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Using A/V Technology to Increase Retention
By: Tony Rogalski

Your primary job as a pastor is to "teach the Word of God." The brain is a funny thing, though.  We don't always follow along or remember what you've said. Here are some simple ideas I've learned in 27 years of doing sound, video, and lighting systems in churches that will help you become more effective in communicating the word of God to your congregation.

First, let's talk about hearing. Across the board, 10% of the human population has a hearing impairment. When we break it down by age groups, that percentage increases to 39% of folks over 65 years of age. The sad thing is that audiologists tell us that only one in five seniors who need a hearing aid actually uses one. This is mainly because they haven't yet invented the "perfect fix" for hearing loss, so most hearing aids sit in drawers. There are a lot of folks sitting there in pews who are not admitting that they couldn't hear you. 

As good or bad as your sound system may be, you may still want to consider providing an assistive listening system so that those in need can hear the sermon and singing. The system basically consists of small transmitters that transmit the same sound that is coming out of the speakers to small pocket receivers with an attached earbud or headphone. The listener can set the volume to their own personal need. 

When we are asked the question of "What is good quality sound?" we can come up with some very subjective answers. It is safe to say that the spoken word should be clear, articulate, and completely comprehendible. We prefer not to have any distortion, pops, or dropout. As a pastor, you want your sound system to give the appearance that you're only a few feet away and sounding very conversational or even excited if you're into a little "hooping." 

The new micro headsets are finally worthy of church services as they are extremely small, unobtrusive, and easy to use. By getting the microphone closer to the mouth, it evenly picks up the voice, unlike a lapel microphone that will get slightly louder or quieter as we turn our head from left to right or up and down. With a micro headset microphone, the brain concentrates more on the content of the sermon and less on the changes of level, thus increasing retention.

Also, science tells us that when we double the distance away from a microphone, we half its volume. Conversely, when we half the distance, we double the volume. So, you can see the advantage of using a micro headset where the element is typically 1-inch away from the voice, compared to a lapel where the element is 6 to 8 inches away from your mouth.

These systems also allow you to get greater gain before feedback and save you from straining your voice. As a pastor, try going a full day without talking. It's one of God's gifts that we definitely take for granted. A good sound system will allow you to not work as hard. Like professional singers, you need to protect your voice.

When talking about sound in churches, the questions of where to put the operator always comes up. When you go to concerts or see a big-name speaker, you'll notice that the operator is typically two-thirds of the way back in the center of the room. That's because they are now getting the best sampling of what the majority of the audience hearing. You basically ask an unpaid staff to be the ears for everybody and to make those slight adjustments so that everybody can hear and that it's not to loud for those in the front row. In large churches, it's easier to put the operator in the right spot, but it is not as easy in a small or medium church because of logistics or architecturally impractabilities. Try not to compromise too much here—under balconies, back of balconies, or, worse yet, in a different room, make it almost impossible to do a good job. When was the last time you used your computer keyboard in your office with the monitor in another office or the other side of the room?

Now let's talk about how video can increase retention. Did you know that when you preach a sermon, the average person will only retain 10% an hour later? But, if you tell a message and show an outline with screens and projectors, the retention factor goes up to 45% to 48%. It becomes even greater if you ask your congregation to take notes. As much as I dislike the expression that "we're an MTV generation," studies tell us that 87% of what goes in the brain and stays in the brain are visual images. Needless to say, you are always better off including visuals with your sermons, such as still pictures, short movie clips, PowerPoint or some of the great church software that's out there. 

Music ministers have also told me that congregational singing and response increases when the information is on screen instead of just in a bulletin. The physical mention of lifting your head and facing up and front (with the fact that fonts are larger and you don't have to find where you are) opens the larynx, causing us to respond and sing louder. Seniors, who we do not always assume as big advocates of screens and projectors, turn out to be some of the most appreciative of this new technology.

Pastor Mike Slaughter from Ginghamsburg United Methodist in Tipp City, Ohio states a very logical and practical reasoning in his seminars and books. He says, "The more senses you engage in your congregation, the more engaged they are in the service." Makes perfect sense, doesn't it?

Lighting studies also tell us that, as humans, what the brain understands from a speaker is not just the audio, but also our ability to read lips. Funny thing, too, is that we don't ever realize we depend so much on hearing and seeing to comprehend sermons.

That's why it's helpful to broadcast, via a camera, a zoomed-in image of pastor on the big screen. It ends up shrinking the church and puts more people in the front rows.

For the very same reason, we need good, proper lighting to effectively light the faces of the pastors, lecterns, and musicians. Proper lighting would include lighting all areas of the chancel or platforms from both sides, ideally 45 degrees horizontally and vertically for best illumination.

Some folks think a lot of down lights are enough, but they end up causing facial shadows and raccoon eyes. They actually make you look mean, which we obviously do not want to do.

Another critical lighting area in the church that is often forgotten is the area in front of the altar steps and front center aisle. This area is used by wandering pastor, communion, children's church, and, of course, weddings and funerals.

Good lighting can direct and focus your attention, change your mood, and direct the flow of activities.
In closing, I think you can understand how adding one new piece of technology can increase retension from 10% to 16%, adding another takes it from 16% to 24%, and so on. We all believe that just the words coming out of our mouth will be remembered forever. Properly using audio, video, and lighting systems will ensure greater retention of your sermon and make better evangelists of your congregation in the mission field.

Tony Rogalski is a founding partner of Eagle Communication, Inc., www.eaglecommunication.com. Eagle, a contracting firm specializing in church installations, has provided sound, video, lighting and acoustical treatment systems to more than 1,200 churches. 

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Religious Product News