COMMUNICATING to the congregation is a constant challenge for church leadership.
Bulletins often don't get looked at; announcements during the service are easily forgotten; emails get buried in the pile of spam email that we all receive. And just where IS that bible study meeting in the church tonight?
Paper Trail "We used to simply use paper signs around the campus to direct people to the rooms events were taking place in," comments Dave Cooke, chief engineer at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. "It was a lot of work. When we did our new auditorium build back around 2004, we decided to move to a digital signage system."
What is digital signage?
Simply put, it is using video displays placed strategically in your church facility to communicate information visually that the congregation would want to know.
This may include room assignments for events happening in the immediate future, to promoting upcoming events, to communicating long-term strategic goals.
Digital Signage Early Days
It wasn't that long ago that implementing digital signage inexpensively meant running a PowerPoint slide show on a PC monitor. Digital signage software solutions were very expensive, and only the larger mega-churches could afford them.
While PowerPoint certainly worked, it isn't designed for digital signage and lacks the features that a digital signage system provides. "Our biggest concern initially was eliminating the paper room assignment work," states Cooke. "As our campus is very large with many rooms available, we use the EMS facility management software to handle room assignments.
We located a product called AxisTV that could tie into the EMS database and automatically display the event and room assignment information. It accomplished what we wanted, but in a very clunky way, and was a difficult system in which to create custom content. So we used the AxisTV system for room assignments, and another for communicating other information. We looked for a product that could do both, but they were very expensive and designed to be managed by a central corporate group we wanted content to be managed by the various ministries instead."
Times have changed since then. There is now a plethora of digital signage solutions available, and for those churches using EMS, EMS now provides a software programming interface to allow web servers direct access to their database.
Cloud computing has made managing digital signage systems simpler and more convenient, and the hardware costs of implanting a system has also decreased significantly. Let's take a look at some of the more common options offered in digital signage software system. I will present the most common options that are available; individual systems may not offer every option, or may present an option differently than described.
"In our search for a better digital signage solution, I came across the company Bright- Sign," states Cooke. "It's based around their own media player devices, which cost about $500. I tried it out, and it was rock solid it even dealt gracefully with power outages. One of our criteria is it needs to be easy for the end user to use as we have no central content development group, the team that runs the food court need to be able to use it as well as the media pros. So, we focused on cost and ease of use. Then BrightSign came out with a browser subscription for $100/year per player, and you used a web browser for updating the signage. It's a cloud-based system hosted on BrightSign servers. We now have about 50 of their players at Willow, and the product just keeps getting easier. They have players now at an even lower cost. While BrightSign is our primary mechanism, we do have a second channel running Scala digital signage software which can integrate with our EMS facility management system and automatically generate room assignment details for events taking place that day."
"Their business model is geared towards hotels and restaurants," describes Bill Morrison, Hope's IT manager, "but it works well for churches also. They support still images, videos, text, but also have a variety of plugin widgets for things like weather reports, stock tickers, news, and many other things that you rent' if you use them. But the base software is free and gives us the functionality we need. We now have around 15-18 screens at each of our three campuses. Presentations, schedules and displays are all managed through the Rise vision website without having to go to each display to change what presentation is being run."
Digital Signage Glossary
ZONES Digital signage software allows you to divide a screen into "zones", with each zone presenting a different type of content. You could have a promo video playing on one zone in the upper-right side of the screen; a list of event room assignments for the day on the left side of the screen, and information on service times and topics on the lower-right side of the screen.
DISPLAY MANAGEMENT Video displays are managed in the software, allowing you to assign a presentation to one or more screens. Different screens can be assigned different presentations.
CONTENT MANAGEMENT Multiple presentations can be created, each with their own unique zones and content. You can store the content in the cloud, or via your own local file servers or web servers. Content can include photos, text, videos, and custom HTML5 web code. Cloud-based solutions mean that you can multiple campuses from anywhere.
SCHEDULE MANAGEMENT Schedules can be created, specifying what presentations are to run on what displays at what time. You could have a general information presentation that you typically run on displays most of the time, but then on youth group night, change the displays in the areas being used for that ministry to a youth-specific display.
THE HARDWARE Some digital signage solutions require you to purchase a custom media player from the company; others let you install their software on anywhere from a full PC or Mac down to a <$50 Raspberry Pi computer card or Intel Compute Stick that plugs into a TV's HDMI port.