A Tale of Two Churches
Jan 7, 2011 12:00 PM, By Dan Daley
How to use staging technology to differentiate and market.
As if houses of worship didn’t have enough to be worried about in the midst of a pernicious economic downturn. At the May 2009 Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell presented research from their book American Grace, reporting that “young Americans are dropping out of religion at an alarming rate of five to six times the historic rate (30 to 40 percent have no religion today, versus 5 to 10 percent a generation ago).” There has been a corresponding drop in church involvement. According to Rainer Research, approximately 70 percent of American youth drop out of church between the ages of 18 and 22. The Barna Group estimates that 80 percent of those reared in the church will be “disengaged” by the time they are 29.
AV technology is one of the solutions that churches are turning to in an attempt to stem the tide of disaffection. “Unlike our grandparents, the current generation of churchgoer has an overwhelming plethora of choices, and they go shopping,” says Gary Zandstra, sales and marketing manager for integrator Parkway Electric & Communications in Grand Rapids, Mich., and a veteran of HOW AV systems. “What many churches are looking at now is how staging systems can help them differentiate themselves from other churches in the area.”
One of the biggest differences that staging technology can make, systems integrators in this market agree, is in giving small and mid-sized HOWs a more competitive edge in relation to the megachurches that have led the inhouse performance space trend in the last 20 years. People have come to expect sophisticated and elaborate AV systems and stages in such churches as Joel Osteen’s Lakewood Church in Houston, a former NBA arena with a seat count of 16,000, or the 7,400-seat Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., says Chip Allen, a systems designer for ICB Audio & Video. Allen implemented audio, video, and stage systems for Zion Global Ministries in West Chester, Ohio, the 825-seat church where he would ultimately become director of AV.
“Having good sound, light, and video projection systems make a pastor and the congregation feel like, ‘Yeah, we can do that, too,’” Allen says. “Our pastor travels a lot and he hears sound systems in other churches, and when he comes back here, he tells the congregation that he’s so happy to be back in his own church where the sound is so good. It’s a point of pride for everyone, and it’s something that helps keep the church together.”
Zandstra had that same kind of mission for Cornerstone Church in Grand Rapids last year. The church seats 900 worshipers, but its leadership was looking for an outsized staging proposition: It had secured American Idol finalist Matt Giraud for the church venue’s grand opening. The focus of the church is a 40’x70’ proscenium-type stage, raised about 3.5ft. above the floor. “It’s big, but it’s close to the floor, and that’s in keeping with their intent to make the entire venue very intimate and not intimidating,” Zandstra says.
“It’s also designed with a curved front edge that gets people in the side seats a sense of being closer to the stage—no seat in the house is more than 75ft. from the stage. It’s also very plain and spare, a lot of space with very little on it built in; there’s no backstage area or side wings to the stage. That gives it a kind of blank canvas effect that lets it become whatever the performance at a particular time needs it to be.”
Performances alternate between traditional and contemporary types of services, with a choir riser wheeled out for the former and guitar amps and drum kits on risers for the latter. It’s also intended to be a competitive performance venue for Christian music artists. “One of the trends that’s going on now is that many of the Christian artists who are not at the level of performing at the regional megachurch or in the local performing arts or civic centers are finding that the mid-sized churches are the perfect size,” Zandstra says. “And that’s like 90 percent of the Christian music market right there.”
At Cornerstone, the stage is deceptively simple. It also has permanently installed 200-amp transformer power that can accommodate typical concert touring systems. Above the stage is a networked Renkus-Heinz PA system: a flown center cluster consisting of a ST8/4-2(T) and a pair of ST6/64 Reference Point array enclosures, installed over the front of the stage, thus allowing front and side audience coverage, while four Renkus-Heinz SGX42 stage lip speakers provide front fill. Four Renkus-Heinz BPS15-2K subwoofers are stacked two per side. Power is via Crown Audio CTs 2000 and amplifiers, as well as QSC CX702 and ISA 750 amps. Speaker management is accomplished with a Symetrix SymNet Express 4x12 DSP system. Audio is mixed through a 32-channel Yamaha M7CL digital console (which also acts as the sound system’s master digital clock device) fitted with an Aviom 16/o-Y1 interface card for the Aviom A-16R rackmount mixer.
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