Thom McGuire, chief audio engineer for Resurrection Life Church in Grandville, MI, likes to say that his is "the largest church no one's ever heard of." RL is certainly large, with total attendance of between 10,000 and 12,000 weekly, most in the spacious 4,800-seat sanctuary. Resurrection Life is also part of a 53-church global network and has a substantial in-house television production facility that allows it to share its services globally, and it adroitly tailors its messages for different constituent and demographic groups. In fact, Resurrection Life seems like a perfect candidate to participate in the satellite-campus trend that's become a strong force in house-of-worship media management in recent years.
However, Resurrection Life has decided to keep itself highly local but without sacrificing the diversity it's cultivated over the years, and it's using A/V technology to do just that. According to McGuire, RL's 200,000-square-foot building it's a quarter-mile from one end to the other is divided into numerous separate worship areas: a youth worship space holds 1,800 attendees, a junior-high section holds another 1,000; a gymnasium is used each Sunday for up to 600 K-3 school children while a room called The Zone holds another 400 fourth and fifth graders; another 1,800 congregants listen to services in Spanish every Sunday, as well. In fact, there even is a satellite campus, in nearby Holland, MI, but it, too, has its own pastor and music rather than a video-over-IP feed from the RL sanctuary on Sundays.
"We literally could connects all of these spaces and locations together via video and audio and provide the same service to them simultaneously," McGuire explains. "We're on in 170 countries each week we have the capability to broadcast and stream real-time; we just choose not to. Rather than try to create a one-size-fits-all type of service for all of these different worshippers, we've instead tried to adapt the space in which they gather to best suit they style of worship that fits them and the message the best."
Each of these worship spaces has its own pastor and band, but McGuire says that one of the keys to the success of the concept has been tailoring the A/V technology of each space. For instance, the main sanctuary space averages 88 dB and peaks (helped in part by having removed instrument amplifiers from the stage and taking most of the direct) at about 92 dB, but McGuire has carved out "quiet areas" where he uses the BSS London Soundweb BLU speaker processing control system to turn off fill and under-balcony speakers to reduce the sound levels in certain areas, directing congregants whose hearing might be sensitive to those areas without affecting the overall level to the main room.
"Working with Gary Zandstra at Parkway Electric, who used a SMAART system to sweep the room, we were able to get the level down a full 6 dB in those areas," he says. On the other hand, the audio in the youth worship spaces runs hotter, around 98 dB on average and peaking closer to 100 dB, with two pairs of Electro-Voice 2 X 15-inch and 4 X 18-inch subwoofers attached to the PA system to boost the low end. "You don't want to be 65 years old with a pacemaker in there," he laughs, "but the youth audience responds to that kind of sound."
The youth spaces also have their video systems designs changed every three months or so, with an array of three 16 X 9 screens alternating with one larger 48 X 9 screen, a tactic McGuire says keeps the space fresh for a shorter-attention-span young audience. "Changing the video layout often seems to make the younger worshippers want to come back, like coming to a new church," he says.
The Spanish worship space is more brightly lit than the other areas, with a truss run above the stage for additional scrim lighting and colorful gels. The sound is also louder on average. McGuire regards these cultural differences clinically, recalling his time running audio at a black Baptist church where the sound also tended to be loud and the band and chorus played and sang nearly nonstop through the service. "The pastor told me that if anyone complained to give them ear plugs, and he gave me a box full of them to give out," he recalls.
McGuire says that once the A/V needs of a particular demographic have been largely accommodated in each separate space adding subs in youth worship areas, for instance technology ministers can then spend time tweaking each area, testing out new systems without interrupting services or taking the rooms off line.
"The main sanctuary room is six years old but other areas are as old as 24 years, so we are in the midst of constantly changing and updating systems and components," he says, such as auditioning a succession of new mix consoles in the main room, including a Roland V Mix and a Soundcraft Vi-Plus. "Once you've got the room the way it works best for the type of service and worshipper, you can try out new pieces of equipment and see how well they fit with the room, instead of having to try to evaluate them in a vacuum."
McGuire says even subtle changes in a room, such as making the sound system a couple of dB louder on a Saturday night, or keeping the house lights lower to create a more intimate atmosphere, can make a huge difference in how those in the room respond to the service. "I'll sometimes turn off the lights in the rear of the sanctuary, which encourages people to move towards the stage," he says. "They're just little tricks with lights and sound, but they really can make a big difference."