With the combination of escalating construction costs and the tightening of budgets, churches are looking at more cost-effective answers to their growth and space challenges. While large congregations aren't necessarily going away, the buildings that supported them in previous decades may be a thing of the past.
"We see churches adding more venues, overflow rooms, etc., to support continued growth and diversity in their ministry effort," states Ben Mankin, president of Mankin Media Systems Inc., based in Franklin, Tenn.
As churches repurpose their existing spaces, audio, video and lighting (A/V/L) solutions oftentimes need to be added to those spaces. Yet adding them can present numerous challenges, especially when the infrastructure originally designed in a building isn't appropriate to support modern A/V/L needs.
One of the biggest challenges is getting audio and video signals routed within the room.
"There are more affordable products on the market that will allow you to route audio and Video signals over existing computer networks," states John Linden, integration manager at Creative Visions LLC in Raleigh, N.C. This can save a lot of money by avoiding the labor needed to run new cabling.
And if existing cabling isn't available for this use, these new technologies can facilitate making new cable runs as well. "Using various adapters and drivers, it's pretty easy to use cheap and small diameter UTP (computer networking) cables for video and audio," adds Mark Pearson, senior systems consultant for CCI Solutions in Olympia, Wash. "That's a real advantage when trying to snake through existing walls and ceilings."
Where one UTP cable is very flexible and less than ¼ inch in diameter, traditional analog cabling can be heavy and over an inch in diameter to carry the same number of audio channels, making it significantly more difficult and expensive to install.
Likewise, UTP cable can carry video signals in a more cost-effective manner.
Lighting systems can represent one Of the more expensive challenges, as traditional lighting can consume significant powerpower that might not be available in an existing building. However, there are answers there as well.
"LED lighting fixtures are the perfect Application when upgrading an existing building," says Jim Thorne, president of Messenger Media Systems Inc., in Covington, Ga. "Lower power consumption, greater color flexibility and decreased heat output make this technology the go-to answer for many upgrades."
If you have many rooms that only occasionally need A/V/L support, you may not need to install a system in each room. Portable systems can be created that can be moved from room to room as needed.
But it's important to take the staff, members and visitors using the rooms into consideration when making these choices. A few portable systems might seem to make sense on paper, but if your end-users can't set up and troubleshoot the system, then you may need staff or A more robust technical ministry volunteer team to assist them with getting the systems in place and working for each event.
There are a few things you can do to facilitate the effectiveness of the volunteer tech teams at your church.
"Training is critical, but standardization makes training significantly easier," states Linden. "It doesn't even have to be exactly the same gearif you like a particular brand of audio console you can purchase versions with more or fewer channels for different rooms while retaining the same basic interfaces."
Mankin concurs. "We are also a stronger believer in equipment or vendor uniformity." By keeping equipment consistent across your facility, volunteers can be effective in all spaces with minimal additional training.
It is also important to enable the average person to use the equipment, without needing a doctorate in technology. A good control system can enable a non-technical user, such as one of the teaching pastors, to turn on A/V/L systems, activate the podium microphone, and set up the video system for displaying the pastor's PowerPoint slides from his laptop with the push of a button.
"There are several manufacturers who make great touch screen and automated control systems," Mankin says. "With the right programming and setup, the systems can be brought online for use without [a] user having to get in over his or her head."
"I don't know anybody that hates a good control system," Linden agrees. "In recent years we've seen competition [in the control System market] increase, ease of programming improve, and new products flood the market. For about a thousand dollars you can have a fully integrated and customized touch-screen controller to operate all the technical systems."
Companies such as FSR, with its Flex controller, and Extron, with its PoleVault series components, deliver highly cost-effective control solutions.
Mankin offers another take on making systems user-friendly. "If you truly want the system to have an easy user experience, consider not putting as much gear in that room," he advises.
Another consideration to make when planning your A/V/L systems for secondary spaces is what you anticipate your future needs will be. There can be some serious financial ramifications if you invest in a system that just meets your current needs, and then your needs expand down the road.
"This really depends on whether you are talking about portable systems or systems in a permanent install," Mankin says. "Portables usually make it easy to change parts and pieces out because of the racked nature of the system with short cable runs and the components in one place. Permanent install systems require careful planning and strong infrastructure to ensure expandability."
"Digital systems offer great expandability," Thorne weighs in. "You can easily add inputs to a digital console, you can add monitors to a distributed video system, and you are not tied to a large bundle of copper wiring."
Pearson offers this: "Use products that have standards-based designs for compatibility in The future. Systems that work on control or communications systems that are unique to one manufacturer (proprietary) might provide extra features or ease of use now, but may severely constrain your expansion choices in a few years." And he adds, "When those proprietary mechanisms (or the manufacturer that supported them) disappear, adding one to the system turns into ripping out Phase I and starting over rather than building onto Phase I."
Linden has a different way of looking at the issue. "So, is it worth $1 now to save $2 in the future? It depends how far away the future is." The rapid changes in A/V/L technology can make any preparations for the future that are done now obsolete by the time that future arrives.
The more systems you have installed throughout your facility and the more people using them, the more work it can be to keep those systems Operating. But there are steps you can take to minimize the maintenance headache.
"You can now get projectors, plasma screens, LCD screens, wireless microphones, amplifiers, audio consoles, video mixers, and more with network connectivity," says Mankin. "This allows one staffer to check on the health of all systems from the comfort of their cubicle. Many devices that are on the network can be set up to deliver an email if they need maintenance."
Pearson adds that companies are starting to make products that do some of the maintenance themselves. "Sanyo, for example, has a line of video projectors with an Active Maintenance Filter System' that monitors air flow to the projector and advances to a clean filter when air flow is restricted. This feature greatly extends maintenance intervals and lamp life."
Both Mankin and Pearson agree that an annual maintenance contract is a good idea. While Church staff may have good intentions to do preventive maintenance, the demands of ministry often thwart those good intentions.
Take a walk through your technical areas and inspect your dimmer racks and video projectors' air filters with your technical staff or lead tech volunteer. In many churches, you'll find those filters clogged with dirt. If that's the case, a maintenance contract will likely save you money.
Jim Kumorek is the owner of Spreading Flames Media, providing video/media production and writing services to the A/V/L, technology, architectural and hospitality industries. He has led audio, video and lighting teams in churches as both staff and a volunteer for over 10 years. He can be contacted at [email protected]