Is it a sanctuary or a stage?
- Thought this worth passing along to the list.
Posted on Sat, Mar. 01, 2003
Is it a sanctuary or a stage?
CHURCHES GO HIGH TECH TO DELIVER THE WORD
By Berta Delgado
Dallas Morning News
It might be the Gospel According to Mark, but in many Christian churches
these days, it's sound and lighting according to U2.
High-tech innovations in lighting, video and sound often originate on the
concert tour and filter down to performing-arts centers and, then, into big
churches, experts say. As a result, they note, weekend services at many
houses of worship now look and feel somewhat like performing-arts centers.
Take Fellowship Church in Grapevine, Texas.
The church, which draws 16,000 people or more, has a sanctuary with
comfortable, theater-style seating. The stage can be changed, even moved
around to suit any message the Rev. Ed Young Jr., senior pastor, is
delivering. (Once, while preaching about God's armor, he sat in an Army
tank.) The stage also has a ramp, so Young can walk down among the
congregation while preaching.
One recent Sunday, the stage accouterments -- tall tubes and boxes and other
shapes glowing with purple, orange, green and red lights -- were rented from
a company that does stage design for VH-1 and the Grammys.
``Most people think church is boring, that it's something they have to suffer
through and don't really want to be a part of,'' said the Rev. Rob Johnson,
Fellowship's worship pastor. ``We're trying to tell them we're excited that
we live in our faith. God is the author of all creativity.
``He gives us all these wonderful things, so use them.''
When Young preaches, even folks at the back of the balcony have a good view.
That's because his image is projected onto 16-by-24-foot screens flanking the
stage (and a slightly smaller one behind him). ``Media ministry'' members,
working in a control room decked out with $800,000 worth of electronic
equipment, also roll video onto the giant screens.
And, thanks to a state-of-the-art audio system, every word on tape or spoken
live by the pastor, every note sung by the praise and worship team, can be
heard clearly throughout the 4,000-seat sanctuary.
``These technologies in some ways are the new pipe organ,'' said Leonard
Sweet, a preacher, professor, church historian and author. ``This is the
language of this emerging culture -- sound and image,'' said Sweet, who
teaches at Drew University in Madison. N.J. ``You bring the two together, and
it helps create a worship experience.''
Shelagh Rogers, publisher of Technologies for Worship magazine, said the
industry has grown dramatically in the past decade.
``When you think that just five years ago some churches were still using
overheads to get their music sheets up, things have changed greatly,'' she
For 10 years, the magazine has sponsored an ``Inspiration Technology
Conference.'' It's grown by 30 to 35 percent each year, she said. More than
2,000 people are expected for this year's version, May 19-24 in Cincinnati.
Craig Janssen, co-founder of Acoustic Dimensions in Addison, Texas, called
the technology trend in the church ``a steamroller.'' His company says a
basic system runs around $500,000. A system to accommodate concerts and other
productions costs about $1 million. But many churches spend way beyond that.
``It's not a luxury anymore; it's expected,'' he said.
Acoustic Dimensions does acoustic, audio, video and lighting consulting for
large churches. The company has worked with mega-churches including Willow
Creek Community Church in Chicago, Saddleback Church in Mission Viejo,
Brooklyn Tabernacle and Hillsong Church in Sydney, Australia.
Launched in 1991 with three employees, Acoustic Dimensions now employs 30, he
Just because a place of worship embraces technology doesn't mean that it has
to have the feel of a Fellowship or Willow Creek, Janssen said. Even very
traditional churches are finding ways to employ new technologies. The
National Cathedral in Washington, for example, called on Acoustic Dimensions
to help with a new speaker system, an installation that could not disturb the
cathedral's neo-Gothic architecture.
Janssen said that church leaders must understand what their ministry is about
and what their worshipers' needs are before Acoustic Dimensions can help
design a system that works for them.
For instance, Bishop T.D. Jakes of the Potter's House in Dallas has an
international broadcast ministry. But he also has a congregation that calls
the church home. His stage has to be properly lit for television. But those
worshiping in person want to feel as though they are in a church, not a
broadcast studio. So Acoustic Dimensions worked with architects to design a
ceiling that conceals a lot of the high-tech equipment, said marketing
manager Cathy Hutchison. The lights can be seen from the stage, but not from
Prestonwood leaders wanted an emphasis on community in their 7,000-seat
sanctuary in Plano, Texas. So, Hutchison said, the acoustics are designed to
minimize echoes, providing a sense of closeness for congregation members.
Baptist, Pentecostal, non-denominational and charismatic churches lead the
high-tech charge. Still, said Rogers, of Technologies for Worship, the
Cincinnati conference will draw attendees from more than 50 denominations,
including Methodists, Lutherans and Catholics.
In the synagogue
Following tradition, Orthodox Jews on the Sabbath usually refrain from
activities such as using electronic equipment, driving, switching lights on
and off, so they do not use technological systems.
But Temple Emanu-El, a Reform congregation in Dallas, does make use of modern
technology. James Ledbetter, facilities manager, said the sanctuary has a
sound system that complements the acoustically sound sanctuary. Still, he'd
like to improve it.
At Central Synagogue in New York, the congregation took the opportunity to
marry the old with the new in rebuilding after a fire in 1998.
``We built in flexibility,'' said Rabbi Peter J. Rubinstein. ``We can't
assume that what works now will work in 10 years.''
The synagogue's sanctuary, which is half a city block long, houses a
two-console, 4,345-pipe organ. The synagogue also integrated sophisticated
sound and video systems, including hidden microphones and small video cameras.
``There's nothing inherently wrong or immoral about the use of technology in
religion,'' Rubenstein said. ``If it's serving a higher purpose, there's no
problem with it.''
Pope John Paul II has told Catholic parishes to embrace technology, local
``Unfortunately, the Catholic Church is, a lot of the time, on the back side
of the curve on this,'' said Curtis Stephan, music director at St. Ann Parish
in Coppell, Texas, where a state-of-the-art sound system includes monitor
speakers hidden in chandeliers.
Many older Catholic churches, he said, were designed acoustically with
pre-electronic, non-amplified sound levels in mind.
Stephan said Catholic churches will never use the type of elaborate systems
during worship as some Protestant churches use.
``The Catholic Church is going to be more subtle and transparent,'' he said.
``You almost don't want to know the sound system is there. In other churches,
that's what draws the attention. You go in and say, `Wow, look at the
lighting.' They use a variety of lights to change the mood, more like you
would do for a Broadway show or concert.''
Young, of Fellowship, agreed -- up to a point.
``Our church was not built on technology,'' he said. ``Yes, it has helped us
to build on things, but our growth has not come solely because of technology.