The implementation of technology in worship is a slippery slope; not enough and you risk presenting the Gospel in a way that’s not relevant with the very audience many churches are trying to attract. Too much and it becomes the tail wagging the dog, the technology becomes the “thing” rather than the message. These days, though, technology is necessary. As Houston Clark, president, CEO, and owner with Clark (formerly Clark ProMedia) in Atlanta says, “Culture is setting the standard for how we communicate. Gone are the days where you can have a very engaging teaching speaker and they hold the attention of the younger generation by just standing there and speaking. Culture has trained us to need multiple sensory inputs in order to communicate. I think we should embrace it and even push the envelope in how we creatively share the Gospel, because our message is the best message in the world. I don’t think the church should be shy about leveraging creativity and technology in order to communicate that message in meaningful and impactful ways.”
“What do I use and how should I use it?” would be logical questions raised. Goals must be clear, then the technology choices become easier. Understand why you’re implementing a certain technology. Maybe it’s to help facilitate growth. For example, for a church that is moving to a larger sanctuary, image magnification, or IMAG, as it’s known, may become necessary for the congregation to keep an intimate connection with the pastor, whereas, in the smaller facility it may not be needed. This was just the case at Hilltop Community Church in Richmond, Calif., when it moved from an 800-seat sanctuary to a 1,400-seat sanctuary.
Facilities are shifting from single-purpose worship spaces to multi-use venues that can serve the church and the community at large, as well. In some cases, churches are expanding by getting small. Rather than large capacity buildings, they are creating a greater number of intimate venues across the campus, with a variety of environments and programming that appeals to multiple generations.
Much of the audio technology originally available for larger megachurches, predominantly, is now finding its way into products designed for smaller applications, providing much of the functionality of larger systems. Manufacturers are designing and building physically smaller, yet high quality loudspeaker systems including the popular line array system that will fit in smaller venues. Also available are speakers that provide the capability to electronically adjust the width of the coverage pattern or even steer the output so that the sound is focused just on the listening area. This is a boon for acoustically live facilities where acoustical treatment might not be an option, like historical structures.
Smaller, more affordable digital mixing consoles are readily available too. With the ability to store and recall settings, repeatability and consistency are just two of the benefits that digital consoles provide houses of worship.
Cutting the cord
The short version is: Wireless technology continues to be affected by the changes implemented by the Washington, D.C.-based Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in allocating frequency bandwidth for many wireless microphone, in-ear, and intercom systems. The law dictates that equipment operating within the “700 MHz band,” that is the spectrum between 698 and 806 MHz, must cease operation after June 12, 2010, or earlier under certain conditions. Those frequencies are allocated exclusively for Public Safety agencies and licensed wireless service providers. The websites of wireless manufacturers including Shure, Sennheiser, Audio-Technica and others generally provide the most up-to-date information regarding the legislation.
Many wireless manufacturers will assist with coordinating which frequencies and what systems will perform most effectively in your local area. It is highly advisable to do your due diligence in this area before making any wireless purchases (no matter how small).
The acoustics of a facility are usually overlooked until it’s too late or they are so bad that they make the audio unmanageable. However, acoustics considerations should represent some of the first steps taken—from the acoustical quality of the room itself, to noise from the HVAC system, to leakage of sound from other rooms within the church building. When accounted for up front, during the planning and design stages, dealing with acoustical considerations can be much more cost effective and less stressful than making changes once all the construction is complete.
More so existing spaces such as office parks, business complexes, and warehouse spaces are being converted to worship spaces as well as treating existing facilities. Nick Colleran, vice president of Acoustics First Corp. in Richmond, Va., says, “Acoustical wall panels are the first and most prevalent item added to a sanctuary to reduce reverberation and control sound reflections. For a multi-purpose room, the product is ceiling baffles.”
It is in these environments that acoustical considerations are key to the success of the facility in accomplishing its new purpose. Or, churches that were built prior to high-energy music (bass, drums and amplified instruments) becoming commonplace in a worship setting.
“Acoustical wall panels provide the best-looking, lowest cost, and easiest to install first stage of acoustical treatment for a traditional sanctuary that must now accommodate a high-energy praise band,” says Colleran, however, he cautions, “A sound system should not be bought solely because it sounded good somewhere else. It may be a good indication that the designer specified correctly for the room, and the same designer may be a good choice to analyze and recommend a system for your room.”
The popularity of video in worship continues to increase. From a basic system to display lyrics or play back a video clip or use PowerPoint to help support the sermon, to IMAG and purpose-produced video shorts, or to see the pastor deliver his message even though you might be across town or even across the country. As Clark says, “In terms of leveraging what video technology has available today, many churches are pushing the envelope. They are as sophisticated as many television productions that are secular-based.”
Though what’s making the biggest impact is wide screen, either for standard definition or high definition. Gary Fuller, vice president of business products with Cypress, Calif.-based Christie Digital Systems USA Inc., says, “We’re seeing a shift from the standard 4:3 type aspect ratio to the wide aspect. People like to use the term HD. We’ve seen this trend for a couple of years not only in the megachurches, but in the mid-sized fellowships and even the smaller churches; they’re all headed towards wide aspect in one format or another. Now, we’re seeing more and more end-to-end production being done in HD.”
The stimulus for wide screen images comes from the general public. As Clark notes, “The consumer market has really pushed that wide aspect ratio. People don’t anticipate walking into any public forum anymore and seeing a 4:3 aspect ratio. It’s not just putting a 16:9 aspect screen, it’s making sure that when it’s on a larger format that the quality of the signal looks comparable to what people are seeing on their 52-inch or 65-inch plasmas at home.”
In the area of lighting, efficiency plays a big role. Andy Manning, president of Manning Lighting in Sheboygan, Wis., says, “Energy-efficient lighting and controls are now being specified in almost every size church. This is driven by stricter energy codes being implemented across the country, advances in technology that make the products more suitable [and affordable] for a church environment, and a desire by churches to be eco-friendly.”
What is the prevailing product? Chris Pease, sales and marketing manager with Lightronics in Virginia Beach, Va., says, “The most prevalent new technology regarding lighting is the LED light. LED lights promise substantial energy savings over the incandescent bulbs widely used today.”
Manning adds, “The primary challenges to implementing energy-efficient lighting and controls are higher initial cost, [as well as] confusion about which products and technologies will work best for the church’s needs. The best way to overcome these obstacles is to work with a knowledgeable and experienced architect or lighting designer. These professionals will be able to explain the benefits, the payback of the systems over their life cycle and, most importantly, design a system that not only saves energy, but provides comfortable illumination for a worship environment.”
While LED’s energy savings are a significant selling point in terms of operating cost, lifespan, and the fact that the heat generated from the fixture is negligible, artistically, they have a lot to offer in that an almost infinite palette of colors is available.
Though a new lighting technology is on the horizon, as Pease notes, “Even as LEDs become the latest rage, there is another technology evolving called the plasma lamp. This light source may become the next wave of lighting technology. It promises to give us a more natural light, reduce electrical usage, and reduce ultraviolet (UV) and infrared (IR) levels seen with today’s incandescent lights.
“The cool thing about plasma lights from the entertainment lighting perspective is the concentrated point of light [they] offer,” he adds. “The optics in our theatrical fixtures operate much better if we are gathering the light from a concentrated point, and this is where the plasma light will outperform the LED.” The new plasma lamps also hold promise for applications in projector technology.
The ability to network helps with the operation and maintenance of systems in houses of worship notes, Dennis Choy, communications, technology and production pastor at North Coast Church of Vista, Calif. “Everything from speaker clusters to processors to projectors can be network addressable for monitoring and control from your computer, or even from a remote location like home,” he says. “This has been available for some time now in audio (Cobranet) and some video (Sanyo PJnet), but now is more widely used and available for A/V/L systems.”
As stated earlier, efficiency is becoming more of a concern, and facilities designed to conform to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, a green building rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in Washington, D.C., will be more commonplace. Most technology applied in a worship facility uses power to one degree or another. LEED certification helps ensure that the environmental impact is minimized and, in fact, goes beyond just energy efficiency to looking at the facility as a whole, incorporating the design, construction, and operation of the building.
People are the driving force
In practically every house of worship the volunteer base is the most valuable resource. Make sure the technology fits the need but is not so sophisticated your volunteers or staff can’t run it. It’s easy to forget that for many churches the people who are volunteers in technical ministry have no formal training in their ministry areas. Get them training. Invest in them. Technical ministry can be very demanding and oftentimes stressful. While the work is considered “behind the scenes,” the results of the work are very much in the forefront of the congregation—for everyone to see and hear. Help give your technical ministry volunteers the opportunity to succeed and make their experience an uplifting one. Advance planning and clear, complete information is one of the most helpful things you can provide for your volunteers, and it costs nothing.