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Fellowship Church of Grapevine, Texas

At the Inspiration Technology Conference this year in Cincinnati, Ohio, I had the privilege of addressing a group of churches in a seminar entitled “Duplication Ministry: Taking it to the Next Level”. In the brief moments before the seminar began, I asked a few questions of the group, and I was surprised at what I learned.

The majority of the churches attending currently had a cassette ministry in place, but only a handful had ventured beyond cassettes to the disc. Of course, all of them had an interest in adding on CD or DVD capability in the near future; that’s why they came. And since most churches report at least 2 to 1 or 3 to 1 sales of CDs over cassettes, it’s good that they did.

Earlier this year at the NAB show in Las Vegas, Nevada, I met up with Randal Taylor, Senior Producer at Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas. He was kind enough to share some insight into what his church has done to meet the demands of their duplication ministry.

Fellowship Church has set a high standard for what they want to accomplish in their duplication ministry. “We had a desire to have CDs, encoded with a message outline, after every weekend service. Our pastor, Ed Young, also wanted to offer DVDs of the weekend services. With these two goals in mind our objective is to have as many cassettes, DVDs, CDs, and VHS in the bookstore and at remote locations throughout the church within 15 minutes after Pastor Ed Young finishes speaking. We’re going to have quick turn-around to where when people are walking out; we have sermon product available.”

This is an impressive feat for a church with as much going on as Fellowship has. “We have five identical services on the weekend – two on Saturday, three on Sunday morning. After the first service on Saturday we duplicate some of the cassettes, CDs, DVDs, and VHS so that we can have product in the bookstore and remote locations after the first service. After the 6:30pm service on Saturday we duplicate the rest of cassettes, CDs, DVDs and VHS for the rest of the weekend. We do this because our services are all identical for the entire weekend.” On the typical weekend they produce 75 cassettes, 125 CDs, 50 DVDs and 10 VHS.

“Then there are the weekends in which a teaching series ends. We still do the normal quantity of cassettes, CDs, DVDs, and VHS for that weekend, but we also take the first three weekends and bundle it into a four message box set, so that when you leave the service you have a choice of that weekend’s message or purchasing the entire sermon series.

In order to accomplish the aggressive duplication demands, our volunteers have to prep all of the boxed sets before the weekend services on Saturday, so that everything is ready to go minus the last message. Our volunteers duplicate every weekend at Fellowship Church.”

Given the time constraints and quantity requirements, Fellowship Church has refined the details of their duplication systems. And what they have come up with works. They use the HHB CD-R 830 plus for creating their CD master, as well as two Pioneer PRV-9000s for making DVD masters in real-time. Printing of the discs is done on a Primera Signature Pro printer, using the composer automated loading system. Duplication of the CDs is done on two 16-recorder Microboards CopyWriter CD duplicators. Duplication of the DVDs is done on two 8-recorder Microboards DSR DVD Duplicators. In all, there are a total of 48 recorders with an additional three in the mastering units working simultaneously in the duplication area, completely run by volunteers.

When the church put together a duplication system, the first thing that Randal Taylor did was investigate what other organizations were doing. “We have a conference every January called, C3, Creative Church Conference that draws about 2000 church leaders from around the country. The C3 Conference challenges pastors and church leaders to examine every aspect of their ministry for ways to infuse it with creativity. The Duplication Ministry is no different – we had to get creative about how to handle the massive project of resource duplication during the two-day conference. We considered outsourcing the duplication to a couple of different vendors. After we collected all of the bids we decided that we could do it in house with our volunteers more cost effectively. Then came the next leg of research, finding equipment. I called other churches and organizations to see what kind of CD media and duplicators they were using. Most everyone I called said Taiyo Yuden was the CD-R media you want to use. I started looking around on the web, and noticed that most companies were taking Microboards’s units and repackaging them, re-branding them.

“I started diving deeper into the product line, and I liked the fact that it has a question and answer menu system. I liked the fact that it is a standalone duplicator, there is no PC attached at all. Another positive was that you could order hard drives on board, so you could load a CD and extract tracks off of other master CDs. Because sometimes we have to go back to our archives and extract tracks off of older master CDs but we don’t want certain tracks on the new master CD. Instead of having to buy a PC and rip it off and put it into another program, you do it right there in the duplicator.

The only speed issues are in finalizing the disc after it has finished recording, followed by the ability of the volunteers to load the discs as fast as they are duplicated. “The biggest bottleneck is the finalize time on the HHB. When you master a cassette, all you do is rewind, put it into the cassette duplicator and it’s off and going. On the master CDs and DVDs, you have to wait for it to finalize. We always wish the duplicators were faster, everyone wants them to be faster, but if you have a volunteer to load media in the duplicator, with two towers making 16 apiece you’re going to be outputting media faster then you will be packaging it. It takes more time to open the box, put the disc in correctly, close the box, and stack it, than it does to make media.”

As for using automation in the process, “most people who do this seriously will tell you that the robotic units where you put 500 CD-Rs on a spool, press go, and walk away, are slower than if you manually load them.”

Of course, that changes when you need to print the discs. “Now for our CD printer, we love the robotics, because you can load up to 50 discs, either CD-Rs or DVDs, and let it print because that’s part of the prep work. We’re not printing the days we are duplicating. On the day you duplicate, the volunteers walk in, all the media is labeled and sitting out, it’s all bar-coded, all the inserts are in the binders, waiting to be duplicated and packaged. That’s another key in making the process fast, doing the prep work. We even print overnight. We load up to 50 Taiyo Yuden white inkjet printables in the hopper, walk away, come in the next morning, and there are 50 waiting for us.”

Fellowship Church is what the technology industry would call an ‘early adopter’. Other churches look to them to see what works, and what doesn’t, as well as what is next. The annual C3, Creative Church Conference is an excellent opportunity to learn what other technologies Fellowship Church uses to enhance what the church is already doing. With DVD duplication taking place every week and streaming media available on their Web site, they are helping to set the standard for use of media in the future. When I asked what issues or thoughts that Randal would like to share with others implementing these technologies, he had a few helpful suggestions:

1. “What I would like to see is faster finalizing time, and faster DVD duplication time.” For Fellowship speed is of the essence. Had 16 drive DVD-R systems been available, they would have gone straight to the full 16 drive capability in their systems. And they would like to see faster finalize time as well, in order to get the master to the duplicator more quickly.”

2. Don’t buy on price alone. “Our supplier of DVD media first sold us cheaper DVD-R media. It was only rated for 2x burners. We were burning DVDs and it was taking about 20 minutes to fully burn. The DVD duplicator machine would many times reject or just not recognize the master. I later bought the Pioneer media that Microboards recommended with the units, and that has been absolutely flawless. It’s rated at 4x speed, and takes us about 10 minutes to burn a 30 minute DVD, and we rarely get any errors on those DVDs.

3. Be prepared to educate. “One thing that is confusing to consumers at churches is they’ll buy a DVD at a church from the duplication ministry and it won’t work when they take it home and try to play it on their older DVD player. Sometimes they won’t play in the older DVD players, but play in their neighbor’s player that is newer. That can be confusing to church members.”

4. Invest in your volunteers. “One thing that is very important to us at Fellowship Church is that we rely heavily on volunteers. We have over 2,500 volunteers that show up on the weekend to park cars, greet people, help in the bookstore, assist with hospitality, teach bible study classes, serve as ushers, help with the technical aspects of the church service, and even help with duplication. Remember, your volunteers work in a different industry during the week and you have to train, guide, motivate, advise and remind them how to use the duplicators.”

5. You can do more than just CDs. “Some people don’t realize that when you burn a CD, you are just transferring data. So you could also burn other data in mass quantities, like PowerPoint presentations or sermon notes in a text format. It’s just not for music CDs, or teaching. It’s data, it can do a number of different things.”

6. Other suggestions: Make sure you have a solid foundation before moving forward. There are many steps to growing a duplication ministry. All the fancy equipment in the world won’t help you if you don’t have the solid support of the leadership of the church. The technology exists to support any duplication ministry out there, but make sure your duplication ministry best represents and supports the big picture of your church.

Consider elements of the duplication ministry besides technology. If your church is not ready to jump into CD and DVD production, examine your current labeling and packaging for ways to improve your product and increase interest. Also consider bundling messages together, or if your pastor teaches a special series or a collection of messages on a certain topic or book of the Bible, create a box set. Graphic art is another way to take your current duplication ministry to a new level. Add art to your labeling and packaging.

Advertise your product. Remind people when the product is or will be available and what other products and resources are also available. We have a regular announcement in the weekend worship guide to remind everyone that this weekend’s message is available as well as when a new box set becomes available.

CD and DVD technologies are not new anymore. Fortunately, companies have developed products designed for the layperson to operate and enhance their church’s technology. Randal Taylor and his volunteer staff have tested the concept and it is successful; they put together a solution that meets their future and turnaround requirements and is at the same time easy to use.