Just as each congregation is unique, each church building specifically reflects the people it houses. The audio/visual technology your church is considering should reflect your church’s unique culture. Your church might have just moved to a new site, or your church has new funds for installing/upgrading new stage lighting, audio, and vision systems. Let’s talk about planning for such an exciting phase of your church and getting the most value out of your funding.
Prepare and budget for proper audio and visual needs from the beginning of the church building process. Churches that don’t consider audio, video, and lighting needs from the very beginning of church planning stages can complicate things in the end.
The best place to begin is by investing time developing a customized plan based on the present and future goals for your church’s audio, visual, and lighting gear. Involve the worship leaders and audio engineers in the decision making process as various options are explored. Collaborate to define your short-term and long-term audio, visual, and lighting goals. Develop a strategy to incrementally add components to enhance the worship service experience for church members. A realistic budget for gear maintenance, upgrades, and training for those using the gear should all be considered before beginning to purchase your equipment.
There are a few areas you might want to consider as you plan for your stage AV and lighting installation or upgrade:
1. Do you own the property or are you renting?
2. Ambient lighting and acoustic condition, shape and clearance height of the space
3. Frequency of use and in-house AV & Lighting technical skills
Owning Vs. Renting
If you own the property or intend to purchase it down the line, it is probably wise to get the infrastructure done right once and for all for your church spaces. This includes investing in sound-proofing, overhead motorized rigging system for lighting and speakers, data from stage to control room, etc. Money spent on these will greatly improve the quality of your AV & lighting experience for the audience as well as welfare and safety for your technical crew members in the long term without the need for update/maintenance for easily 1 to 2 decades. Don’t compromise on the design and quality of such systems due to funding restraints and get this done first as your specific equipment that goes on this system can be added later as more funds become available. It is important that you need speakers, lights, and projectors in the air before you feel like you are in business, However, rushing to put some of these in place without professional advice and sound planning may result in more cost re-designing the layout and system, or stuck with sub-standard setups for many years if no funds are made available.
Renting a church space does not mean you want to compromise on the quality of your audio, visual, and lighting experience. You can be creative and forward-looking while making such plans. Your data run can be temporary and easily removable, or they can be wireless. Your stage could be module decks that can be moved to your new church in the future. You can still suspend motorized truss to hang your stage lights and speakers and all you need is to hire a scissor lift to pull them down and move out without costing much. Most money you spend in this church space can be taken with you to the next.
Ambient lighting and acoustic condition, shape, and clearance height
Your church might be within an industrial warehouse complex, or it could be next to a busy street, or it can be of a difficult shape to work with. The point is, the location and design of the existing buildings might not be ideal for what you plan to use it for. Concrete walls and glass doors cause reflection of sound and too many natural lights during day time will make your carefully planned stage lights useless. Your stage could be a dark spot where lighting will be required even during day time. These are the first things you need to consider to get the foundations correct for your AV & Lighting planning. A meeting within the organization involving key decision-makers and technical crew members should be held to identify the limitations of the space and agree on the solution. External advice from an AV & Lighting supplier can then be invited to confirm or add to what you already have in mind. The solution could include installing drapery curtains, removable acoustic foam panels on existing walls, carpet flooring, and acoustically optimized ceiling designs to improve your acoustic condition. An audio engineer will also be required to design the layout of speakers across space to ensure good quality sound can be delivered to the audience sitting at different locations of the room. Ceiling height, throw distance, and size of the stage will affect the type of lights you choose and their beam angles. LX designers can provide guidance on the specs of lighting fixtures suitable for your stage.
Frequency of use and in-house AV& Lighting technical skills
Good stage AV & Lighting setup together with a few tech-savvy members will play an important role to keep young church members and music lovers engaged as well as attracting new members. It can be a rewarding investment to promote the growth of a church organization as well as adding value to the members’ church experience. If your church has a team of members that can be actively involved in stage and musical performances on a regular basis then a professional AV & stage lighting setup and console system should be considered. Stage lighting is often neglected by most churches as we all need to first spend money on getting clear sound and vision. However, what makes your church different from others is not speakers and projectors because everyone already has them. Stage lighting can substantially improve the quality of your performances, thus improve church members’ experience as well as leaving you with great photos on social platforms. No one can hear your sound, at least not accurately, on Instagram but photos with stage lights will always stand out.
It is probably not hard to find a few experienced AV tech or people who are eager to learn. The question to ask is what is their exact level of expertise, and their level of commitment/availability to be operating the systems in the church. Teamed with a group of music and performing arts lovers, they can create wonders on your stage, if they have the skills, passion, time, and energy.
A good setup does not need to cause you a lot of money. Does a $40,000 line-array system sound so much different to your church members compared to a $20,000 one? Do you need a $10,000 digital console? Is it true that BMWs offer you twice the value as a Hyundai, which costs you half the money? There can be a tendency of going to the top-notch and nothing else is worth considering. There is no harm to demo a few smaller brands with good local warranty support to see and hear the differences. No churches have unlimited funding, so planning on how much to spend on each part of the system requires open-mindedness, value for money, quality-oriented, and forward-looking. Without a sufficient amount of lighting fixtures to work with, having an expensive console is like having a driver with no car. You might think having an expensive console first should be the way to go and you can then add to the lighting fixtures as you go. However, it is fair to say that lighting consoles at different price tags offer you the same exactly digital system but with different numbers of faders/knobs and screens, all of which can be done on your screen. It is just not that convenient. I found a YouTube video while researching on this topic which shows how a church lighting tech creates wonderful lighting shows with just software on a laptop and basic lighting rig with no fancy and expensive lighting desk. The software that he uses is probably not on the list of choices with lighting professionals, which is good proof that one should be open-minded with what is best system and product for your church.
There are also churches that add a few different lighting fixtures once in a few years without a plan to build on an optimized lighting rig. They might have fixed lighting bars that are too high up in the roof with no one wants to go up there anymore. If we don’t have the budget to do everything at once, we can work out a plan to carry these out in phases and having the end picture in mind. Planning is essential to get your church’s AV & lighting systems correct from the beginning. It is definitely a task that can be stressful with so many decisions to make.