Before reading this chapter please ensure you have read section 5.1 – Acoustics – the two belong together.
Assuming you have a church building of any size you will need at least some form of amplification. In planning your space you will therefore need to decide early on about the location of the sound desk, because this will be the hub for a whole network of cables. In terms of location, it is much easier to control the sound if you are able to hear it as the rest of the congregation is. For this reason, a separate sound box like a projection room is a bad idea; and in practical terms it is also helpful if you have easy access to the stage area in case you need to go to the front to adjust a microphone or whatever.
Generally the sound desk is best located towards the rear of the space and slightly raised to enable views over people’s heads when the congregation is standing. It can therefore become a substantial element within the space. If possible it is best to avoid areas with a substantially lowered ceiling, as this area will have a different acoustic. If the system is reasonably complex you will have various pieces of rack-mounted equipment, some of which may be very expensive. This in turn raises the issue of how much of the equipment is locked away, which in turn depends on the pattern of use of the building, and how well supervised it is during the week.
Camera, Lights, Action!
Many churches make good use of projection. It enables you to dispense with a lot of the hand-held clutter that can be so unfamiliar and off-putting to first time visitors, and free worship up for everyone. It also allows for a much wider variety of forms of presentation.
For some churches, particularly those on the Hillsong model, the use of multi-media is so central that the architecture of the building is designed around it – the church is essentially a theatrical black box without any windows to let in natural light. This is undeniably preferable if video projection is your top priority, but as with all things in life this comes at a cost in other areas; the important thing is to be clear who you are, and to understand the implications of the compromises you will have to make. If you do not adopt the ‘black box’ model then you will need to plan your projection with sunlight in mind, and consider how you will black out high level windows.
If you are dealing with an old building, sight lines are unlikely to be as favourable as in an open-span modern space, and the location of screens will need a good deal of thought. In a traditional church with side aisles it is very likely you will need repeater screens to deal with blind spots. If you are planning a new installation as part of a reordering, then it is advisable if possible to use the building in its new format(s) before finalising the projection and AV. In an old building it is also important to be able to hide projection screens away – when not in use a large blank screen has a significant impact on the feel of the space.
Designing a multi-media system for a space with a single pattern of use is one thing. But many churches want to have some flexibility for how the space is arranged, and crucially where the focus of attention is. If that is the case for you, then you will either need a location for your control desk that works for each of the main layout options, or you will need some mobility, which will come at the cost of a more complex system and a larger price tag.
At the same time, think through which other spaces you want to have video and audio relayed to. It is often a good idea to do this for a foyer or café space, particularly if parents might use this to take restless children out of the main space.
Don’t forget to make allowance for an induction loop to cover the whole space; this is a simple ring of copper wire or tape hidden around the perimeter linked to a small transmitter, and enables those with hearing aids to hear much better. A loop is not difficult or expensive to install, but like all these things is much better planned for than fitted as an afterthought.
- Technology is wonderful, but it is a moving feast that is developing all the time. For example, it is now possible to control a complex installation from a tablet or smartphone. This introduces more flexibility.
- Pay for some good advice – an AV Consultant should be able to help you with developments in what is available and, if they’re doing their job, should help you cut down your wish list to what you really need. It is very important to be clear about what you’re hoping to achieve, and not simply to be wowed by all the sweets in what can be a very exciting sweet shop.
- As with much else in life, the best advice is ‘KISS’ – ‘Keep it simple, Stupid!’. Any system, particularly for a community building, either needs to be durable enough to last several decades, or important enough that you are happy to replace the key bits every few years. Much modern technology is, sadly, very fragile; no matter how clever it is, if it breaks easily it will be no use at all.
- Aim to be moderately future-proof. The knack here is to anticipate which sort of future changes would be disruptive of the space as a whole, while not trying to cater for every conceivable future need. In practice this may be as simple as laying spare ducts to enable cables to be run across the space without looping around the walls. Many cables come with the ends already made off – in practice this means wider ducts are very helpful. Floor boxes should be strategically located and big enough to accommodate additional outlets if needed.
How Much Is Enough?
Multi-media is one area where needs and wants can easily become confused. Bad multi-media is an embarrassment and will impact your ministry. Equally, there are churches where the installation is clearly out of proportion to the real needs of the worshipping community. So while multi-media is important, it should never become an end in itself. Take a sanity check at each stage of developing a multi-media design, and always be clear who wears the ‘ministerial trousers’.