By Warren Osse
For many years, traditional churches were built with the goal of reinforcing natural speech. But as audiovisual (AV) technology has advanced, modern churches are being created with more auditorium and presentation-centric technology to aid both attendees and the worship leaders in the delivery of the message.
In today’s contemporary worship service, AV technology is a fundamental part of the experience for services in houses of worship that are both newly built or have been around for hundreds of years.
However, historical sites face a number of challenges when it comes to updating AV technology. These worship spaces have identified the ability to present critical information and communicate effectively to parishioners as essential to success.
As a result, AV integrators must become experts in retrofitting technology to fit the size and scope of a congregation’s needs. Complicated old structures were not typically designed to communicate important news, cater to the hard-of-hearing or highlight hymns being sung, but these elements are paramount when considering the modern attendee.
The tools needed to work within retrofitted spaces, as well as new builds, tend to be completely different and call on a high level of expertise. AV integrators are tasked with figuring out how to do this in spaces that are expansive without compromising on a building’s overall character. This often involves various elements.
Combining Multiple Spaces
Whether you’re retrofitting a space or are involved from the design phase of a new build, there are multiple rooms to be considered that have to be outfitted with cohesive AV technology. In older churches, there may be a cry room, fellowship hall or even a nursery that need to be connected, requiring a significant amount of AV integration to be successful. Transitioning to more digital-based technology with the help of an AV integrator enables churches to realize a significant shift in the functionality of a space, as well as the possibility of managing multiple systems in a streamlined way.
Large churches — and even smaller, more intimate facilities — require the ability to communicate with the congregation. The trend toward projecting hymns or worship songs has been around a while, but now these churches want to take this even further and stream videos, communicate announcements and easily transmit important information. While projectors have long been popular in this space, there’s a marked shift toward LED displays that offer more flexibility and clarity. Direct view LED is also brighter and becoming more affordable as the technology advances, making it a viable option for these facilities to incorporate into their AV technology investment or upgrades.
Streaming Live Services
For different reasons and needs, all generations are demanding live streaming of worship services via the Internet, which is made possible with AV technology. For many churches, there has been a significant drop in attendance, and many are actively recruiting attendees from a younger generation — one that grew up using video conferencing and streaming services — which makes live streaming that much more appealing for these services. Older or challenged members of the congregation may not be able to attend services or are shut-in and streaming is the new way to let them participate. Live streaming can help increase the reach of the organization and the message being conveyed, as well as enhance brand awareness.
For so many years, AV technology has been managed through someone (or a group of people) who sit in the back in a sound booth and control the various pieces of the AV puzzle. However, with the rise of networked AV equipment, everything is Ethernet/LAN-based, so now not only can a camera and audio system be on the network, but mics and sound control can also be managed remotely by someone sitting with an iPad or laptop from anywhere on the premises. Gone are the days when troubleshooting meant physically being present; instead, the connected nature of the world in which we live gives rise to flexible, more manageable solutions.
Enhanced Listening Systems
For many congregations, aging attendees are often discouraged by being unable to hear the message clearly, which has given rise to the investment in assisted listening systems. While these are a trend in themselves, this market has grown significantly to include bring-your-own-devices (BYOD) protocols that allow attendees to use their Android or Apple phones to tune into a web-based channel to listen to the service through their own devices, such as headphones or hearing aids. This saves facilities from having to dispense devices or adhere to strict cleanliness protocols by eliminating the need for additional equipment that might also have to be kept up.
Emergency Awareness and Response
We would be remiss to ignore that there are a number of churches that have proactively assessed their risk in the current climate, leading toward the identification of ways in which they can make their facilities safer. Many of these forward-thinking churches are finding solutions that can help communicate potential emergencies and instructions to follow, such as digital signage or emergency response messaging through the congregation’s mobile phones. These systems can work together through an interconnected platform that pushes notifications to devices, announces next steps in enhanced listening systems and displays messages across an LED screen, ensuring people have the information they need.
Building Management Systems
Part of a wider trend across enterprises, the rise in building management software is making its way toward the houses of worship market as these organizations aim to streamline energy usage and identify areas for improvement with regard to building occupancy and usage.
AV and security-related technology, such as access control and video management solutions, are now interfacing with software that is part of the overall ecosystem of a facility. These building management systems can identify areas in a facility that have a large number of occupants (or no occupants) and automatically adjust heating and cooling settings to help save energy. These systems can also work well with AV technology, turning on screens and communication devices as a room is accessed from a centralized dashboard.
Monitoring the Health of AV Systems
A major trend sweeping the houses of worship market within AV centers around the term “managed services,” which means AV technology is monitored and kept up-to-date and in working order by an outside party that can troubleshoot and address issues in real time. Touted as the future of the industry, managed services that encompass the ability to remotely monitor systems, set up automatic alerts and action items in the event of a device that has fallen offline, and proactively communicate to users about the health of their system are revolutionizing the way AV technology is used and monitored.
Today’s modern worship centers, churches and contemporary auditoriums that house congregations for religious purposes are all different and yet bonded by the single idea of a community-minded spirit.
In this same vein, churches must look for ways to nurture the relationships built within the walls of a church in an effort to meet the needs of a changing demographic. This can be done by identifying technology that can be used to enhance communication, engage new attendees and streamline management of systems — all of which are trends to watch in this space.
Warren Osse is applications engineer at Vistacom, www.vistacominc.com. Over the past 65 years, Vistacom has grown from a small family-owned business to one of the premier audiovisual integration firms in the United States today.