1000 Paper Cuts: Church AVL Technology Can Fall Short
by Ken McKibben, on Sep 16, 2013 8:12:03 AM
At MediaMerge, we spend a lot of time in churches. From traditional to modern and everything in between, we've just about seen it all. Most of the time that knowledge is a blessing, equipping our team with a vast arsenal of experience that drives our creative approach. At other times, though, it can be downright heartbreaking.
How Church AV Technology Fails Happen
There's no counting how many situations we have encountered where a church's investment in technology was not only failing to enhance worship, but was downright distracting. In some instances it results from a lack of quality resources, but more often than not these failures are the result of poor application or basic operation rather than faulty equipment. Just like other forms of art, having the tools is simply not enough when it comes to worship technology. If we view running sound, video and lighting as an art form, which it is, then we should make an effort to approach it with the same measure of excellence that we demand in other areas of worship. Very few would consider inviting a musician to the platform without some proven level of mastery of their instrument, so we should be similarly mindful of the tendency to send our media volunteers into the booth unequipped for the task at hand. Musicians often audition for positions on the praise team, but all too often we don't hesitate to throw a completely inexperienced, non-technical volunteer into the trenches just because they'll show up.
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Worship presentation technology is a unique creature comprised of multiple disciplines, each fraught with opportunities to negatively affect the next. While any one of these shortcomings might not completely derail worship, their sum total can often add up with surprising force. The result is a sort of death by 1000 paper cuts, whereby technologies that are intended to enhance worship create a series of tiny disconnects that can, in extreme cases, become a major distraction.
Practical Examples of Church AVL Technology Paper Cuts
Lighting - We recently visited several client sites with lighting issues that could be easily remedied. In one instance a client had installed eight moving-head intelligent lights on the front lighting position. By just moving some of the fixtures to an upstage batten, the quality of the presentation was improved ten-fold. They had installed the instruments themselves and just didn't know any better. At another church we walked into a sanctuary in which the architecture was lit creatively with color on the walls and accents around the stage. High above the platform, an enormous cross hung from the roof structure... silhouetted and in the dark. The simple application of a single light brought the most important architectural element in the room clearly into focus, and improved the environment dramatically. The client remarked that they couldn't believe they had missed something so simple, but it took an outside perspective to see what they were missing.
Video -There are a number of issues related to video that are prevalent in the church world. From screens that just aren't bright enough to the blank gap around an image that isn't aligned correctly on screen, projection issues are all too common. Introduce a camera into the equation, and things can go downhill fast. I remember walking into a tiny church that was projecting images of the pastor that were smaller than the pastor actually was in person. Not only that, the latency of the projected image was so high, it was almost impossible to pay attention to what he was saying. Add in the constant barrage of "audience shots" being projected on the main screens, and paying attention almost seemed like sport. In the world of worship technology, the question "Why?" should always precede "How?" and "Can we?" Doing less (correctly) is often more effective than doing more (incorrectly).
Sound - There's nothing in the world that can derail a worship service like a sound system failure. System operators can unleash feedback, buzz and hum on an audience in the blink of an eye. On the other end of the spectrum, a muted microphone can completely disrupt the flow of worship. While these are probably the most common issues in worship, the good news is that they are the easiest to correct with training and proper system setup.
With the state of technology today, expectations are understandably higher than ever. There's no excuse for feedback or noise in modern audio systems, and proper loudspeaker coverage is easily attainable for any church working with a reputable integrator. On a recent site visit, we were shocked at how much of the church's seating area was completely out of the coverage of the loudspeakers. When we brought it to the attention of our client, they suggested that the system was fine and that at least 80% of the congregation had "good" sound. They were shocked when we suggested that the low-cost solution was to remove the first three rows of pews, but in essence, that's what was already happening because no one in those seats was within the coverage of the system. While 80% coverage might seem like a high number, the 20% of the people in the congregation that couldn't hear what was said every Sunday probably felt differently about the quality of the presentation.
What Can Those in Leadership Do?
- Honestly evaluate your team's abilities and resources
- Get the right tools and training for your team
- Set realistic expectations for your equipment and your team
- Define production values clearly
- Formally review your team's performance on a regular basis
Getting an Honest Appraisal of Your AVL Resources & Abilities
In order to effectively determine your tech team's strengths and weaknesses, it's prudent to seek wise counsel. The truth is that if you could identify and correct your problems internally, you probably would have solved them by now. There are two convenient channels for input that are available to pretty much every church leader:
Consult Other Churches - It's relatively safe to assume that other like-minded churches may have experienced the same type of issues you are facing. A view from the outside can often reveal flaws that can't be so easily seen from within. Invite leaders from other churches into your world to see if they can spot any flaws in your approach. Listen to what they have to say about how they've dealt with similar issues.
Consult a Professional - A qualified media systems integrator, like MediaMerge, can evaluate your situation and offer insights that may not be immediately obvious to you or your team. We've experienced a vast array of presentation challenges, and we've learned a thing or two about executing exceptional presentations with volunteer staff and limited resources. We would love the opportunity to learn more about what you're doing and to see if there is a way that we can help you avoid the paper cuts along the way.