Audiovisual Advice from Churches

July 1, 2007
Worship centers and churches have many lessons to share when it comes to setting up an AV system that will be used to facilitate communication

Churches and worship centers around the nation have come to rely on audiovisual technology (speakers, projection screens, lighting, video, broadcasting equipment, etc.) to communicate with their congregations. As church buildings grow larger and attendance increases, these systems are becoming even more central to the mission of the church.

"At the very minimum, AV systems are the means by which people hear messages," says Doug Hood, general manager at Grabill, IN-based CSD Inc. "On the other end of the spectrum, they're used to deliver messages in creative, powerful ways, using today's audio, video, and lighting technologies to reach out to people and communicate in ways never possible before." He emphasizes that correct implementation of an AV system provides the opportunity to convey information with the same level of excellence seen in TV, movies, and concerts.

Whether you're responsible for managing an office building, an educational building, or a convention center, you can steal a few pointers from the experts who have learned how to incorporate these systems to enhance - not overwhelm - the purpose of the building and the message behind these AV systems.

1. Make your AV decisions based not only on cost, but also on the long-term vision of your organization and how AV will be a part of the cause.
Because of the rate by which audiovisual technology is growing, basing your AV decisions on the possible growth of your organization is absolutely vital. "People that make mistakes in the technical systems world make them because they don't think through decisions based upon where they want to be in the long run," says R Bob Adams, church technology consultant and director of technical communications at Ozark, MO-based SLS Loudspeakers. "Know where [you] want to be 5 years or 10 years from today. Every decision in AV that's made today will impact a church for a minimum of 4 to 5 years. The technical world today is changing too fast not to." The same holds true for any type of building.

An example he gives: projection screens. "You can go with a video visual format that is 9x16 (HD) or you can go with a video format that is 3x4 (a standard or television image). Everything in the industry is turning to 9x16," Adams says. "Everything is coming down in price. Why buy a 3x4 screen?" With current technology, you have a choice. Since most churches keep AV equipment until it doesn't work, is worn out, or isn't useful anymore because of changes in technology (as is true for most commercial buildings), it's cost-effective to think about the long-term implications of using this equipment instead of focusing on its initial costs. Some products might be more expensive, but the extra cost is probably worth it.

2. Leave the comfort of your organization and find out what other facilities professionals are doing in the AV world.
Learning all you can about AV equipment doesn't mean checking out applications in buildings just like yours. Adams' advice to FMs in the church world can be applied to any FM: Get out of your world and explore what other building types are doing. "Ask them what they did right, ask them what they did wrong, and ask them who they dealt with."

3. The quality of training offered can be directly correlated to the success of the AV system.
When it comes to training your staff (and building occupants/ tenants) to use AV equipment, think about using a "layered-operation" approach. "You need to have operators of different skill sets," says Adams. In a worship center, he explains that, oftentimes, volunteers are called upon to run AV equipment - but professional service is expected. "Don't pay $150,000 for a sound system and then hand it off." As he points out, making a management error like that is similar to buying a Steinway piano and then just assuming that anyone will be able to come in and play it.

4. Don't buy if you don't know much about the type of product you're buying.
As is true when it comes to the operation of AV equipment, Hood emphasizes that a common mistake in the AV world is having an unqualified person designing, purchasing, and even possibly installing a system with no prior AV experience. "That scenario rarely yields good results." If you don't know much about AV systems, read up and make an effort to learn more. As Adams is quick to remind his clients, keep in mind that the purpose of an AV system is to facilitate communication - not to look glitzy or showy.

5. Establish a sufficient budget so that you don't short-change yourself.
As Hood points out, facilities professionals seem to have things figured out when it comes to more common types of products (a roof, for example), but have no idea what it will cost to deliver excellence from an AV system. "Plan for an adequate budget. A qualified consultant can help." You might have to come to terms with the fact that you're not very familiar with the AV world. That's okay, as long as you have help.

6. Think before you install or move large pieces of equipment.
Are peripherals (microphones, speakers, etc.) in the way? Confirm that, no matter where you sit or stand, people will be able to clearly see the screens and monitors. If they can't see, your AV system isn't serving its purpose.

Also, keep in mind other factors in the room while installing and moving audiovisual equipment around. The more light the room has from other sources (windows, overhead lighting, etc.), for example, the more lumens your projector will need to ensure that the images can still be seen. Make sure that the room's setting is not only conducive to using AV equipment, but also appropriate for the people in the room who might be taking notes, trying to see a presenter at the front of the room, etc.

Leah B. Garris ([email protected]) is senior associate editor at Buildings magazine.

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