Digital technology has changed the way we do just about everything. It has made a considerable transformation in how we communicate. From MTV to the Internet, digital technology has provided tools to allow expression that was once only available to one’s own minds eye.
Today, technology has provided tools to extract these images and thoughts to others. This is exciting, but it requires a massive change in the way the Christian community communicates to each other, to others in the areas of outreach, and in worship. The foundation of this change is designing and implementing a digital infrastructure to deal with all of the emerging technologies.
Audio, video, lighting, data, security, phones, and even heating and air conditioning is going (if not already there) to a digital format. Many if not all of these technologies are merging together, requiring a means to communicate with each other, or they will become inter-operable.
A little history
In fairly recent history, lecture tours were an important part of our social culture. These provided a means of sharing ideas, education, and even entertainment before radio and TV. This is the basis of the current structure of our “traditional” worship service. While this structure was contemporary in its day, it is not the way we should be communicating the Christian message today.
After the turn of the last century, around the twenties, new technologies came that changed all of this, RF or radio, and motion picture added a new way to communicate and entertain. Those who embraced it, commanded and influenced a new audience.
Today, networks are going to become the tools of the day and of the future. We have already seen a great deal with the Internet. However, this is really only the beginning of things to come. As these network technologies get more popular and use up the available resources known as bandwidth, newer technologies and systems will come along to meet the growing demand.
LAN (Local Area Networks) provide a means to get information around within a building. Churches, as well as businesses, are going to be required to connect and interact with other networks via WAN (wide area networks), and GANs- (Global Area Networks) which the world wide web could be considered a member of.
As more and more people get connected, security and privacy become an issue. Quality of Service (QoS) or guaranteed delivery of data in audio and video applications becomes a concern. All of these issues are concerns that outreach-minded churches are faced with today.
These issues can be addressed by creating a technology plan. This will include a path, describing the technology goals, an implementation path and timeline. An upgrade path must also be included in this part of the plan. Once you start to use technology you have to make sure you keep up, and to do this cost-effectively, you need a plan and a path.
Technology Management is another area to consider. Technical talent will need to be recruited, hired or both. The technology plan defines the physical skills and spiritual gifts required to operate and maintain the technology. Besides the obvious technical talent, many overlook the creative talent required to make a technology plan work to its fullest potential. Like the technical talent, this needs to be fully defined.
Leadership or mentors need to be developed and established in each area, as well as overall leadership for the entire technology plan. These leaders need to define how they are going to develop other people’s talents and get the most from the technology ministry.
When it deals with the fast changing area of technology, it is vital that you have an ongoing training program.
Now that we have given an outline of a technology plan, there are several things you need to do before you begin creating one.
First, you need to define your worship, administration, management, and outreach goals for today and tomorrow. After these goals are defined you have the basis of understanding what your technology requirements will be for the next several years.
Next, you need to write a detailed description of your current state of affairs. What are you currently using for office equipment, audio, video, security, and HVAC? What is good and what is bad? Be sure that you are describing functionally and not the equipment you would like to use at this point.
For example, if you asked many audio folks what they like and dislike, they may tell you that they don’t like the board they are using, and want a new one. The bottom line: is it functional, if not, why?
Once this is completed you will have the basis to start creating a technology plan. A media specialist that specializes in church or worship technology should then be consulted to ensure that the plan is created properly and that the technologies will be cost-effective and inter-operable.
The first step is the infrastructure
Audio, video, data, and communications technologies are soon to be a single entity. The key to all of this is building an infrastructure for internal needs and external needs via the Internet or VPN (Virtual Private Networks). Although we are talking about technologies that will be emerging over the next five years, a plan needs to be laid out and implemented to align with this emergence.
Currently, the internal infrastructure needs to be implemented with CAT 5. CAT 5 or Category 5 is a type of cable that provides a means of cost effectively building this infrastructure and getting the technologies to merge. Data was the first to use this technology and now audio is using this technology for a more flexible and cost-effective way of processing and routing audio.
NorthPark Church in Meridian, Mississippi is a fast growing and forward-thinking church. NorthPark has great vision. From this vision a plan was developed to use technology to it’s fullest. The plan took into consideration all of the current and future mass media technologies required to communicate the message of Christ in a way that would be accepted and understood by today’s society/culture.
Included in this plan are the following technologies to be used in communicating internally and externally, and for worship.
o Video projection
o 2D/3D graphic generation
o Presentation software
o Video editing including DVE (Digital Video Effects)
o Future Video Conferencing across the Internet
o Future distribution through entire facility and beyond
o Future “Distance Learning”
o Audio for sound reinforcement
o Audio production
o Lighting to enhance worship and special presentations
A digital approach was selected to provide all of the above requirements. Using a digital approach provides the following advantages.
o Easier for non-technical users
o Ability to change system functionality with little or no cost
o Ability to automate all functions
o Ability to provide a sound system at any location in the facility
o Reduced labor cost during initial installation
o Greatly reduce cable cost
o Lowers maintenance cost
o Simplifies troubleshooting
o Decreases cost of additional building phases
o Provides added security for unauthorized users
The first step in creating inter-operability is to have a well-designed infrastructure. The NorthPark infrastructure was designed using Ethernet and other CAT 5 technologies. Not only is it more flexible and scaleable, but it was also less expensive to install and maintain.
The goal is to use this infrastructure for Audio, Video, Lighting, Fire/Security, Data and Telephony. The Audio and Video were the first to be implemented.
The Audio system
The heart of this system is a Peavey MediaMatrix using CobraNet, a technology that allows 64 channels of uncompressed audio to be transmitted down standard data hardware. The MediaMatrix does all of the mixing, EQ, Crossovers, delays and any other audio processing required. The sound operators mix with a mouse connected to a PC that is networked to the system located in a remote equipment room. Control information and audio is transmitted around the facility on CAT 5 cable using standard computer networking technology.
There were reservations from the operators on the idea of mixing with a mouse. The sound team, like at most churches, varied in age and technological understanding. However, once installed it was well received. The system created a new level of interest in younger members, creating a larger pool of individuals to run the sound.
The Video System
The heart of NorthPark’s video system is a M3Tools Video System DC50 Capture Card using Premier 5.1, and AfterEffects software. Graphics are created mostly in Photoshop for both PowerPoint and video presentations.
As stated earlier, the goal of the infrastructure was to provide the ability of sharing data, whether it is audio, video or information. It can be created and stored on a network, making it easier for multiple people to be working on a project at the same time. In addition, it provides a means for all of the audio, video and other data to be compiled for a service or presentation at a later time. The video is transmitted from the production location to the projector at the opposite end of the facility using new In-Line devices allowing high-resolution (1024-768) video to be transmitted on CAT 5 for hundreds of feet away.
The Lighting system
The lighting system goals are the following.
o Easy to use lighting console with presets (including timed sequences/scenes)
o Provides the power for extensive production requirements
o Provides the ability for cost effective expansion
o Provides extensive colors and intensities
o Eliminates the need for two production lighting systems
o Can be used off-site for special productions
Although the lighting system is a digitally controlled system it is currently not on the network. As part of the technology plan this will be added in the near future.
NorthPark has a plan to implement all of these technologies on the network over the next several years. The goal will be complete when a member can access information such as Sunday School lesson material, life application guides, and newsletters, music, informational videos etc; all on demand via the Intranet/Internet.
An infrastructure like this would not be any good without also having a plan to create and manage the content. You need to have people engaged in using the technology. It takes a vast team of lay people to make this work. A technology plan that includes a technology path, technology management including technical, creative and administrative talents and leadership/training has to be designed and implemented. If you like the concepts described and would like more information, you can contact NorthPark Church at firstname.lastname@example.org or myself at BEHnMS@aol.com