Houses of worship are finding that A/V installations offer a dynamic and often cost-effective means of expanding reach and growing membership. Whether the systems installed are intended to enhance the experience within a single worship area or designed to deliver the worship message to a broader group at multiple sites, to web users, or to television audiences, the planning and execution of each of these projects is key to its immediate and long-term success.
Evaluating A/V Needs
The first step in planning an installation or upgrade is to outline the organization’s main goals with respect to media use. In addition to defining the primary purpose of the installation, the planning phase should address the ways in which new A/V systems and attendant capabilities will serve the ongoing and evolving needs of the church. In evaluating the role of media in worship, the group or committee responsible for planning should consider how media will be distributed, its destination, its viewing audience and the target display device and medium.
Questions to ask include: Why do we need to enhance our A/V capabilities, and what do we hope to achieve? Will the simple use of a projection system for presentation of video, announcements, readings, lyrics and graphics be sufficient, or will there be an eventual need to distribute video to classrooms, meeting rooms, overflow areas or even to other campuses? Will production be limited to live video during services, or are DVD, web or broadcast distribution distinct possibilities for the near future? These factors will, in turn, dictate the workflow and equipment possibilities for the installation.
Also important in determining workflow and equipment selection is the proficiency of the staff who will be working with the equipment. Even working under seasoned or professional leadership, a largely volunteer staff often demands that production systems be easy to learn and maintain, feature straightforward interfaces, and offer just the right amount of functionality.
Because worship is a very personal experience, the key considerations in planning an A/V installation within a house of worship extend beyond the technical. Though well-established congregations holding services in historic buildings may be most inclined to be protective of their facilities when looking at new A/V installs, all varieties of houses of worship must focus on maintaining the preeminence of the message while minimizing the presence of the technology that delivers the message.
Installations can require a broad range of equipment, from cameras and displays to lighting and microphones, to power, cabling and HVAC systems. It is important to understand, in advance, the tolerance levels of the congregation with respect to altering the worship space. Putting new technologies into old spaces can present difficult and sometimes costly challenges. An awareness of these issues up front can help to prevent unexpected costs in the midst of an installation.
Advice from professional consultants, systems integrators and even A/V staff at other houses of worship can help the planning team find a solution that works on all these levels. To ensure that the plan receives the continued support of church leaders and membership, it is vital that key decision-makers also be involved in preliminary discussions. They may not want an ongoing and active role in the project, but they need to understand the project and its goals—and they need to be invested in the process and finished product.
Budgeting for New A/V Systems
In their stewardship of members’ financial support, houses of worship must be particularly sensitive to the value and functionality gained with an investment in new or improved A/V systems. Given budgetary constraints and competing interests within the life of the congregation, many houses of worship must take a phased approach to realizing their media goals. Though quick fixes may be tempting, a thoughtful approach to quality equipment selection yields the best result.
Though it’s natural to consider cost above all else, the expertise of a systems integrator can help the church to put its resources into the most important elements of the A/V infrastructure and prioritize other purchases according to the project goals and functional needs of the installation. A few key elements are necessary for any A/V installation, and many of the rest can be managed either less expensively or over time, as the budget permits.
Because high definition (HD) equipment is becoming ever more affordable, houses of worship should consider how and when, not if, they will incorporate HD-capable systems into their A/V infrastructures. Flexible, future-proof systems can help to ensure that money invested today in a piece of equipment will continue to pay off down the road. Thus, scalability of systems and the availability of easy, relatively inexpensive upgrade paths are important to the longevity of the installation.
It is easy to focus on systems for acquiring, distributing and manipulating video, but without good audio and lighting, an investment in quality video systems is worth little. Even in the smallest churches, audio plays a key role in engaging members of the congregation. Without the ability to hear or understand the spoken word or musical presentation, people quickly lose focus and interest in the service. Good lighting also is essential to a successful project. Many houses of worship were built to take advantage of natural light, which makes for a beautiful but dimly lit environment not conducive to good image capture. Because effective lighting can be difficult to blend into the worship environment, it must be addressed as a top priority of the installation.
Working With a Systems Integrator
With strong vendor relationships, previous experience in designing and completing A/V projects in the worship space, and a carefully detailed approach to engineering and executing each project, a well-qualified systems integrator can be an invaluable partner in bringing the installation to completion on time and on budget.
In addition to guiding the selection of the right combination of products at the right price, the systems integrator can help to ensure that the job is done right, meets the original goals of the installation, and is synchronous with the over-arching vision of the church. In doing so, the integrator should provide a complete project plan including drawings and other documentation outlining every element of the project. These details confirm that the project will be carried out as planned and, more importantly, give the church the information necessary to continue expansion of its A/V capabilities.
Once all equipment has been installed, the systems integrator will perform any necessary equipment programming, system tests and actual commissioning. Finally, to ensure that the A/V systems truly do provide their intended operation, the systems integrator provides training to church engineering staff, helping them to leverage their new A/V equipment in extending the reach and interest of the worship message. Finding an integrator partner with the technical abilities and experience as well as the ability to grasp the church’s mission and goals relating to media technology will ensure a quality installation that is effective today while maintaining flexibility for future needs.