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Sunday 7 Days a Week

The fairly recent phenomenon of the megachurch has impacted the way professionals think about designing spaces for worship. The logistics of a large number

Sunday 7 Days a Week

Nov 1, 2003 12:00 PM,
By Cathy Hutchison

The fairly recent phenomenon of the megachurch has impacted the way professionals think about designing spaces for worship. The logistics of a large number of people correlates more closely to convention centers than to traditional worship spaces. When it comes to designing performance technologies for these large churches, the challenges are significantly different.

Systems have to meet the basic needs of distributing information, but most important, they also have to enhance the worship experience.

With more than 12,000 people attending services each weekend, Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, easily fits the label of megachurch. The campus, only three years old, includes a 7,000-seat auditorium and specialized venues for children’s worship, recreation, and education. The campus is busy seven days a week.

The ten major spaces that make up the newly completed west-wing expansion are the student ministry center, the chapel, a full service café, a coffee bar, a commons room, the fireside room, the prayer tower, the bookstore, and Main Street, which provides the thoroughfare for people to get from one place to the other. The goal of the expansion was to provide spaces for student ministry and to support community in the church.


The student ministry space gives young people a place to meet. Many days of the week, you’ll find students hanging out in the loft playing pool, sitting on sofas chatting with friends, or playing video games at any number of stations around the room. Clean lines and high-tech finishes give the space a comfortable feel inviting teens to call the place their own.

Acoustic Dimensions — which provided the acoustics, audio, video, and lighting design for the west wing — spent a lot of time meeting with the church to find out the type of feel that it wanted in the spaces. For the student ministry space, all of the systems had to contribute to the total experience.

“It’s really big, and the music is really loud,” says Melanie Shepard, one of the students. “We have a different band every week. It’s a lot like what I listen to on the radio.”

Casey Sherred of Acoustic Dimensions did the audio design for the main room. He says that in many ways, the performance systems are all about the energy. “The musicians and student ministry leaders are providing energy from the stage, and the kids themselves are animated when they come in,” Sherred says. “We want the systems to contribute to that.”

The audio system in the main room has to deliver a sound that will envelop people, but the ceiling height in the room is relatively low (about 25 feet), and the room is very deep (about 100 feet). In addition, the room is designed to be acoustically live to create excitement when people are in the room.

The sound system solution was an alternating left-right cluster system with two delay rings. The main speaker ring is composed of six clusters, each containing one EAW MQV2364 for the long throw and an EAW MK2164 speaker for the short throw. Each delay ring consists of four EAW MQV2364s and two EAW MK2164s. In addition, there are four Bag End D18s under the stage and EAW SL52s for front fill in the stage lip.

“We chose these particular speakers for their excellent pattern control as well as their performance in meeting the low-frequency demands,” Sherred says. “Each of the MQVs has two 15-inch low-frequency drivers, so there are 28 of these to help deliver the low-end punch. It is the type of system that allows you to feel the music as well as hear it.”

The control booth is oversize to accommodate the church’s professional staff as well as students interested in learning the systems. The front-of-house (FOH) mixer shares the same acoustic space as the students. The FOH console is a 48-channel Midas Legend 3000 chosen for its routing flexibility and its EQ capabilities.

The monitor mix console onstage is also a Legend 3000; the stage itself is large enough to accommodate the band and interactive dramatic skits. Two 16-by-9-foot Stewart film screens flank the stage.

“Video is an important part of what happens in the room,” says Acoustic Dimensions’ Stuart Reynolds, who led the video design. “The people in the ministry wanted the image magnification video [IMAG] to really have impact. We designed the screens to be slightly oversize to give more of an interactive — almost MTV — type of feel to the design.”

The projectors located behind the screens are 7,700 ANSI lumens, quad lamp Sanyo PLC-UF10 LCD projectors.

Video programming for the screens can be everything from camera images to video clips and graphics. The church already owned Prologue’s Sunday Plus system, which has an advanced library of songs and scripture verses. The system can be linked to PowerPoint for additional content.

There is a separate media room for post-production that houses the Student Ministries’ nonlinear editing system.

Reynolds says that the church was up against budgetary concerns that didn’t include broadcast-level cameras. “Instead of providing a broadcast-level production switcher, which would require all source devices to be gen-locked, we decided to go the path of a rental and staging level graphics switcher [Folsom Research Screen Pro Plus 1202],” Reynolds says. “The advantage of this device is its multiple inputs and outputs, enabling multiscreen transitional effects, multiple picture-in-picture capability, and the ability to key graphical material over video.”

Aux bus outputs on the switcher allow delivery of independent source material to the stage and to the three plasma screens in the “hangout room.”


Aesthetics were a driving priority for the 550-seat chapel, because it is primarily used for weddings.

“The architectural directive to hide the technology drove the speaker design,” Sherred says. “The audio clusters needed to be located to the left and right of the stage in the same cavity as the organ speakers, which are hidden behind the lattice work. The challenge to this position is that it places the speakers behind the podium, creating inherent gain before feedback problems. Another challenge to hiding the technology is that the balcony had to be covered without delay speakers.”

To complicate the matter, the chapel required a live acoustic to support the organ and orchestral music used in weddings.

“The solution was to develop line arrays that could throw to both the balcony and the main floor while keeping energy off the walls,” Sherred says. “We addressed the gain before feedback issue by aiming the speaker coverage to overshoot the platform and to cross in front of the podium.”

Each of the line arrays consists of four EAW KF761s, which were chosen for their tight vertical pattern control so coverage could be delivered without exciting the room. The speakers also provide a smooth off-axis response.

ASC Companies was responsible for installing the systems. The installation of the chapel’s line arrays presented a problem because the FOH space was completed before the speakers were delivered. Scott Carlock, the project engineer for ASC, came up with a solution for hanging the line arrays. “Instead of doing traditional hang, which was difficult because of the height we were working at, we built what we affectionately called the ‘swing set,’” Carlock says. “It was a big metal frame of 2-inch steel tubing. Instead of having to go 20 feet above the floor, we were able to work from rigid steel bolted down to the concrete deck of the second floor. This gave us considerably more flexibility with the aiming of the line arrays, which was critical for their proper operation.”

The FOH console is a Yamaha O2R (digital) that was chosen for ease of use and its recall ability. The console stores scenes for funerals, different types of weddings, and lectures. The mix position is at the rear of the balcony.

The architectural design provides reduced space for the rear-projection display housing area for the required 16-by-9 screen. Acoustic Dimensions employed a first-surface mirrored projection mount by Stewart Filmscreen. A stained-glass motorized window was devised by Beck Architecture to hide the screen when it is not in use, allowing for a more traditional look as required.

An AMX control system was designed to manage the projection as well as the stained-glass reveal. A Folsom Research Screen Pro manages the video-switching requirements for visual presentations.


Remember when fellowship was all about Crock-Pots, uncomfortable chairs, and broccoli-cheese casserole? Main Street, the Main Street Café, and the commons area take church socials to a whole new level.

Rather than having to wait for a set event to get together and use the space, the commons area is open all week long. It creates a comfortable, relaxed atmosphere to sit and laugh with friends, have lunch together, or talk over a latte. “The west wing was a culmination of many things that we wanted for the church to continue its ministries, but the focal point is around the commons area because of its ability to support the community in the fabric of our facility,” says Debbie Fisher, director of facilities and ministry services at Prestonwood.

There are several coffeehouse-type events in the space, such as Metro Unplugged, a gathering that is geared toward 20-somethings.

A stage can be set up on the long side of the room with A/V control panels on the opposite wall. The cabling infrastructure is in place to support portable systems, and a distributed speaker system using Frazier Loudspeakers‘ CAT 499 with Bag End S12E-I subwoofers in each corner provides support for background music and live events.

An important architectural component to the room is its many windows along the exterior walls; however, ambient light became an issue for the other dominant architectural feature of the room, an 8-by-13⅓-foot video wall.

The 16-by-9 aspect ratio, 12-cube system is composed of Clarity Visual Systems Wildcat WN-4030-S projection cubes stacked in a 3-by-4 configuration. Clarity BP-4000 Big Picture modules enable the programming of many different looks into the wall as a whole without sophisticated external control.

Integrated with a Sierra Video Systems router, four Contemporary Research MATV channel modulators, and an AMX control system, the video wall is set up with two basic configurations. The primary configuration of the wall for day-to-day operations is one large image (3-by-3) with three single cubes down one side. Audio for the space follows the video program for the single large image. The second configuration is a full 16-by-9 image for IMAG support of “Power Lunch” and other speaking series that take place in the space. The AMX system routes available sources, allows for channel choice and volume control, and controls the cube layouts.

The commons area is also a hot spot for providing wireless Internet connectivity.


At peak hour on a Sunday morning, the audio, video, and lighting staff numbers 28 including paid staff and volunteers. “That isn’t nearly enough,” says Chris Hinkle, the director of Prestonwood’s technical team. Because Hinkle oversees all of the venues from the main auditorium to children’s ministry to the west wing on a Sunday morning, he needed the ability to monitor systems for multiple spaces from a single location.

To provide Hinkle and his staff this flexibility, the entire west wing is managed and controlled by two Peavey MediaMatrix Main Frames. One frame is used for the extensive background music system and the student ministry room. The other controls systems for the chapel, the Fireside Room (a high-finish, small-gathering area), and the Tower Conference Room.

Operators are able to access the control systems through any PC on the network using Peavey’s RAMM software, which gives the technical staff the flexibility to manage several systems from one or many locations.

The distributed audio system to support background music (BGM) can use source material from two 200-disc CD players or from sources from the main worship center, the chapel, the student ministry worship center, the Fireside Room, or the bookstore.

“The west wing is broken up into 16 BGM zones,” says Sherred. “The operator has the ability to select the programming for each zone. Sensing microphones [Crown CM30s] in the commons lounge and on Main Street are used for ambient level control.”

The video systems for the west wing also have central control delivered by an AMX control system located in a room adjacent to the commons. It controls the projectors for student ministry, the chapel, and the video cubes systems in the commons area.

The head for the MATV system is located in the primary production suites of the existing sanctuary. A 500 MHz hard line was pulled to the west wing, and taps and drop lines were then dispersed out to each venue.

The church wanted to make sure the infrastructure was in place for future broadcast productions to be hosted by the main video production suites. Triax runs from each of the venues back to equipment closets jump onto single-mode fiber-optic lines to carry signal and control back to the primary production facility. Telecast Fiber Systems Cobra provides triax converters. Bidirectional audio and video connectivity is also by Telecast, supporting each separate venue.


For Prestonwood the primary emphasis is on the message, not the medium. “Our main goal is to take the technical gifts that we have and develop them into ministry aspects,” says Hinkle. “What we try to do is use the technical tools that are out there and available to us to enrich the worship experience here. It’s not about what kind of technical gizmo we can come up with but how we use that tool to communicate the gospel and minister to people.”

Cathy Hutchisonis a freelance writer whose interests include the impact of performance technologies on the entertainment experience. She can be reached


The Big City Theatre, designed specifically for the fourth- to sixth-grade ministry at Prestonwood Baptist Church, was completed in August prior to the opening of the west-wing expansion. It was the renovation of a large room in the educational space. The venue has three stages: center, left, and right. The center stage has a midstage traveler with a multiple scenic traveler upstage in front of the permanent hotel scenery. THX-certified MicroPerf screens are located on either side of the center stage. Animated characters are projected onto the screens with a Barco 6500.

The main speaker clusters are placed behind the screens so that the sound comes from where the action is taking place, and the characters can talk with each other across the room. Speakers are also positioned around the room for realistic sound imaging from the secondary stages. The lighting system includes fixtures from Vari-Lite and ETC. The venue is equipped with an MA Lighting Grandma UltraLite console, which provides student operators with a natural training progression prior to working at the worship center. The mixing console is a Yamaha DM2000, and the brightly colored sets are by Wacky World Studios.

For More Information

AMX Corp.
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Bag End Loudspeakers
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Beck Architecture
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Clarity Visual Systems
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Contemporary Research
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Crown Audio
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Folsom Research
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Frazier Loudspeakers
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MA Lighting Technology
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Sierra Video Systems
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Stewart Filmscreen Corp.
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Telecast Fiber Systems
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Wacky World Studios
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