Andrew Sweitzer serves as First Free Rockford’s production director. After accepting the job, he moved in June to Rockford from Charlotte, N.C. We spoke with Andrew about his life and faith, his new job … and about turning mild-mannered machines into hot rods.
Tell me a little bit about where you’re from what your early life looked like.
I was born in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, about 45 minutes west of Philly. In 2007 my family moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. My parents got relocated to there. I went to a few schools there and then went to boarding school from seventh grade until 11th grade. One was in Georgia, and the other one was in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
What led to the boarding school choice?
A lot of it was because I was not always the best child growing up. I was an angry kid. I got into a lot of fights. So boarding school— that’s kind of where I truly found Christ.
The biggest thing was when my grandpa passed away in 2015, and I wasn’t able to say goodbye to him. That really hit me hard. So after 11th grade, I came back down to Charlotte and did online school for my 12th grade year. And I got plugged in with the church I was at.
Can you talk about how you found your faith at boarding school?
I was always physically in the church, but never spiritually. And because I was always just more focused on running sound for children’s church or something, I was never focused on what the real meaning behind church was. At boarding school, they had what they called dorm parents. One of them was on the Jesus train, first class. And he was very influential and infectious, in a good way. He would make us go to youth group at his church. I was not for that, because at the time, I was not for someone telling me what to do. But after my grandpa passed away, I was very much more open to it.
What was it about your grandpa’s passing that turned you toward God?
I went into a little seasonal depression. But I always knew I felt happy in church. So I went a few times at boarding school. One time, the youth pastor did an altar call. And at the same moment, I had an urge to go to the bathroom. So as I walked back to go ask my dorm parent if I could go use the restroom, he says, “That’s not what this is.” And I thought, “You’re right. That’s not what this is.” And that’s where I decided to surrender it all over and quit going down my own path.
We sat there in the back and prayed. And so after that moment, I was just changing my life to be more honoring and pleasing to God.
What changes did you see after that?
Instead of No, I don’t want to go to church, it was, Yes, let’s go or, Hey, can you drop me off early?
My dad did some sound work with churches. So I was able to go with him and do it and spend more time with him inside of the church. And that’s what really got me into it.
You worked in other fields over the years but it sounds like you realized your passion is church sound and lighting.
Yeah. All the churches I have been able to serve, I’ve always done sound or lighting or some video aspect stuff. This year, my predecessor here, Dave Peterson, posted in a Facebook group that they were looking for a production director up here. So I was like, let’s just apply and see what happens.
How does production work relate to faith for you?
I have a huge servant’s heart. The more that I’m able to serve, usually the more joy it brings me. And production is constant serving. … Being able to provide the sound and provide the lighting, so you can see someone or hear someone, is what really brings me joy. It’s just what I really have a passion for.
What’s your newcomer’s perception of Rockford?
It’s kind of like a small town, yet a big town. Down in Charlotte, everything is very tightly packed like sardines. So I like that everything’s more spread out. There’s a lot more farmland up here. And I feel like I’m not so close to everybody. I have a little breathing room.
What’s been the most challenging thing about your new job?
Really just getting used to everything around here. I come from doing stuff in the Southern Baptist Convention. So getting used to the Evangelical Free side is a little different. But I always love different because it helps me broaden my horizons.
What are some differences you first noticed?
Our services here are very much like I’m used to. But here we’re very intentional about what we do. We want to go out into the community. Whereas a lot of the Southern Baptists are very much more internal—let’s bring things inside. I like that we’re able to go out and get into the community and really just try to help the community the best we can.
What are some tweaks you’ve made so far that people might have noticed during church?
Lighting. I’m very intentional with how I do lights. I am of the firm belief that light should complement the band, and not be a distraction. So I may have the lights move a little bit. If I do have them move, that’s because there’s a moment that I really feel like I want to capture. But once that moment has come and gone, the lights stop. Because I feel like if they move all the time, it can be a distraction.
Another thing is, I’m working on our online, live-stream quality, just trying to step it up another level. We have the equipment for it, and I want to be able to see us use it to its full potential.
We all know church isn’t supposed to be a show. But yet, you have to pay attention to this stuff. Personally and then for the sense of the congregation, where do you find that line?
I wouldn’t want to go to a church where the lights are always flashing everywhere, moving all around the room. Obviously I also wouldn’t want to go to one that’s always dark. That’s a big thing for me, if I can see everyone. Loudness-wise, I want to be able to have it loud enough that I can hear what’s coming out of the speakers over someone talking, but at the same time I want to be able to hear the people nearby me, so I can have a conversation with them. Or even just listening to them sing, without them having to project their voices so loud just to hear each other.
Do you have any goals that we might see happen in the next few months?
I’m working on a new stage design, something where we can use the whole stage, but that makes the stage look a lot larger than it really is. That’s just also pleasing to the eye. Right now our stage to me feels a little cramped. We’d like to have it more open so you can put lots of people on stage — a large choir, a big orchestra. For contemporary service, we want to have all these singers on stage with microphones and not have to worry about how close they are to each other.
The other thing I’m really wanting to do is be able to help grow this production team a lot larger so that we have a lot of people who are willing to come out and serve. And maybe we can help other (First Free) ministries that do stuff Sunday mornings with serving with any tech stuff.
So, give the volunteer pitch. I know you’re not looking for people with incredible skill sets, because you can train people, right?
We’re just looking for people willing to serve. People who wouldn’t mind being flexible—maybe they can run the slides one day, or hop on a camera. Willing to just come out and serve and help where they can. That’s a big thing for me.
Learn more about volunteering
And just from my shallow standpoint, there are a lot of cool toys you get to play with in these volunteer roles.
Right. And I want them to be able to play with them to the fullest extent, because the more they play with them, the more they can learn about them and the more maybe they can show me something I may have not known.
What else should we know about you?
My favorite sport is disc golf. I like soccer. And I’m a diehard Philadelphia Eagles fan. Hopefully we make it back to the Super Bowl again.
And I used to work on cars a lot. I still do. I find a lot of joy in that. There’s nothing that I cannot do to a car. There are things that I refuse to do to cars, just because the liability is so high up there that if I mess up one little thing, I could potentially ruin the engine.
So what’s the craziest thing you ever did to a vehicle?
Well, at my old boarding school, we put a turbo on a car that wasn’t supposed to have one. We made several lawn mowers into racing mowers. And then we took one of those little handicap scooter things, and we put four car batteries on it and managed to get it up to about 45 miles an hour. We felt really good about ourselves that day.