Audio at Southeast Christian: The Rest of the Story

In Uncategorizedby tfwm

There’s more to ministry than Sunday worship. Growing, thriving churches tend to be those that support their worship with vital ministries of education, recreation and youth activities. So again it comes as no surprise that Southeast (reportedly America’s fastest growing church) has given a high priority to providing best in audio technology to serve these programs as well.

From the outset, Southeast’s leadership stressed the key importance of audio/video systems in the overall vision for the new church.

Accordingly, the highly regarded consulting firm of Michael Garrison Associates (MGA) was contracted to work directly with church staff on design and installation of all audio, video and production lighting systems. MGA took full charge of the main worship center requirements, with the Education Wing and Youth and Activities Center (YAC) systems subcontracted to Don Wesner of Audio Analysts in Georgetown, Kentucky.

Audio for Education
Wesner first tackled the audio system for Southeast’s 165,000 square foot Education Wing, located adjacent to the Worship Center on the expansive 100-acre church campus. The basic needs here were simple enough: high speech intelligibility and high fidelity music reproduction in every room, plus built-in flexibility to accommodate a wide variety of classes and activities.

Speaker selection proved a key element in ensuring the best sound quality. Thanks to the impressive scope of the project, Wesner and MGA were able to enlist the cooperation of several speaker manufacturers in setting up blind comparison tests. Speakers in different categories were available for audition on each occasion, with key ministry staff persons on hand to express their preferences. A total of 109 JBL Control 26CT ceiling speakers were eventually installed in the classrooms and corridors, with wall-mounted Control 28 and Marquis MS28 speakers selected as the main speakers for the 250-capacity pre-school and elementary assembly rooms.

Because the assembly rooms are quite long (about 80 feet), satellite speakers were installed to fill in sound at the rear, with the signal delayed in reference to the main front speakers for maximum intelligibility throughout the room. For bass reinforcement (essential for today’s children’s music) the preschool room utilizes ceiling mounted Control 19CS subwoofers, while the elementary room recycles a Toa floor subwoofer brought over from the old facility.

To handle microphone mixing, signal processing and room dividing/combining, Wesner specified new programmable digital units from Allen & Heath, the DR66 and DR128. “We use these units extensively, both in the Education Wing and over in the Youth and Activities Center,” says Wesner. “Basically, you can custom design each unit by hooking it to your PC and using custom Windows software to assign microphone levels, equalize different output signals, limit output levels, or whatever you want. You can also determine which functions can be accessed from the front panel, and then password protect those you don’t want anybody to mess with. It’s a real step forward for systems like this.”

Four of these digital mixers are used for mixing, combining and splitting both microphone inputs and speaker outputs in the “six-plex”; six classrooms that can be combined or separated as needed by moveable walls. “The Allen & Heath units have proven very user friendly,” says Bobby Bowman, staff A/V technician for the building. “I drew up a simple diagram and posted it for non-technical people, showing the possible combinations. All they have to do is push the buttons shown, and they get the right microphone inputs going to all the right rooms and at just the right levels. It’s working out very well.”

Where the Action Is
It’s a mall food court. It’s a gymnasium with two full-sized basketball courts and 1/8-mile overhead running track. It’s a fitness club, complete with two aerobics rooms, weight room and racquetball courts. It’s a child care center. It’s a (contemporary Christian) rock concert hall. What is it? It’s Southeast’s Youth and Activities Center, known fondly as “the yak.”

High quality sound is heard everywhere, with more than 100 high performance loudspeakers installed around the building. There was a considerable acoustical challenge when outfitting the gymnasium. “It’s not a very forgiving room since there is no acoustic treatment.” says David Kennedy. “We put four JBL Sp212 cabinets in a cluster for 360 degree coverage, with a cluster centered over each of the two courts.”
Once again, MGA and Wesner relied on the Allen & Heath digital units for most mixing and processing chores throughout the building. The two aerobics rooms have their own music sources courtesy of local Denon tape/CD players, but most other rooms receive a music feed from the central control room. The original source is usually a contemporary Christian or gospel program taken off the church’s Muzak satellite system, which was installed for both convenience and to take care of all music copyright issues.

Youth Auditorium
The primary challenge in the Youth Auditorium was creating a state-of-the-art, concert quality system using a combination of old and new components. Budget restrictions didn’t allow for an all-new system, but the Senior High Ministry had inherited a veteran system composed mainly of EAW KEF 600 speakers and Ashly Audio amplifiers. The existing system would not be sufficiently powerful for the larger new room, so auditions were held to evaluate additional new speakers.

The final choice was JBL’s Venue Series 3215 cabinets. reportedly favored because of mid-high projection that provided exceptional vocal clarity and intimacy. Three of the cabinets handle lead vocals and non-musical speaking from a mono console feed, while the existing EAW system receives a stereo instrumental feed. Following some painstaking adjustments by MGA staff, the system is now playing to a enthusiastic packed house of 1100 high schoolers every Sunday.

“The sound has plenty of punch and a great high end,” says Todd Clark of the church’s Senior High Ministry. “The system can do anything, from a speaker almost whispering to make a point right up to full rocking concert. You almost feel you paid twenty bucks to get in, because it’s really kickin’.”

Sound Leadership
This overview covers only a portion of the many-faceted audio systems at Southeast Christian. And there likely will be more leading-edge developments in the future. For example, networking cards are now available for the Allen & Heath digital mixers that will allow church-wide reprogramming and real time control from a single, centrally located computer. “They don’t really have a need for that yet,” notes Wesner, “but it’s nice to know they can go in that direction without replacing all their current hardware.”

Each year Southeast Christian sponsors a leadership conference which draws ministers and lay leaders from throughout the country. This year, with the new facility now fully operational, these leaders will witness a number of ways audio technology can empower important ministries outside of worship; seven days a week, all year long.