Who would think: an article about display technology in the church? After all, churches are low-tech entities, with traditional congregations, right? Not necessarily.

Audio equipment for the church has been a staple for over 30 years. From simple microphones and speakers to elaborate and complicated systems, churches have long made sound an integral part of their services. You'll even see some pastors at the pulpit with a Madonna-esque headset microphone so they can move freely and still be heard clearly. Same with lighting: attendees need to see their worship leader, after all, and even if it's not the latest in moving lights, theatrical, or at least architectural illumination is also commonplace. But what about video?

Large churches with sanctuaries seating hundreds, even thousands, of worshippers accepted projection as a necessary technology as far back as the 1980s. Rear-projected CRT projectors can still be found in some large churches. Those applications were expensive, time-consuming. and not very flexible. Basically, the facility had to be large and the budget even larger (up to $100,000 on average). This is certainly a workable solution, but not practical for most congregations.

Enter the world of LCD and DLP projectors. As in the business community, new projectors that are easier to install, brighter, and less expensive have opened up the world of visual display and multimedia teaching in today's churches. Portable and desktop projectors are popping up in churches everywhere, making the teaching part of a service more effective than ever before.

What was once seen as a luxury, something only purchased by “wealthy” congregations, is becoming a mainstream part of religious education. A typical worship service consists of singing, preaching, prayer, and fellowship. We'll keep the projector out of the prayer part — some things truly are sacred — but let's take a look at the other elements and see where projectors fit in.

Worshippers worldwide have always needed to see the words to a song. Hymnals, poster boards, and overhead projectors have been the standard way to deliver the words to the masses. The biggest problem with each of the standard methods is flexibility. Ever seen a song leader blend into a song, but the overhead operator can't find the transparency? Try sitting in the back row and reading something handwritten on a poster board.

The usefulness of multipurpose projectors goes above and beyond the song service. Sermon notes and high points presented visually help the entire congregation follow the teaching and scriptures. Children's programs and videos are displayed and showed to the younger crowd. Youth leaders host movie nights helping keep teens on track and engaged.

We recommend finding a good AV dealer to assist with projector selection and installation. If your budget is a little tight, look to a rental company (such as InFocus Corporation) to help you select the projector and skip the permanent installation.

Many churches benefit from the flexibility of having a multi-use projector that can be moved to different locations. For an average-sized room, a minimum of 1,500 ANSI lumens is a good benchmark to use. This application is not as neat as a permanent installation, but may fit your congregation's needs perfectly.

Installing (hanging) the projector is the preferred method. In most cases, you will want to consult a professional AV dealer to help with cable installation and make sure you have enough bandwidth to run your sources to the projector. These dealers also carry mounts, accessories, control systems, and other products to make your installation as smooth as possible.

Any church can get into an entry-level projector for under $3,000. New technology, lower costs, and a larger market have put the “V” back in AV for the church.

Janné Fielding is the director of channel programs and marketing for InFocus Corporation, San Diego, CA, where she has been the leader of the AV systems group, and currently leads all activities with the company's valued partners, including marketing, development, and training/certification. She can be reached via email at janne.fielding@infocus.com .

Do You Need a Projector?

Much like in the business world, pastors and religious speakers are teaching and selling concepts. Granted, in the spiritual realm the stakes are much higher, but the way to reach people and help them retain what you are teaching is consistent regardless of the content. If you answer yes to one or more of the questions below, then visual aids as simple as a PowerPoint presentation with high points listed will help make your sermon more effective.

  • You have more than two or three major points to make.
  • You are training and the “how to” involves multiple steps.
  • You are presenting language, terms, and other material your audience may not be familiar with.
  • The age or interest level of your audience requires visuals to maintain attention.
  • You are not a strong speaker and need visuals to enliven your message.
  • You want to add powerful emphasis to your major points.

Choosing the Right Projector

We recommend utilizing a professional AV dealer to assist with your projector purchase and installation. Here are a few tips and questions to help you be a more educated consumer.

How bright is bright?

Projectors these days are brighter than ever. In most church applications, we recommend a minimum of 1,500 lumens up to 5,000 lumens for larger sanctuaries and more sophisticated systems.

What are your resolution requirements?

Chances are your presentations and displays will come from a computer. Although most projectors scale any resolution, it is best to run at the projector's native resolution whenever possible. Check the display resolution of your video card or laptop. In most cases SVGA (800 × 600) is acceptable but XGA (1,024 × 768) may be preferable to keep up with your next few generations of computers.

Does the projector have zoom?

In a church environment, zoom (either manual or power) is critical in order to have the flexibility of placement you may need.

Does the projector have keystone correction?

Keystoning is a distorted picture where one edge is not the same dimension as the opposite edge. This typically results when the image is projected at an angle. Keystone correction is available either optically, with a lens that shifts, or digitally, within the electronics of the projector. Digital keystone correction is a great feature and helps keep your image perfect.

How big is the sanctuary or auditorium?

The size and seating arrangement of the church will dictate the type and amount of projection screens and projection devices to be used. A church seating up to 1,000 people will be able to use a 2,000-3,000-lumen projector, especially if it is used for rear projection. A wide viewing angle screen 50°-75° from center is preferable, especially with the bigger churches — along with two projectors and two screens of 100" - 144" or greater to project images on each side of the podium and pulpit. Of course with smaller groups, say less than 100 people, screen sizes of 48"-60" are sufficient. The nice thing about projectors is that you can mount them almost anywhere and get the image size you want.

What are the physical parameters of the room?

The shape of the structure, ceiling height, and angle will dictate whether or not the projector can be ceiling-mounted. If the ceiling is too high and has a steep angle, you will not want to ceiling-mount the projector. You may want to mount it from a beam, or shelf.

What are the lighting constraints?

Although most projectors today — like the InFocus and Proxima (the 9100 is pictured above) brands — are bright enough to display an acceptable picture in ambient light. The following factors should always be taken into consideration: direct sunlight from windows or doors should not reach the screen surface and lighting should not be directly over the projector or screen. In many cases, inexpensive directional lighting, a shade or two, or removal of a light bulb will do the trick.