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Satellite Churches

Oct 7, 2010 2:29 PM, By Bennett Liles

Multisite ministries become a technical reality.

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Senior Pastor Cal Jernigan at Central Christian Church of the East Valley

Senior Pastor Cal Jernigan appears onscreen at the Central Christian Church of the East Valley with more than 8,000 in attendance among its three locations in Mesa, Gilbert, and Queen Creek, Ariz.

Good sound for video linking revolves around how much reverberation is transmitted to the viewing venues. A lapel microphone on the pastor can form a tough combination with a high-level sound system that relies heavily on acoustic throw for coverage. A better sound system for the originating sanctuary uses a higher number of very directional speakers or arrays, each of which covers a smaller area, enabling all of them to be operated at a lower volume level—distributing the sound more by wire than by acoustic power. This reduces the amount of sound bouncing back with delay into the pastor’s microphone. Although it’s largely a matter of personal taste for the presenters, audio people love pastors who use head-worn mics because these vastly increase gain before feedback and reduce reverberation heard at the other end of the transmission. In-ear monitoring also keeps the video-linked stage acoustically clean, considering that any reverberation picked up on the pastor’s mic will be again blasted out over a main house sound system into another reverberant environment in the receiving sanctuary. This can result in a crisp, intelligible sermon sounding like it’s coming from the bottom of a well to the satellite congregations.

The same concept applies to having adequate light levels on the main stage along with projector brightness and control of ambient light on the screens at the satellite churches. The grainy, old movie look is fine for old movies, but it’s deadly for big screen sermon viewing. Many video-linked churches use a high-def video signal for the main wide-shot screen and a standard-def signal for the smaller IMAG monitors while others choose to go with 1080p on all screens.

Southland Christian Church

The Southland Christian Church in Lexington, Ky., converted a Lowe’s building into a satellite campus, seating 500 in nearby Danville. The congregation watches a service from the Lexington campus tape-delayed from the previous night.


Regardless of the specific production method, the fastest developing delivery technology is private network or Internet streaming using equipment such as the Streambox SBT3-5100 and SBT3-7100 systems along with a Streambox Broadcast Server, the StreamZ Live streaming media encoders from Digital Rapids, the Niagara series streaming products from ViewCast, the VBoss encoding package from VBrick, or Hai1000 series video system from HaiVision. There are some important considerations on the transmission element, especially if the intent is to send out live video. Melissa Johnson at Streambox says that bandwidth needs are set to some extent by worship style.

“I would suggest 6Mbps to 10Mbps, depending on the content of the video,” she says. “A traditional service with less motion [in the video] could use less bandwidth. For more contemporary churches where the services contain a lot of movement, lights, and music, I would suggest more bandwidth. More complexity and motion uses more bandwidth.”

Streaming transmission is the area in which the tech crew for the church has the least control if the solution involves public Internet conveyance rather than a segmented IP subnet on the church network or an expensive dedicated T1 Internet connection. Even if the church computer network connects the venues, it’s never a good idea to try mixing the video transmission with office applications traffic on the network. Options for Internet streaming have never been better as compression techniques have matured and encoding/decoding gear has become easy enough for church volunteers to operate with little training or experience. Any church getting its sermon live on the link should have a backup link or a backup content plan. In transmission only for delayed local playback, some churches just do a large file transfer, but in this case, the sermon must be playback tested while there is still time to resend the file. Many have chosen to stream the sermon in realtime, recording it locally, and then testing playback for sound, video projection, and content.


For the service, two players running simultaneously is inexpensive insurance, but in either case, the local pastor must always be ready to take over. In presentation technique, there are methods that can enhance and unify the experience at the viewing end of the stream. Continuity of lighting and staging are subtle concepts, but they can contribute a great deal to the visual feel of being in the same room with the pastor on the screen. The color and intensity of the lighting at the receiving venue should match the atmosphere created on the stage at the transmission end, and the platforms and set design should be created by the same team or patterned closely after those on the video stage. This is all done to eliminate any sharp contrast in appearance at the edges of the central screen.

Lighting is the most versatile element, and nothing draws the congregation’s attention to the screen more dramatically than a lighting change. Lighting can be used to control the entire visual theme, unifying it with the home church during the sermon and then smoothly shifting to a different local motif afterward. For churches at the receiving end, the projector is no place to save money, and if the budget is tight for a high-lumen long-throw machine, rear-screen projection is one option, but ambient light, sanctuary size, viewing angles, and screen mechanics are prime topics for consideration. The options are vast, so once the decision has been made to link multisite churches by video, let the message crafting begin.

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