Small-Town Religion

Lighthouse World Outreach Center
(Image credit: Strata AVL)

For almost 30 years, Lighthouse World Outreach Center church has been a part of Monroe, GA, which has a population of about 14,000. During that time, Lighthouse WOC has done its best to grow within its budget.

Despite that limitation—or perhaps because of it—the church has grown substantially over the years. Today, Lighthouse WOC’s central chapel seats 1,000 inside a unique, angled front sanctuary that resembles a theatrical auditorium.

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When it suddenly became necessary to update Lighthouse WOC’s video projection system in a hurry, the church turned to its longstanding AV provider Strata AVL to provide a high-quality and affordable solution. “We knew quite a few of the guys from Strata when they worked on our children's building project,” said Paul Hamilton, creative director, Lighthouse WOC. “They had the expertise and resources to help get our sanctuary back up to speed with current AV tech. We also had a good relationship and knew they would do the job right and make sure we were happy with the install.”

Against the Clock

The word “suddenly” nicely describes the job Strata was faced with when Lighthouse WOC called them. “About two months before Christmas in 2020, one of the old projectors in their worship center died,” said Strata co-owner David Roche. “We had already been discussing upgrades for projection in the long-term plans for the worship center, but the church wasn’t quite ready to move forward. That event moved the projector upgrade project front and center, since the church had scheduled Christmas events requiring video projection.”

By late 2020, pandemic-induced supply chain disruptions were becoming a problem. “Thankfully, our friends at Digital Projection (opens in new tab), Draper, Blackmagic Design, and Environmental Lights came through with the equipment we needed right on time,” Roche said.

To remedy Lighthouse’s dead projector problem—and deliver brighter and better visuals to the congregation—Strata installed two Digital Projection E-Vision 9000 WU laser projectors that deliver 9,000 ANSI lumens. “DP was the perfect fit for the church’s budget and space, and offered great lighting and visual capabilities,” Roche offered.

Lighthouse World Outreach Center Digital Projection Projector

(Image credit: Strata)

The company also chose two Draper Cineperm 8x14-foot projection screens, which were mounted closer to the church’s front center point to provide a more integrated viewing area. Two new Blackmagic Design (opens in new tab) Micro Converters (SDI to HDMI) drive the projectors, and one Blackmagic Design UltraStudio Monitor 3G outputs SDI from the church’s computer using ProPresenter graphics software. Strata also installed Environmental Lights 5-in-1 strip lighting with RGB and tunable white behind both screens to make the displays more visually appealing inside the church.

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When it came to executing the Lighthouse project on time and within budget, the clock was Strata’s biggest challenge. “From the first call Lighthouse made to us to completion took about six weeks,” Roche recalled. “That timeline included a visit to the church to assess the situation, the creation of visualizations to show how the new screens in new locations would appear, the church approval process, engineering time, equipment procurement, and installation. The project was completed in mid-December 2020, in time for the church's Christmas programs.”

Project Discovery

Since completing the projection project, Strata has done further work for Lighthouse WOC. “Our next phase was to upgrade our audio across the board in our sanctuary,” said Hamilton. “We upgraded our front of house to Bose ShowMatch speakers, which have been outstanding. We wanted to keep our console Allen & Heath because it would work with our musicians’ Aviom system and be easier for our sound techs’ training. Our Allen & Heath Avantis digital mixer has been outstanding and an easy transition for everyone. We've since added in Shure in-ear monitors for the praise team, and we are running our recording and livestream through digital audio workstations on Apple Mac minis with M1 chips.”                

Strata’s success in serving Lighthouse WOC’s visual projection needs begs a larger question: How can AV equipment providers/integrators meet the needs of small-to-medium churches with smaller budgets, while giving them the top-quality audio, video, and lighting they’re looking for?

LIghthouse World Outreach Center

(Image credit: Strata AVL)

According to Roche, the process starts with hearing what the client wants, and then channeling those desires into affordable options. “Professional lighting, camera work, and audio mixing are very common in the megachurch world, and smaller churches have high hopes of being able to do that same level of production,” he explained. “Usually, they don’t realize the budget and staffing those productions require. Our job is to become educators and help them understand the reality of what technology costs, as well as the skill levels required of technical staff to produce what they’re seeing.”

All of Strata’s projects begin with “discovery,” which Roche described as spending time with the client to learn about their project goals. “During discovery, we show them the costs versus benefits of what they’re asking us to do,” he said. “Once they have that information, they can make intelligent decisions about what they’re willing to afford and the compromises they’re willing to live with. In essence, our process leads clients to set their own expectations for their project. The final decisions are always theirs.”                        

Smart Shopping

There are many ways for integrators to equip smaller churches with affordable equipment that produces solid results. “In fact, digitization and networking of just about every piece of gear have made good AV capabilities much more affordable in recent years,” Roche said.

Cameras provide a good example, according to Roche. “The image quality of many of today’s lower cost video cameras (opens in new tab) is very good,” he explained. “But compared to their broadcast counterparts, those cameras come with compromises like clunky I/O connections, less user-friendly lens controls, and a lower level of manufacturer technical support. If a church is willing to deal with those limitations—and they have tech staff and volunteers with a little creativity—they can produce great content with lower cost cams.”

Our job is to become educators and help them understand the reality of what technology costs, as well as the skill levels required of technical staff to produce what they’re seeing.

David Roche, Strata

There’s also the issue of affordable video displays. Although Lighthouse WOC opted for projectors and screens, Roche said the price differential between LED walls and projection has been greatly reduced in the past few years. “The cost for those is still a little bit high for smaller churches, so projection is the ‘go to' for them,” he added. “But I see video walls moving into smaller churches and venues in the next few years unless we have a major change in the economic climate.”

For audio, Dante technology has “totally changed the way we build audio systems,” Roche noted. “It has made available capabilities that were prohibitively expensive or unavailable just a few years ago. Just about every audio manufacturer supports Dante, even in their more affordable lines. And signal paths in the Dante world are much simpler, which leads to lower installation costs. Consequently, adopting a Dante-based audio system lowers costs and increases capabilities, which are huge benefits for smaller churches.”

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Thanks to today’s affordable networked digital AV technology, small and medium-sized churches can produce live and streaming content that meets megachurch quality standards. Lighthouse WOC Senior Pastor Raymond Hardy said the key to achieving results on a budget is careful shopping.

“Speak with several firms concerning their approach, product choices, and recommendations for their facilities, and then balance that with estimated costs,” he advised. “Because AV technology changes so quickly, we try to choose equipment that is state of the art from established manufacturers, taking into consideration the best equipment with the most attractive cost. But in the end, after doing our due diligence, we seek wisdom from God before we pull the trigger on hiring someone. God knows, and we certainly desire His direction in making those decisions.”

James Careless is an award-winning freelance journalist with extensive experience in audio-visual equipment, AV system design, and AV integration. His credits include numerous articles for Systems Contractor News, AV Technology, Radio World, and TV Tech, among others. Careless comes from a broadcasting background, with credits at CBC Radio, NPR, and NBC News. He currently co-produces/co-hosts the CDR Radio podcast, which covers the Canadian defense industry. Careless is a two-time winner of the PBI Media Award for Excellence.