and embrace technology to thrive. That meant audiovisual staff had to abandon their normal spots behind-the-scenes to take centerstage. Their work become even more valuable as they helped congregations make needed transitions and increase their production values. For this series, we highlight our heroes in audiovisual ministry, whose skills enhance worship, and who stepped up to help the church navigate the new normal. Our first entry in the series features Andy Howard, light designer at The Story in Houston.
Andy Howard is a full-time sophomore at the University of Houston, studying sports production and electrical engineering. He also runs his own business, A Howard Production, which offsets the cost of college, he explained. He is passionate about lighting and sound, the technical elements that increase production value.
Howard, 20, seems young to be a production entrepreneur, but he knows firsthand what it takes to smoothly produce a church service, corporate event or music fest. His mother was in charge of media production at their home church St. Luke’s UMC in Houston. “I’ve been around it my whole life,” he said.
When The Story, a church plant of St. Luke’s, emailed to ask for help with a production three years ago, he jumped at the chance and signed up as a volunteer.
“They were short-handed for a worship night and asked a couple of people to help,” Howard recalled. “I didn’t have any school that day, and I was able to go help out.”
His job was basically to be a stagehand, move lights and set-up behind-the-scenes. “I guess my work ethic caught the attention of Daniel Hardaway, who was contracted to help with The Story that day,” Howard said.
Hardaway, who owns a full-service media production company, asked if Howard would want to help with another job. “He trained me how to do lighting, and I just fell in love with it,” Howard said.
By the end of the week, Hardaway asked Howard, “Do you want a job at The Story?” He told Howard to start studying lighting and production, and he would help him get a gig.
Because Howard was homeschooled in high school, he was able to start studying lighting seriously. Before long, he interviewed with Nathan Bonnes, director of worship arts at The Story, and was hired to do graphic design and lighting for the church.
“It turned into me managing the whole lighting system,” Howard said. “Now I’m doing all visuals for worship services.”
Bonnes said Hardaway gave him a heads-up about Howard’s talent. “Daniel was like you’ve got a really great guy just sitting here. Y’all should utilize him,” Bonnes recalled.
Now Howard has been at The Story for the past three years. “He is a rock start to us,” Bonnes said. “He’s always ready and willing to pitch in all sorts of ways.”
Howard has built his own business, consulting with other churches as well as producing music and corporate events.
“I like that it’s always different,” Howard said. “There’s always something happening in production. It’s high stress with quick deadlines – and I like seeing it all come together just in time.”
He explained that everything was running smoothly and his business was thriving when the pandemic hit.
“Then it all stopped,” he said. “It was hard at first, but churches began to see an opportunity. They started to buy equipment, to take pride in their livestreams and to take production seriously.”
Churches were on board with the production values Howard had been advising all along. “In a way, it was a relief to see that they understood the purpose of production, that we’re on the same page,” he explained.
Audiovisual staff were eager to help, Howard said. And church staff members understood their value.
“It’s important to get quality equipment, to be on social media and to livestream to be able to grow,” Howard said.
In the summer and fall, Howard’s business was picking up again. In fact, in August, 10 churches called him in one week. “I was like, ‘Well, it’s time to get back to work,’” he recalled.
Having livestreamed sermons on Sunday has advantages, Howard said. During the pandemic, many churches are seeing more people attending worship services from home.
Plus, if members have to miss a Sunday, they can still catch the service if it is recorded. “You don’t feel lost in a sermon series. You can go back and watch it online,” Howard said. “Or if you have a loved one who can’t go, you can take church to them.”
He advises that congregations invest in equipment and spend time improving the technical aspects of their online sermons. “Never let your production value go down,” he added. “The first thing people see is production value. Online is a great way to bring people in and keep the church active. You can draw someone in and help them listen to what you’re saying.”
Still, online services do not take the place of in-person ministry, Howard explained. “It’s a balance,” he said.
Similarly, production value should not distract but rather enhance a sermon. “You don’t want to take away from the message,” he said. “Instead, you use it to bring people in and help describe the message.”
Howard explained that the audiovisual industry has helped him share faith.
“I don’t like the spotlight or attention,” he said. “For me, the best way to minister people is to help others grasp the feeling in a story or message. To use my creativity to help minister – that’s what I want to do.”
Howard said that, in the future, he could use his electrical engineering degree to repair equipment in a church productions. “Being able to help a church in-house, being able to help them keep costs low and invest in other ministries, that would be very fun to do,” he said.
In the meantime, Howard will continue to use his skills to bring The Story’s message to life, both in-person and online. “I love being back in the back, using my creativity to help express the feeling behind worship,” he said.