After a church spends many years crammed into a space that only seats one tenth of its congregation, its leaders will generally go the extra mile to make sure that their next church home is both comfortable from the start, and offers room to grow for the future. This is what Abundant Life Christian Fellowship of Mountain View, California demonstrated when they undertook an expansive project to convert a dormant, high-tech factory into a modern sanctuary fit for their growing community.
Led by Pastor Paul Sheppard, the Abundant Life Christian Fellowship is a booming young congregationgrowing quickly from just 300 members in 1995, to more than 3000 by 2004. This expansive growth was hindered only by a facility that simply could not accommodate any more than just a few hundred people at any one time. “Our old building lacked space and parking for even the most basic church functions like choir rehearsal, youth sessions and Bible study,” recalled Archelle Funnie, an elder of ALCF. “The fact that we worked around these limitations – and we were still growing – speaks volumes about the passion and energy of our members and leadership. Nonetheless, we weren’t able to do half the ministry and outreach that we wanted.”
The church spent years looking for a larger facility, but the notoriously expensive and congested San Francisco Bay Area severely limited the options. “It’s hard enough to buy single family real estate in this community, let alone the kind of space we needed for our church,” said Funnie. “We couldn’t afford to buy, but a long-term lease was within our means. However, in an era when real estate prices and rents are skyrocketing, very few landowners want to sign a long-term lease with a non-profit organization.”
Luckily, ALCF found a newly vacated manufacturing facility owned by a family who liked the idea of renting to a church. But it took real creativity an imagination to view the cold industrial space as a truly modern worship facility. The room was a narrow, rectangular box with cement floors and concrete walls. The main floor had 23-foot ceilings throughout most of the space, while a mezzanine of factory office space extended the length of one long wall.
While its transformation into a sanctuary may have been hard to visualize, the affordable ten-year lease was ALCF’s best solution. “We were ready to do what it took to make this space our home,” Funnie said. “After all the growing pains, we couldn’t afford to waste a couple of years tolerating major problems in our new space, so we were committed to doing the job right – and doing the job once.”
Solving the Sanctuary’s Audio
Renovation plans involved building a sanctuary on the main level with a trapezoidal seating area 228 feet wide by 84 feet deep, and a balcony area of four rows deep by 44 feet wide on the mezzanine, to provide seating for 2200. The non-sanctuary main floor was parceled into spaces like a fellowship hall, a cry room, a chapel, and four large children’s classrooms. Upstairs, a multipurpose “Gen X” room was planned for youth activities, along with meeting rooms and offices.
The wide, shallow shape of the sanctuary – combined with the use of a balcony and high, exposed-beam ceilings – created a number of audio challenges that led the church to seek out the expertise of San Francisco-based acoustical consulting firm Charles M. Salter Associates. According to Principal Consultant Tom Corbett, “The width and shape of the seating area made our loudspeaker selection a central challenge in the success of the audio system. We needed precise horizontal pattern control from a line array in order to achieve uniform coverage.”
But Corbett quickly identified the right loudspeaker solution. “I’d heard a demo of EAW’s KF730 line array, and was highly impressed with the clarity, lateral coverage, and adjustable dispersion length – which is especially useful for ALCF’s wide, shallow seating area.”
Once the Salter team designed the sanctuary sound system specifications around the KF730s, the church put out a call for bids and found San Jose, California-based Zamar Sound. With extensive experience designing and installing EAW’s KF730 system, Zamar founder Mike Dow continued the design process while circumventing a new challenge: other contractors had installed the HVAC system centrally over the platform, right where the KF730 array should ideally be flown.
“The structural engineers flat-out told us not to hang any more weight on the existing ceiling structure, so we had to work with a dual left-right cluster configuration with 75 feet of separation. The wide separation was filled with EAW UB52 stair speakers as mid fills,” Dow said. “With a ceiling height of 23 feet, we could only hang one SB730 subwoofer at each cluster, but since I knew the church was going to want more impact at the low end, we put four additional SB1000 subs on the platform.”
Two EAW MK4164s offer side fills, and seven additional UB52s serve as under-balcony and balcony fills. Powering the speakers are four Crown I Tech 8000 and three 6000 power amps for the mains. A Crown CTS 3000 drives the side fill and front fills, while a Crown I Tech 4000 powers the under-balcony speakers. A BSS SoundWeb 9088ii speaker control system offers processing for all but the mains, which use EAW’s MX8750 Digital Electronic Processor. A Soundcraft MH4 48-channel console serves as the heart of the audio system.
“The sound projects clearly and evenly all the way to the edges of the room, without blowing out the people at the back or directly in front of the clusters,” Dow noted. “Despite being flown behind the front edge of the platform, there is no feedback from the stage mics.”
The Sound of Silence
If achieving great sound was the team’s first challenge, achieving silence was the next. First, church leaders particularly wanted to minimize sound bleeding between rooms. “To ensure that as many of our ministries could use the space comfortably at the same time, we needed to make sure that no one group’s activities would disturb another – such as the Gen X room competing with choir practice or Bible study,” Funnie said.
To control the room acoustics, acoustical engineer Jason Duty from Charles M. Salter Associates specified isolation solutions including insulation and appropriate barriers as well as wall shaping, Ventwood and acoustical paneling. The clear directionality of the speakers, combined with the ability to control the coverage pattern, worked in tandem with the room construction to virtually eliminate bleed-through between rooms.
Then, midway through the renovation, the local fire marshal took sound control a few steps further by insisting that all sound reinforcement systems shut down immediately in an emergency situation – and the church had no choice but to comply with the new requirement.
“Some of the high-profile nightclub fires around the country seem to have prompted civic authorities to step up their building requirements concerning emergency plans,” Dow noted. “In ALCF’s case, the fire marshal’s goal was to ensure that everyone throughout the building could hear an alarm clearly, without competition from the sound reinforcement system. We needed a system that would automatically shut down all the speakers and projectors in an emergency, and stay off until the alarm was officially cleared.”
In light of the last minute development, Dow engineered an innovative solution using the BSS SoundWeb speaker control software and a CUE LCD touchscreen installed in the main sound booth. “We integrated all of the media systems into the SoundWeb with the LCD interface that allows an operator to control all the sound and video systems. In an emergency, this control system will automatically mute the sound system and blank the projectors. Per the fire marshal’s specifications, no human intervention will bring the systems back up until the alarm is officially cleared,” Dow said.
Expertise, Collaboration and Commitment
When ALCF opened its doors at the former warehouse in 2004, the members gave thanks for their comfortable new facility. “Our entire church community was thrilled not only to finally have to accommodate our services, but they were also pleased with the state-of-the-art look and feel of the new building,” Funnie said.
“The church looks and sounds like a modern, inviting place of worship, and we never would have been able to achieve this without the expertise of Charles Salter Associates and Zamar Sound. We were extremely impressed with their collaboration during a project that had several unexpected shifts, and the results speak for themselves.”
Between its dedicated parking lot and a 2200 seat facility, the church finally has the space to achieve its goals. “We’re starting to do exciting things with seminars and workshops, women’s conferences, children’s ministry, prison outreach and so much more,” he continued.
“What’s amazing is how we can have such powerful, uplifting sound in the sanctuary, and you don’t hear a thing once you step out of the room. By staying focused on doing it right the first time – and working with the experts who know the best solutions – we’re able to make the most of every year we’re in the space. And that’s what God’s message deserves.”