WEXFORD, Pa. For a church which opened the doors to its first of five campuses in 1981, the need for an update at their location in the north hills of Pittsburgh had become increasingly evident.
At first, the focus at North Way Christian Community Church was to change out the church's carpeting.
Undergoing a refresh, a contemporary church north of Pittsburgh completed the first of three phases of AVL upgrades in late February.
That eventually morphed into what became a planned three-phase project for the campus located about 20 minutes north of Pittsburgh.
Averaging about 3,500 congregants between three weekend services, the church completed the first phase prior to its Feb. 25 service. The initial phase aimed to improve the worship space's lighting. Next are an update to the church's video capabilities is set to begin, followed by planned audio system improvements.
The carpeting will have to wait, at least in the short-term.
"We started with this project, talking about replacing the carpet," said North Way Christian Community Production Director Jonathan Cooper. Other needs at the church became more apparent over time, he acknowledged. "We were a contemporary church (when it first opened in 1981), but in time you get outdated," he added.
Completing the lighting install was Franklin, Tennessee-based integrator Mankin Media Systems, with an on-site team overseen by Deploy Lead Adrian Varner. In discussing the impetus behind the updates, Varner largely agreed with Cooper's assessment. He said, "The church is going through a refresh of what they are looking to provide to the community, with a more contemporary worship style, and lighting to match we gutted the whole lighting system."
Since that first service using the new lights, the response from the congregation has by and large been "saying that they are loving it, to where they are allowed to reengage in worship and enjoy the arts in the production," noted Cooper. For Varner, he said he had heard "from the technical staff and other staff in the church. They were extremely excited, and blown away with what they could do with (the new lighting system), to where they could continue to grow the church in their pursuit of making the church a place that the next generation would want to attend."
Lighting Upgrade Feature CreateLED, CHAUVET Fixtures
As part of its first phase of improvements, the church installed 24 CreateLED AirBLADE-15 LED display panels. Each panel has a pixel pitch of 15.625mm. In addition, each of the eight elements in each panel 64 pixels wide and two pixels high.
The panels are slated to add ambiance to the stage, aiming "to change the atmosphere in the room," noted Cooper. "It's designed for a lighting look, to shoot through it, where it is kind of translucent."
With gaps between each of the elements of an AirBLADE panel measuring around 33mm, lighting can be positioned behind the AirBLADE panels, "so you can see lighting come behind the wall," added Varner.
The AirBLADE panels, Varner said, were considered a match for the church, after Mankin reps recently visited CreateLED's facility in China to demo the product. "We saw it was a worthwhile product to pursue. At its price point, it is particularly competitive for houses of worship, where before it was extremely inaccessible. It is also a product that will last a long time," he said.
Aside from the LED display units, the install also featured a new lighting rig. It is comprised solely of CHAUVET Professional lights, including a dozen Rogue R2 spots, 28 Rogue R2 washes, 14 COLORado 1-Tri Tours, and 10 COLORado Batten 72 Tours. The church also changed over to a new Jands Vista S1 lighting console to operate the system.
While the church still has dimmable cans in the ceiling of its worship space, according to Cooper, the newly installed lighting rig is "LED-based, and is very high end." What stood out most for the new rig, he added, is "it is incredibly lightweight and offers significant brightness."
The various lighting upgrades, Varner said, was in large part because, "The lighting they had, had served its purpose. It was starting to show its age and impacted its reliability. They also wanted some lighting that had some video elements as well."
For Mankin, it was the first time the company had worked with North Way Christian Community. After North Way researched other churches and their projects prior to selecting Mankin, the integrator was shown to have worked well with many of those churches, making it the right choice for the church.
Install Work Avoided Cancellations, Delays at North Way
The extent of the work wasn't that cumbersome, according to Cooper. "The AirBLADEs themselves didn't take that long to install, probably in three to four days, with cables installed and run." While the full install took more than a week, there were no delays or cancellations of services. To achieve that, alternative lighting solutions were devised during the one weekend of service held during the install.
"There was one week where the AirBLADEs were hanging (in position, but not powered up), but then they were running the next week," explained Cooper. Other aspects of lighting for that service ran "rather minimalistic, enough to keep our video systems running nothing pretty."
As noted by Varner, the plan going in was for the project to run just under two weeks, requiring short-term lighting options to be implemented during that one weekend service.
"(The church staff) knew they would be without a light rig for one service weekend," he said. They were still able to have their services, running that one Sunday service with a minimal lighting package. If it was a need, it could have been delivered."
Following the first week of work, Mankin completed the tasks of "patching, installing, confirming, training" for the systems, noted Cooper. "By (Feb. 25), we were right back at it, 100 percent, full on."
Prior to running live for the first time, he noted that Mankin provided the necessary guidance to North Way team members, to be best prepared for that initial service.
"We had them hand the keys to the system that (Sunday). We worked on some lighting looks, and worked with some staff and volunteers and they gave us a high level overview," Cooper said.
To achieve all the desired changes during this first phase, for North Way, it came down to Mankin being able to stay within a certain budget number, noted Cooper.
"We put a lot of faith and trust in Mankin. We asked, What can you do with this (set amount of) money?'," he said. Describing how the project could change from a plan of replacing carpet to making lighting, video and audio improvements, he said, "When the lights are out, are you looking at carpet, or the stage?"
To Cooper, the most arduous part of the project was dismantling the previously installed equipment, removing it carefully to ensure an easy install for the new gear. Once Mankin arrived, "The install was a piece of cake. They had riggers come in with rock climbing equipment, hanging from the ceiling."
With the first phase now complete, he said, "Our leadership is pleased, and our congregation is pleased. It is scary when you are spending thousands of dollars," not knowing how such changes will be initially perceived.
Varner also deemed that the project's goals as having been achieved.
"Absolutely they have been met, from everything I have heard and seen," he said. "The project came together very easily and quickly. There were very few obstacles to overcome."
For Cooper, the project's next phase stands on the horizon. The church currently records sermons and sends them to their other campuses, and it is having to do so in "hard drive mode."