According to Marshall McLuhan, the medium is the message, and utilizing the media can influence the masses in a way that few other mediums can. At ClearBranch United Methodist Church in Trussville, Alabama, under the leadership of Pastor Tommy Gray, the media has enhanced the message in a way that few other methods could. The church is utilizing the latest, state of the art audio/visual equipment to convey its philosophy and reach its congregants in ways that they can relate to.
ClearBranch United Methodist Church is a 1700 member congregation that was founded by Pastor Tommy Gray in 1997 and includes a 1500 seat auditorium. The congregation utilizes contemporary worship including live video and music with a full band.
When it was time to expand the congregation, Pastor Gray, and the leadership of the church, decided that a state-of-the art communications and display system would be put in place, to enhance the worship services and programming capabilities. According to Pastor Gray, “The people who worship here are generally media conscious, and we should be reaching them in a manner that they are comfortable with.” To achieve their objectives, they contracted with MediaMerge, Inc., an Alabama-based media systems integration company. According to Ken McKibben, Director of Technical Ministries for the church, “The wide range of intended uses of the facility made flexibility a requirement. We wanted the audio and video systems to accommodate every creative whim.” He worked with Tim Ogletree, chief engineer at Media Merge who designed the system.
Full Audio/Visual Production Capabilities
The church utilizes the audio/visual system in numerous ways. All sermons are shown on two large screens and are recorded. In addition, other data such as song lyrics and child care information are shown on the screens. According to Pastor Gray, “When a child goes into our day care, a number is assigned to the child. If there is a problem that requires that the parent attend to the child, the child’s number appears in the corner of the screen and alerts the parent to come out. It gives the parents peace of mind while they attend church.” According to Ken McKibben, “The worship services often include PowerPoint and video presentations that provide powerful segues while the stage is being cleared between the music and the message. It’s a great way to use what would ordinarily be down-time during the worship service to support the basic theme of the day’s message.”
One of the video production segments often used is testimonials. Pastor Gray has found that they enhance his service. “Being in the visual age, taping testimonials and doing an introduction to the sermon, effectively tie in the message of the service. It allows people to relate better to the topic”. The church has also begun to videotape various events and present them to the congregation. A recent youth weekend was taped and edited in-house. In addition, the church maintains an extensive library of all of its services on video tape. These are available for congregants who could not attend particular services in person and for shut-ins who cannot attend church at all.
State-of the Art Equipment
The media system was designed by MediaMerge in conjunction with Richard Foo of Turner-Batson, Architects, and Gary C. Wyatt Construction, who built the new structure.
The video system consists of two Sanyo PLC-XP45L, 3500 lumen projectors, two Da-Lite 12′ x20′ rear projection screens, a JVC DV-500 digital video camera, a JVC XVSA-602SL DVD player, a Kramer VP-103 Switcher, two Kramer VP 702SC Scan Converters and two computers for lyrics, notes and PowerPoint presentations. The secondary switching system includes a preview monitor and three monitors on stage. A Strand 300 Series console with Strand CD/80, 48 channel dimmer is used for theatrical stage lighting.
At the heart of the system is an FSR OmniNavigator switcher/processor, which takes the incoming signals and enhances them to match the resolution of the display devices. The Omni-Navigator changes all lower resolution sources to match the resolution of the screens by doing 1:1 digital pixel mapping.
Effects include chroma key and picture in picture. The church uses the chroma key function whenever appropriate. According to Ken McKibben, “It’s simple to create a border in PowerPoint and insert live camera shots into it. During the ‘Let’s Make a Deal’ series, we created an animation of curtains opening in PowerPoint and used the chroma key to super-impose the stage behind it. When it came time to open ‘Curtain #1’, the curtains revealed the live video on stage. It was great”.
Looking Into The Future
ClearBranch is clearly on the cutting edge when it comes to the use of media to convey their message. According to Pastor Gray, “We would like our media capabilities to expand and grow as we do. Eventually, we would like to have a full-time staff person who can constantly produce media presentations for use in our services.” Looking at the way ClearBranch is using video today, their congregants can look forward to bigger and better programming to enhance their already exciting services.