Remember going to church with your grandmother in a tiny 800 sq. ft. sanctuary, bathed in sunlight from stained glass windows? You could see the church's steeple peeking over the trees as you came down the narrow two-lane road in Hometown, USA on Sunday morning. Fast forward to the 21st Century, where churches are as massive as small ocean liners and have congregations into the tens of thousands. Today's churchgoer has to be enthralled, entertained, and informed. To help pastors, preachers, and reverends get The Word across they have turned to automated lighting, video projection, wireless microphones, and anything else that makes performers look and sound their best. In this special report, we take a look at several houses of worship facing unique needs for their congregations and how they met them.

Woodstock Baptist Goes Digital

The First Baptist Church in Woodstock, GA, recently installed two Digital Projection International Lightning 28sx projectors in the main sanctuary of its new campus just northwest of Atlanta.

Adequate brightness was critical, because the 7,000-plus-seat sanctuary has a great deal of uncontrollable ambient light. “We worked very closely with Bill Thrasher, Woodstock Baptist's audiovisual consultant, and we determined that the church was a prime candidate for one of our brightest projectors,” says Chuck Collins, senior market development manager at DPI. “The sanctuary has a high amount of ambient light and the projection screens are very large, so it demanded the same type of projector that typically goes out on some of the most demanding staging shows.”

DPI's 3-chip DLP Lightning 28sx projectors are used in a rear-projection configuration onto two 15' by 38' screens located above and behind the pulpit. The 14,000-member congregation uses projectors for colorful visuals for its multiple worship services, special events, and other activities such as high school graduation ceremonies. For its Sunday worship services, First Baptist projects live digital camera feeds, hymn text, and computer graphics support. Additionally, the services are streamed live on their Website to an average of 7,000 viewers per week.

The projectors had to be proven and reliable, since they will be used for long periods on many occasions. “Because the church is displaying many different sources, including PowerPoint slides, motion graphics and live video feeds, the Lightning 28sx proved to be the best choice,” Collins says. “Bill and Woodstock Baptist understand that poorly presented messaging during a worship service can create a clear distraction and could greatly diminish their message's impact. Their understanding of this ensured the system they put in place will have a profound impact for years to come.”

The most important reason the Church chose DPI's projectors, according to Doug Whitney, First Baptist of Woodstock's video director, was the way they could help senior pastor Johnny M. Hunt and other staff members deliver the Church's message to its congregation in a more dynamic way. This was especially important during the church's very first Sunday services in its new sanctuary in early October, which drew more than 14,000 people.
— Mark A. Newman

Let There Be Light

Many small or mid-size churches may be interested in adding new technology to their facilities, but are limited in what they can do for a variety of reasons. These limitations might be based on budgetary concerns, or caused by architectural restrictions in historic buildings. Perfect examples are the Mercersburg Academy Chapel, in Mercersburg, PA and the Rochester Assembly of God in Rochester, MN, two facilities that have recently upgraded their lighting systems.

An exclusive private school, Mercers-burg Academy tore down its theatre in order to build a new performing arts center. In the interim, school and community performances are taking place in their historic Gothic-style church built in 1928. “It's like a mini-cathedral,” says Walt Dowling, vice-president of Parlights, in Frederick, MD who served as systems integrator for the project. “The original lighting was very dark, and the community choir was always renting temporary equipment,” Dowling explains. “The requirements for the new lighting system were to get enough light for the performances yet be extremely unobtrusive. You just can't drop a truss in the middle of a place like that.”

Dowling recommended pipe battens that run above the wooden support beams on the sides of the longer section of the church's cross-like shape. “We had the original plans for the building and digitized them,” he explains. With the plans in hand, Dowling was able to design a new lighting system yet preserve the integrity of the architecture. As it was impossible to run extensive circuits in the stone walls, Dowling opted for Entertainment Technology/Genlyte Bak Pak-distributed dimmers, and added 120V outlets to the ceiling to accommodate them.

“The goal was clean white light,” says Dowling, whose goal was a light level of 90 footcandles. “Yet I think we did a good job of making the fixtures disappear. It is definitely brighter but unless you really look for the fixtures you cannot tell where they are.” A Strand 300 series console matches the other control consoles on the campus, while an architectural control system (for the chandeliers and house lights) uses an EDI Smart Station and EDI MVP dimmers. Theatrical fixtures include Strand SL ellipsoidals and Fresnels.

At the Rochester Assembly of God, Dave Johnson of Gopher Stage Lighting in Minneapolis also recommended Bak Pak dimmers. “The way the building is built, they had power up in the ceiling so the Bak Paks were the best way to get dimming to their ETC Source Fours®,” he explains. “This is a small church, but they wanted to add some flexibility and start building a larger lighting system. This way they can add dimmers and fixtures incrementally. They started with eight dimmers and now have 14. It is the most cost-effective way for them to add to what they have.”

Jeff Morrison, spokesperson for Entertainment Technology adds, “Roch-ester Assembly of God is similar to what the majority of the churches face when upgrading their lighting systems: lack of space, tight budget, not overly familiar with lighting technology, and wanting a system that can grow as the church grows.” He also points out that the choice of Bak Pak dimmers is not so much for their distribution capability, but rather as an effective way to get the dimmers directly to the fixtures, and avoid the costs of building air-cooled, sound-proof dimmer rooms. “What we are seeing in a lot of church projects is the need for flexibility without a large initial expenditure,” Morrison adds. Luckily, today's technology can provide the answer to their prayers.
— Ellen Lampert-Gréaux

What's the Frequency?

When the First Baptist Church of Eugene (OR) moved into its new facility last year, it found itself in a bad neighborhood. No, there weren't dilapidated houses, street gangs, or bad schools. Rather, the church found itself in the midst of a radio frequency jungle. Surrounded by radio and television towers, high-tech industrial warehouses and a major interstate choked with cell phone-equipped cars, the church was facing a major obstacle to implementing fuller use of wireless sound in its services and other church functions.

“When the First Baptist Church said they wanted to run three services with completely different content, back to back, and had little more than eight minutes turnover time, we knew wireless would be a big part of their solution,” says Jeff Weinkauf, general manager of Anderson Group International (AGI, Inc.), the systems integrator the church hired to design an AV solution for the new facility. “Unfortunately, the area into which they were moving already had a reputation for being challenging as it related to RF. Multiple television and radio towers, warehouse operations, and a major freeway close by meant finding 20 to 30 clean channels would be tough. A system was needed that could handle some pretty extreme interference, and still be reliable.”

After careful consideration, which included an RF study of the area, product demos by manufacturers, and technical systems/power design targeted at limiting RF interplay and potential, First Baptist chose Sennheiser 3000 and 5000 series wireless. “Sonic quality, a professional feature set, expandability, and zero dropouts made the decision an easy one,” says Weinkauf.

Weinkauf's design called for six channels of wireless, employing a mix of Sennheiser 3000 Series receivers and 5000 Series transmitters. All six channels utilize Sennheiser EM3032 receivers, with five of the six channels paired with SKM5000 handheld transmitters equipped with Neumann KK105-S microphone capsules. The same capsule the church had come to depend on in its KMS 105-wired mikes. The sixth channel is a Sennheiser SK-50 transmitter with a Sennheiser MKE-2 lavalier mike used by the pastor. The system utilizes two A2003-UHF wideband passive directional antennae, and a Sennheiser SAS108 selective antenna splitter.
— Mark A. Newman

Saddleback Church Gets Automated

A popular non-denominational church with an eye toward technology is the Saddleback Church, set on more than 50 acres in Lake Forest, CA, where in-house lighting director Jon Griffin has been busy updating the lighting systems in the various venues on the campus. Recent upgrades include a rig of VARI*LITE VL2000 automated fixtures in the 3,200-seat main building, and a new lighting system controlled by a Zero 88 Fat Frog console in one of six tents that serve as auxiliary sites for services and concerts.

“I'd been doing freelance work at the church, bringing in moving light rigs for events three to four times a year. They finally decided to install a permanent automated rig, and asked me to work full time about a year ago,” says Griffin, who is now part of a team that includes technical director/head of audio Steve Powers and a video team. “They are looking at video and audio upgrades later this year,” he adds.

The choice of 26 VL2000s (eight VL2000 washes and 18 VL2000 spots hung both front of house and over the stage) for the main venue was based on the fact that there was no 208V power available. This meant that Griffin was limited to 120V fixtures without doing an extensive electrical upgrade as well. The VARI*LITE fixtures were custom-ordered in white (except for two VL2000 spots that hang under a large video “scoreboard” over the stage).

“I like the 700W source of the VL2000 and needed the punch for IMAG,” says Griffin, who points out that video images are displayed on screens that flank the stage as well as on the “scoreboard.” Control is via a High End Systems Whole-hog® 3 console, with two racks of ETC Sensor dimmers for the conventional fixtures in the rig. While many of the old conventional fixtures were removed during the upgrade, approximately 200 were left in place, although Griffin is looking at replacing some of them with VL1000s in the near future. “We can now have more intense color, textures, and movement on the back cyc,” says Griffin. “There is a lot of flexibility in the system.”

As the weekly services draw too many worshippers for the main sanctuary, the permanent tents provide additional room as well as a choice of program for various age groups. “Not everyone likes the same music,” explains Griffin. “There might be rock in one tent, gospel in another, and island or hula music someplace else, but they are all linked via fiber-optic cable and everybody hears the same sermon.”

A recent upgrade to the lighting in Tent Two includes 30 ETC Source Four PARs with Wybron Forerunner color scrollers, six Coemar Panorama Cyc color mixing fixtures, and 12 Martin MAC 250+ fixtures, all controlled by the Zero 88 Fat Frog console. “The Coemar fixtures are used to uplight the white interior of the tent, as well as mix color on it,” says Griffin. He notes that the upgrades have not only enhanced the look of the services and facilitated the lighting for concerts, but also represent large reductions in electric and air-conditioning costs. “The other tents will be upgraded over the next few years,” Griffin adds.

In the meantime, Saddleback Church will mark its 25th anniversary on April 17. The event will take place off campus, at the Edison International Field (a baseball stadium) in Anaheim. Griffin is planning to use a large automated lighting rig to add even more pizzazz to this important celebration.
— Ellen Lampert-Gréaux