Every organization that has been around for a while faces the push to “modernize” or “update.” Nowhere is this truer than in religious institutions. Times and preferences change, existing parishioners get older and younger generations have different tastes and expectations. To reach this new generation, houses of worship often seek to find ways to address modern tastes while retaining the integrity of their existing institution.
So how do you pull off this transition effectively? There is actually a lot that goes into creating a more “modern” or “contemporary” feel in a church that has been around for a number of years. You must have a good idea of what the new feel for your services should be and what you want to accomplish with the transition. Then, you must get the congregation behind the idea, as their support is the key to the initiative’s effectiveness. Finally, you need to execute the plan, ensuring that all pieces, especially the technology, come together to meet the goals you set.
Any such modernization plan typically involves updating the audio, video and lighting in the building, but how do you determine what changes are necessary? It’s important to have the right technology to accomplish your new goals without alienating your existing congregation. So how do you get the right mix of technology?
The first step is assessing exactly what you want to accomplish. This greatly affects the technology mix you select. For instance, are you looking to shift your music style completely to more modern music, or are you looking for a blended service? Do you have multiple service times for traditional and contemporary feelings? Will you have a choir or orchestra in any of your services or only a few singers with modern instruments? Depending on what you want, you may need different technologies.
No matter what you are specifically looking for, one of the first things you need to consider is the sound pressure level (or SPL) that your sound system puts out. The sound system’s SPL is essentially the “perceived loudness” of the system and is what we measure when we talk about the decibels of a sound system. Depending on the musical style of your modern service, you may want a higher SPL for your service.
According to Crown’s guide “How Much Amplifier Power Do I Need?”, the typical SPL for folk music is 75–90 dB, whereas pop music is 90–95 dB and rock is 95–110 dB. Of course, classical music is typically around 100 dB, so depending on what music characterizes your existing services, your current system may be loud enough, though you may want more bass support. Increasing the SPL and bass support may mean larger speakers, or it may simply require more speakers and more amplifier wattage.
Another thing you need to consider is your soundboard. Modern music often requires more inputs than a traditional service (like SPL, your mileage may vary depending on your application). As well, modern music performances often require mixes that are more complex. The ability to store and recall scenes an important feature when there are complex mixes, and it is also extremely helpful if you have two different service types. You can have different scenes stored for your modern and traditional services, making it simple to recall the right mix for the right service. Modern music also often benefits from the increased digital effect options built into modern digital consoles.
You may already be considering video as part of your modern update. However, it’s important to consider not only your near-term plans, but also your potential plans going forward. For example, your church might want to stream services online at some point in the future as a means to either further your outreach, minister to homebound members or for later viewing by those who miss a service. If so, you should design your video system with enough flexibility to allow that eventuality. It is much easier to account for the possibility of video streaming now than to completely retrofit your video system later.
Finally, you may also want to consider lighting. Having performance lighting in the space can go a long way to modernizing the feeling of a house of worship. However, the mix of lighting you implement depends again on what you want to accomplish. While you may want to add moving heads and other lighting effects to provide dynamic scenes in your building, another option would be to add fixed LED multi-color PAR lights that can provide some color and vibrancy to a space without a lot of cost or complexity.
Ultimately, updating an established church is a very personal project. No single set of technology is right for every church or every situation. For a system to be the right system, the church should work with the manufacturers and integrators to get the right blend of products that best serve their specific needs.
Have experience moving updating AV in an established church? Let us know what worked for you in the comments.