Modern technology drives information towards today’s generation. It is in all aspects of our life today and this role will only increase in the future. Any house of worship that ignores this fact will lose its congregation, especially the children, whose learning and development is technology based.

Using Technology in Houses of Worship

Len Calderone

Times change and the houses of worship are changing to keep the congregation enthused about the message.  Yes, the prime goal of any house of worship is to get the word of God out to the congregation, but what better way to do it than to use today’s technology to reach the modern community?    Some houses of worship have completely submersed themselves in technology while others have not embraced its use, which could be an oversight. 

Many years ago, some houses of worship used a small live band to perform during the services.  Church goers thought that this was way out of bounds, but the music brought the younger generation to worship and kept them there.  Audio visual has been an important part of the service for years, while new technology like Facebook and Twitter are the new methods of getting the younger crowd back to the fold. 

There are three elements to using technology in a house of worship.  The first being geared toward the actual service; the second allows the worshippers to take home the message; and the third is the communication with the parishioners. 

The use of technology in any ministry is an important approach for any house of worship and something that system integrators should seriously discuss with the local houses of worship.  Houses of worship need to take a multi-faceted approach to winning over the congregation, as it’s not just the message anymore; it’s the way the message is conveyed. 

It is important to keep the equipment consistent across a facility, so that volunteers can be operational in all spaces with minimal training.  Having different brands and models in different locations can cause much confusion for the person operating the equipment.   There are manufacturers, such as AMX, Crestron and Savant that make automated control systems that are easy to use by inexperienced personnel.  With the proper setup, an automated system can be turned on and operated without the user getting into trouble.  With one touch, these systems can lower and raise projection screens, turn on projectors and power televisions to present sermon messages or song lyrics.

 

 

For the house of worship that has the primary need to reinforce the spoken word, but does not employ any type of live music in its worship service, minimal equipment would be needed.  A typical package would include two microphones, one for the podium and a wireless microphone for the minister who likes to move around while preaching.  Depending on the size of the sanctuary, two or more loudspeakers would be needed, along with a mixer and amplifier.

Live music during worship services requires a more sophisticated sound system, as it will need to play back recorded music and provide a wide dynamic range for live music.  In addition to the above mentioned microphones, the house of worship will need vocal microphones, such as the Shure Beta series, along with mic stands, one for each featured singer.  Of course the musical instruments will need their own mics, such as the Audix instrument mics.   As a side note, if the acoustic drum set is overpowering the rest of the band, try switching to an electronic drum set, such as the Roland  V-drums. 

The loudspeakers should be designed for music, not just voice, such as the RCF/JBL/Renkus-Heinz Series.  Don’t forget the floor monitors for the band.  Make sure the mixer can handle all of the microphones.  Pick an amplifier that can deliver power equal to twice the speaker's continuous IEC power rating.  A 600 watt rated speaker will require a 1200 watt amp.  Here is a list of commercial amp manufacturers:  Ashley, Crest, Crown, QSC, Rane, Rolls, Stewart and Yorkville. 

If recorded music is played, a good quality CD player is important, such as the Marantz 5004CD.  The Furman PS-8R power conditioner/sequencer or similar unit is needed whenever various kinds of equipment must be powered up or down in groups, rather than all simultaneously.   In audio systems, sequenced powering is often necessary to allow turn-on transients from low level amplifiers and processors to settle down before any power amps are turned on.  It provides spike and surge protection across all three modes, as well as a sophisticated EMI/RFI filter for blocking radio frequency line noise.

There are many speaker systems designed for house of worship use.  Look for a system that matches the environment of the facility.  A sound system should be designed to provide a crystal-clear spoken word, but not distract from the architecture or aesthetics of the space.  The sound should be highly focused and not bouncing off of the walls.

Houses of worship can be a challenge when trying to project video images. Windows bring in ambient light, and stained glass can present unusual effects on a projection screen.   Most houses of worship run their projectors while lights are fully illuminated.  The more ambient light, the more ANSI lumens a projector will need to overcome that light.

Description: Screen ImageDesigning a new house of worship can make placement of the screen much easier, but many older facilities are unable to find a good location for a projection screen.  Depending on the size of the sanctuary, the screen can be placed behind the podium or off to the side.  In a larger house of worship, two or three screens might be necessary, one in the center and one on each side. 

The larger the screen the better.  Here is where two things must be considered.  The first is straight video.  The congregation must be able to recognize what is being projected, especially if there are captions.  Another use is readability if a hymn’s words are displayed so that the people can sing along.  Some houses of worship project the sermon on the screen for those with a problem hearing clearly. 

A permanent screen is less costly, but if the screen is a retrofit in an older facility, an electric screen might be needed so that it can be retracted up when not in use.   A good example of this screen is the Draper Rolleramatic.  Vutec’s Retracta-Vu Pro is a motorized rising-arm screen, which can be set in a cabinet on or in the floor, and is available in sizes up to 300’ diagonal.  The Retracta-Vu is an ideal solution when a screen is unable to be mounted at the ceiling. 

Consider the size of the screen within the framework of where the screen is to be placed within the sanctuary, andto compensate for the ambient light, a house of worship has the option of a brighter/ high-lumen projector or a high-gain screen, such as the Da-Lite High-Power screen.  There are several high-gain screens on the market with various gains.  Just remember, the higher the gain the less the viewing angle.  If the congregation is sitting mostly in front of the screen, the gain can be higher.   The choice is high-gain or wide viewing.  There are no other choices. 

The Mitsubishi FL7000U is a 5,000 lumen HD projector, ideal for houses of worship with lots of ambient light.  This projector comes with interchangeable lenses, making the positioning of the projector easier.  If the projector has to be mounted in a loft or near the back of the house of worship a 7 – 20,000 lumen projector might be required.  Barco, Christie, Eiki, Mitsubishi, Panasonic, Sanyo, and Sony all make high-lumen projectors with interchangeable lenses. 

To have the congregation take home a copy of the service, especially if there is someone at home that is bedridden or unable to get around, a camera system will be necessary.   A simple setup of a portable or fixed camera feeding directly to a DVD recorder is a starting point, or an elaborate installation with several cameras and a video mixer can make the DVD more professional looking.  Check that the planned camera positions will have clear sight lines to the stage.

Instead of a fixed camera, a remote controlled pan/tilt/zoom camera will give the operator control of all of the camera’s movements.  Vaddio makes a High definition integrated robotic PTZ camera featuring a 19x optical zoom lens and built around a 1/3-Type Exmor high-speed, low noise CMOS image sensor with a total of 1.3 Megapixels producing precise and vibrant HD color video images.  Vaddio also has an automated camera tracking system that provides a smooth and accurate panning motion that follows a minister, who likes to move around. 

The same video system that is used to make DVD’s can be connected to a projector or flat screen television in another room, which handles the overflow of church goers so that they can follow the service. 

When considering theatrical lighting for the sanctuary, use LEDs rather than incandescent lighting fixtures.  They will pay for themselves in just a few years.  It will take over 30 incandescent bulbs to equal the lifetime of one LED bulb.   

 

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The Whites Chapel United Methodist Church in Southlake Texas has invested in GLP Volkslicht LED fixtures to enhance the delivery of traditional worship messages in its main sanctuary.

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The Chroma-Q Color Force Compact is a DMX-controlled LED fixture that is made to hang or sit on the floor.  The Color Force Compact uses its huge RGBA color mixing palette to deliver a full range of high brightness colors across the spectrum. Deep cold blues, red hot lava looks and super soft pastels are all available from a single fixture.

All of this equipment requires power to operate properly.  It is essential that the power capacity of the facility be evaluated in view of what the equipment will need.  If necessary, update the power capacity of the facility.  If the systems are overloading the electrical circuits, they will not perform as expected, and at worst a fire situation could be brewing. 

Every House of Worship should have a web site to communicate with the congregation, listing hours of service, special activities, church contacts, biblical readings and maybe even sermons.  The cost can be offset with minimal advertising. 

 

Twitter is an online social network service that enables its users to send and read text-based posts of up to 140 characters, known as "tweets". This is a no cost solution where the minister can announce last minute changes to meetings or send out short religious messages. 

E-mail is another way to communicate with the congregation.  A message can be sent to everyone or just one person in particular.  This method would allow an individual to communicate directly with the Pastor or other member of the staff. 

Facebook is being used more to communicate with the congregation.  As a social site, it would be a good place to announce marriages, births, anniversaries, etc.   One of the most popular applications on Facebook is the ability of users to upload albums and photos.  Ministries can upload an unlimited number of photos, regarding their activities. 

 

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If a House of Worship wants to get a jump on the future, develop an app for a smart phone so that the parishioners can get up-to-date information over their smart phone.   ROAR (http://roarapp.com) will customize mobile apps on the platform of a church’s choice:  Apple or Android—or both. The mobile apps feature customizable logos, colors and content. "We can collect all of the content on a church's website and from other pages—Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, iTunes—and package it together in an app so people can find it all in one place on their phone," says Matt McKee, president of ROAR.  

Today’s children are significantly different than we were as children, taking in information at an exceptional rate, making us look like digital idiots.  Technology is becoming a large part of many ministry rooms with interactive displays, touch screens and audio and video equipment that makes the room more of an educational experience.  Adding motion lights to the children’s check-in area creates entertaining patterns.  Kids enjoy watching changing colors, and it keeps them looking forward to coming back. 

Most Houses of Worship have volunteers operating the equipment.  If they are not attentive of the maintenance requirements for the equipment, there could be expensive repairs or the need to replace damaged equipment.  A maintenance contract with a reliable service company should be a consideration.  Minimal maintenance can go a long way in getting the best performance from the gear. 

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Many times the audio, visual and lighting is considered an add-on to the facility, when it should be considered part of the actual building, such as the plumbing.  If the building goes over budget, the A/V/L system will not be short changed.  During the planning stage, it is important to work out the acoustical expectations.  Bring in an acoustical expert to work with the architect and audio company so that the facility can support both music and the spoken word. 

Modern technology drives information towards today’s generation.  It is in all aspects of our life today and this role will only increase in the future.  Any house of worship that ignores this fact will lose its congregation, especially the children, whose learning and development is technology based.

Len started in the audio visual industry in 1975 and has contributed articles to several publications.  He also writes opinion editorials for a local newspaper.  He is now retired.

This article contains statements of personal opinion and comments made in good faith in the interest of the public.   You should confirm all statements with the manufacturer to verify the correctness of the statements.


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