Never before has technology enjoyed such a strong presence in churches—both in the sanctuary and facility-wide—and the manufacturing industry is listening up. As houses of worship continue to explore how technology can assist in operating facilities and delivering their message, tech developers are increasingly coming out with products and equipment that is specifically suited to the church environment.
“For the first time in the history of AVL manufacturing technologies, the church actually has a say,” says Donnie Haulk, president and CEO at AE Global Media Inc., an AV systems integration firm based in Charlotte, N.C. “That’s an unusual position that the church has moved into—being a major buyer of communication technologies, whether it be sound, lights or video.” In a tough economy, where corporate organizations and entertainment studios are suffering, houses of worship continue to move forward, driving manufacturers to recognize the sizable buying power that churches possess.
The increasing presence of specifically designed, church-friendly technology offers houses of worship the opportunity, according to Haulk, to better communicate the Word of God. “That, in turn, has helped the church to grow,” he says. “In my opinion, the difference between a church that is growing and a church that is dying is the effective communication of the Word of God.” Technology is an effective tool through which churches can communicate not only with their local members, but with their communities … and even the rest of the world.
Coupled with this availability of church-specific tech is its decreasing price, resulting in a more level financial playing field for facilities large and small. Haulk cites broadcasting as an example: “It used to cost tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of dollars to do a good job of broadcasting,” he says. “With high definition, streaming and Web TV, it’s become much more affordable.” Today, a 300-seat church in South Carolina can reach a community in Sweden. “That was not possible before,” he adds.
Lower price points, higher creativity
Frank Anzures, senior product manager for business products at projection manufacturer Christie Digital Inc. in Cypress, Calif., notes that an increased access to affordable high-definition cameras has enabled churches to become more creative in their services. “They are seeing what else is happening on the consumer market that attracts people, and they want to be able to incorporate that in the message that they are projecting,” he says.
This has led to some innovative solutions, such as the use of curved screens, the use of projected images as backdrops, video animation and even projector-equipped moving luminaries that display video. Less expensive edge-blending technologies are also producing some interesting results: “The smaller projectors and LCD or one-step technologies have also started incorporating blending and color matching, and churches will be able to create very wide aspect displays, which really captivates,” Anzures says.
“All churches—both small and large—can afford an edge-blending solution,” confirms Art Rankin, director of projectors at Panasonic in Secaucus, N.J. “The edge blending function, in addition to other multi-screen support features such as multi-screen processors and color matching, do not only come in large-venue projectors. These features are also available in some of the smaller-scale installation projectors, which tend to be more affordable for smaller churches.” This has allowed tech directors a lot of leeway in how they choose to project images, lyrics for songs and hymns, and other information, he adds.
At Wave, a national creative team, partners Paul Henderson and Armando Fullwood strive to combine mathematics and emotion in their stage designs. Wave Elements, Fullwood explains, is the group’s stage design product and methodology that enhances the brand message of the church into the acoustic application for the stage, as well as the environmental graphics.
“We want to make sure that every one of our stage designs has an acoustic, message, artistic, and communication principle,” Fullwood says. “In all of our projects we strive to repurpose existing gear as much as possible. We refer to this as ‘Redemptive Engineering.’”
Tech in a new role: facilities design and fundraising
One relatively new development in church technology is the use of architectural pre-visualization tools for fundraising projects. Presented in the form of 3D modeling and animation, this technology enables churches, architects, AV designers, congregation members and pretty much everyone involved in a construction or renovation project to see what the new facility will look like long before it’s built.
“It is already known, through studies, that a church is going to raise more money if they can see the building before it’s constructed,” says Stan Robertson, president of Gone Virtual Studios Inc., an architectural pre-visualization firm based in Lubbock, Texas. “One of the biggest things that you are trying to avoid in a capital campaign are any missed communications—any misinterpretations of a person’s visions.” If you can produce a 3D animation for a capital campaign, he argues, you are guaranteed to have a much clearer communication of what the vision is for that ministry.
The benefits of 3D don’t stop there, according to David Keesee, principal of 3Dream Studios in Tulsa, Okla. “Our 3D modeling process and photo-real feedback helps the church really see things for the first time, and solidify or help change decisions in advance of making a brick-and-mortar commitment to the building process,” he says.
Nolan Menefee of Tulsa’s Creative Animation Studios concurs that 3D animation helps hone a facility into its top form for building. “Our 3D animations are based on the final (or almost final) plans and design decisions of the client, so while we certainly tweak the details as the 3D environments are built, we don’t use 3D as a ‘what if’ tool.”
In some cases, 3D animation is used as a tool to assist churches in obtaining zoning and other permits from City Hall. Real-time 3D animation—which Robertson compares to video games—allows an even more democratic insight into the look and feel of a facility, pre-construction. “You can upload a 3D model to the Internet and have people navigate themselves through the church in a photo-realistic environment,” he says. Whereas traditional 3D animation is scripted by artists, real-time 3D isn’t, letting people move themselves through the virtual environment freely, without being directed.
While the benefits of 3D rendering are undeniable, this isn’t a process that should be approached as a free-for-all, cautions Bart R. Voigt, owner of Voigt Creations, a 3D visualization firm based in Indianapolis. This is especially true if a church is seeking to use 3D modeling not only for fundraising, but to save money during construction.
“For a rendering to save money, and not simply raise it, means that you have to look into the ‘W’s’ more closely,” Voigt advises. What is the project for? What do we really need to see? Where is clarification needed? When do we need to make a decision? Why are we doing this vs. that? And so on. “In this scenario, rendering is used as a design tool and not merely an expression of the finished intent, and has the potential to either save or cost a lot.” When carefully contemplating these specific questions, churches stand to decrease the development cycle of a project and prevent re-designs and change orders after the government approvals have come in (and the administration fees have been paid), or after construction has started.
So how much does 3D rendering cost? That depends on the project, but Voigt notes that it is usually 1% of the construction budget for smaller projects, and 0.1% for large-scale construction. Regardless, he underlines that, for it to be worth the investment, it needs to be used for a reason. “To say, ‘It’s always the best thing. You can’t go wrong.’ is a flat-out lie,” he states. “To save money, a rendering needs a specific purpose, or all you have is art.”
For Haulk, churches should embrace technology as what it is—an effective tool for reaching out to congregations and communities. “It’s our tool to use, and we can drive the industry, we can ask for technologies to better fit what we do in ministry, and we shouldn’t be afraid to do that,” he says. “Technology is the church’s tool, and the Word of God is increased in the world, not lessened or degraded, by using that technology to further the Gospel.”