Is there something about your church building you’d like to change? Some nagging problem you’ve lived with for years, simply because you didn’t think a solution was available? Maybe your congregation can’t hear the pastor as well as you’d like. Or maybe they can’t read their hymnbooks well enough. Or maybe you need to bring members closer together in a large church.
Sometimes, old challenges can be solved with new technology, as described in the following real-life church scenarios where technology enhances services in a way not possible years ago.
St Bartholomew’s Church, New York City
Denomination/Style of Worship: Episcopal/traditional
Challenge: The Byzantine architecture of St. Bartholomew’s, which includes a high Hispano-Moresque interior dome and marble walls, lends itself well to acoustic performances, but congregation members had trouble hearing the pastor. Aesthetic concerns presented problems with installing a traditional line array or left-center-right speaker clusters.
Solution: Acoustic modeling completed by Norwalk, Conn.-based Akustiks LLC, resulted in the application of Guastavino acoustic tiles for sound absorption and an Intellivox speaker system that uses “vertical beam steering” and integral DSP power to direct sound precisely where it is needed for greater voice intelligibility.
The Story: For years, sound intelligibility issues had plagued the church. Enter Anthony Nittoli and his team at Akustiks, an acoustical design and consulting firm. After an initial site survey, Nittoli and his team created a model of the room, the first step in designing a sound system to provide a crystal-clear spoken word, but not distract from the architecture or aesthetics of the space in terms of equipment. Masque Sound of East Rutherford, N.J., was brought in to install the system.
Five separate Intellivox DC Series units were installed, composed of up to 30 speakers each. The largest—a 16-foot DC 500 tower—sits next to the lectern, with the amplifiers housed beneath the speakers so the first speaker begins about three-feet off the stage.
The vertical beam steering technology of the Intellivox system reportedly permits programmers to “point” the sound precisely where they want it.
“No energy is wasted,” says Masque Sound Project Manager Matt Peskie, who worked closely with Director of Installs Courtney Klimson on the project. Referring to the main speaker column on the stage, Peskie says, “The top five speakers in this column aren’t just blasting into a wall. The sound is highly focused. That’s where the new technology comes into play.”
The church doesn’t have a technical director on staff, so the system needed to be completely operator-free, as well.
“The programming took some time,” Peskie says. “Now, a volunteer can come in, open up the rack, flip a relay switch that goes to the power relay, which turns on the speakers, and they’re ready to go.”
A Yamaha O1V digital mixer and a Dan Dugan D-2 rack-mountable auto mixer make the system truly “plug and play,” providing automated volume control for up to eight microphone inputs.
This, too, required some set up, since the system is equalized to specific people who commonly speak during worship services. “There’s no discrepancy when you go from person-to-person on the wireless body packs and mics,” Peskie says.
The system has performed flawlessly, according to accounts from church personnel. Greg Harper, a member of the church building committee and technical volunteer at the church, notes, “The multi-mic, automated system … sounds terrific. And, not once since it’s been on line have I had to leave my family during worship to run the system myself.”
Bonus Benefit: A second Yamaha O1V digital mixer was added to the package for front-of-house mixing during special events.
Inspiring Body of Christ, Dallas
Denomination/Style of Worship: Nondenominational/high-energy contemporary worship
The Challenge: How do you make congregation members in a megachurch feel like a close-knit family? This was just one challenge faced by Barron Design Group of Fort Worth, Texas, with offices in Dallas and Houston, and CSD Inc., a Woodburn, Ind.-based consulting, design and installation firm, when they worked together to build a new home for Inspiring Body of Christ. Multiple areas in the church serve as overflow for large events; the church needed to send services to those areas in a way that would foster a sense of community throughout the building. Of course, the system had to be easy for volunteer staff to use.
The Solution: A high-definition (HD) projection system that spans 80 feet in the main sanctuary and offers a pristine image and clear line-of-sight for all congregation members, creates, as CSD General Manager Doug Hood describes, “a feeling of closeness” in the sanctuary.
The Story: Many churches have difficulty justifying the cost of HD, especially in a facility with multiple screens and monitors. But it wasn’t a question for Inspiring Body of Christ leaders; the HD transition was reported to be integral in creating a sense of community in the 4,400-seat sanctuary.
“From our initial vision casting meetings, we [all] knew we wanted to do something special here,” Hood says. “The congregation is led by Pastor Rick Rush, an energetic, passionate and truly unique man.”
Barco HD projectors and larger-than-life Stewart Filmscreen rear projection screens located above and behind the choir area help carry that passion and energy to every seat in the church. The left and right screens, measuring 13 feet, 6 inches tall and 24 feet wide, each use one 20k ANSI three-chip DLP projector, while the center screen of 36 feet wide uses an edge-blended 18k ANSI dual projector. Seven Panasonic HD cameras capture images within the sanctuary. A Barco Encore system controls switching and processing for image magnification (IMAG) and broadcast.
An extensive 120,000-watt sound system featuring 18 MILO line array boxes and theatrical lighting systems help complete the worship experience.
Signals from the main sanctuary are also broadcast to other areas within the church. The bookstore, chapel, gathering room, fellowship hall and choir rehearsal room receive signals from the main sanctuary for overflow or host smaller events with complete integrated audio-visual systems. Twenty additional HD TVs are positioned throughout corridors, entrance areas, and offices to bring the entire church closer.
“This system represented a significant leap forward in terms of technology, [as well as an increase in] the overall level at which each of the systems operates. Using a team of volunteers, the church is now able to communicate through each department with excellence,” Hood says.
Bonus Benefit: The system will, in the future, have streaming video capabilities to reach out beyond the borders of the facility.
SIDEBAR: A Timeline of Lighting Technology
Lighting has come a long way since James Bowman Lindsay invented the first incandescent light bulb. What’s that? James Bowman Lindsay? What about Thomas Edison?
In fact, a Scottish man named James Bowman Lindsay developed the technology and demonstrated the first constant electric lamp in 1835-40 years before Thomas Edison. But he did little to establish his claims or develop the device further. Let this be a lesson about the importance of marketing and follow-through.
In 1879, Edison patented and brought to market the first incandescent light bulb, ushering in a new era, which eventually led to theatrical and architectural lighting in churches.
But let’s look at some of the more interesting lighting developments that got us from there to where we are now, where we use high-tech lighting systems and controllers not just for visibility, but to set the mood and help pastors convey the message to the congregations.
1898: The first neon lights are invented.
1937: The first fluorescent lamps are introduced, the first step toward more energy-efficient (if not environmentally friendly) bulbs. Fluorescent bulbs are glass tubes that are powder-coated with phosphorous and filled with argon gas and a small drop of mercury, with an electrode at either end of the bulb.
1940: Parabolic Aluminized Reflector (PAR) lamps, still frequently used in theatrical lighting, are introduced.
1965: The first light-emitting diode (LED) lights are introduced, but these do not go into widespread use on building exteriors until 2005, and only in 2009 did they start to make their appearance inside venues like restaurants, retail establishments and churches.
1976: Compact Fluorescent Lamps (CFLs) are introduced. In the late 1990s, they are hailed as an energy-efficient, long-lasting alternative to incandescent bulbs.
2007: President George W. Bush bans incandescent light bulbs, effective in 2012 for 100-watt bulbs and 2014 for 40-watt bulbs.
2010: Experts predict LEDs will drop dramatically in price over the next five years (up to 80%), leading to widespread use in residential, commercial and house-of-worship applications.
—Source: Robert Gerber, GJS Architects, Mt. Pleasant, S.C.