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Worship Workflow

Jan 7, 2011 12:00 PM, By Mark Johnson

A week in the life of a church technical volunteer.

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Hilltop Community Church

The 1400-seat auditorium in the new, larger sanctuary at Hilltop Community Church in Richmond, Calif., depends on volunteers to run its audio, lighting, video, media, and IT.

I’m a church volunteer and an AV professional. I’m an exception.

Today, churches large and small are equipped with concert-quality sound systems, broadcast-quality video equipment, and theatrically based lighting systems. Outside of church, people live in a world where laptop manufacturers tout that their computers are fitted with studio-quality audio. People watch HD television and see 3D movies. It’s what they’ve come to expect, and they expect it when they go to church as well. The challenge is that while professional AV technology can be and is being integrated into worship systems, technology does not operate itself. And the majority of the people who serve their churches have day jobs that connect to AV only by the farthest stretch of the imagination.

Every week, grocery clerks, insurance salespeople, and factory workers across the country transform into video directors, live sound mixers, and lighting designers. These volunteers influence technology decisions in direct and indirect ways. If the volunteers have limited experience and skill, a church must factor that into the design and mission of its AV systems. If volunteers are knowledgeable, they may assert preferences regarding equipment and features. And if volunteers can increase their skills, then the AV system can be more complex and help to provide a more contemporary worship experience.

The words “ease of use” or “usability” are often tossed around. But it may be difficult for an AV pro to define “ease” because he cannot always see things from the viewpoint of a volunteer. With that in mind, let’s take a close-up look at one real-world example: my church.

Hilltop Community Church has been serving the Northern Californian community of Richmond since the 1920s, using living rooms, tents, storefronts, converted shopping centers, and purpose-designed and -built facilities to hold services. Volunteerism has always played a large part in the life of Hilltop. And in fact, all of the technology departments at Hilltop are currently volunteer-based and -run. This includes audio, lighting, video, media, and even IT. I’m one of eight people on the audio team.

In 2003, a project to build a new, larger sanctuary was undertaken with the idea of creating a venue that could be made available to the community as well house our growing congregation. The facility would have a 1400-seat auditorium, classroom/meeting spaces, and offices for church staff. The new structure was to be built immediately adjacent to and connected to the existing facility.

We’ve been in the new facility for two years now. And after our having occupied the other facility since the 1970s, the move, while welcome and greatly anticipated, was and still is not without challenges. To save money, whatever equipment that could be brought over from the old sanctuary and was reinstalled in the new facility. That included Shure ULX wireless mic systems, Canon XL1S and XL2 videocameras, and desktop computers running EasyWorship church presentation software, and an assortment of lighting instruments. New purchases included a Yamaha PM5D mixing console, a Meyer Sound M'Elodie line-array loudspeaker system, and a Clear-Com intercom system. An ETC SmartFade ML lighting console and Source Four PARs were also purchased and installed to provide a basic lighting system for the new worship center. Subsequent purchases included some Chroma-Q Color Force LED cyc lights, and some JBL SRX700 series speakers to be used for monitors. The two side projectors are Sanyo PLC-XT35L 5000-lumen projectors. The center projector is a Sanyo 12,000-lumen PLC-XF46N.

The technology teams worked closely with Bill Platt of Platt Design Group for the design, integration, and implementation of the new and existing equipment.

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