By Adam Shulman, Market Category Lead for Installed audio, Bose Professional
This year has brought with it a number of challenges around the world. Church leaders are tasked with ensuring community support and stability by bringing their congregations together in a variety of ways — from socially distanced gatherings back in church, or in the car park and open green spaces, as well as streaming services online. Whilst the need to serve, connect and nurture fellowship remains the number one priority each week, it can be a challenge to determine how technology can be used to support the changes required by a global pandemic.
And while regathering can look a little different depending upon where you’re located, church leaders and their technology teams find themselves addressing similar challenges of how to best use their space each week. Whether it’s for children’s services and education or a service for the entire congregation, understanding the how of connecting people together using available technology is key to that success, regardless if they are separated by six feet or in completely different locations.
This connection starts with sound. Therefore, a crucial step is understanding the impacts of using spaces and equipment differently, whether inside or out. Sound behaves differently with a congregation that is only a quarter its previous size. There are a number of things that can be done beginning with learning how sound behaves, adjusting what is physically located in these gathering spaces, as well as how to best compliment the video stream without compromising audio quality.
Understanding your congregation’s needs
Our sense of hearing is such an important part of our lives — it’s how we connect with our surroundings; it aids in our understanding of those around us and enables us to lose ourselves in music and be moved by the word. At Bose, we tend to view sound as the most important sense, as seen in our commitment to making sound experiential, no matter where you are.
Church members can have a wide range of technology comfort levels and understanding what those levels are is an important first step in determining how to use the audio technology you currently have, and whether it’s necessary to invest in additional equipment.
If a church has access to multiple locations, does its technology team have the right audio equipment to enable everyone to hear, understand and partake in the services? We’ve all experienced situations where sound was just made louder to make up for larger groups or to cover a greater distance. But improving intelligibility is actually what is necessary to aid understanding, and this can be achieved inside a building and in open with the right technology and understanding, for both in-person and streamed services.
Combining audio and video with success
With the increased adoption of streaming services comes an increased comfortable level of this previously inaccessible technology. Now, even the youngest members of a church are familiar with the concept of creating a video and posting it for others to access, and the idea of video chatting is commonplace. But regardless of a person’s familiarity, audio plays a key role to these activities. People are more tolerant to an underwhelming video experience or an image that freezes if the audio still available. Conversely, it wouldn’t matter how amazing the video image was if the audio is poor. The opportunity to engage and connect with their fellow congregants is lost.
With the availability of ultra high-resolution displays on our mobile devices and televisions, church leaders may be tempted to stream in the highest resolution possible. This can consume significant bandwidth, causing playback issues and degrading the audio quality, which ultimately creates frustration and fatigue to people on the receiving end. When investigating streaming options, connect with your dealer or professional AV partner and lean on them for the expertise is this area. By choosing a lower streaming resolution, the audio/video stream can become more widely available to people regardless of their available bandwidth.
Technology teams have an increased amount of responsibilities when supporting both in-person and streamed services. They need consistent reliability and audio quality regardless of whether the service is in an indoor space with a good installed system or in an entirely new space (indoors or out). This is easier to achieve when using the same manufacturer because of consistency in the operation of these products. When working with the same manufacturer, a portable PA system on stands should provide a similar voicing characteristic as a large installed system, requiring less time re-EQing the audio sources, as an example. This can be a major time-saver for technical teams when moving worship services from one venue to another.
Addressing acoustic challenges
Rooms that are used with far fewer occupants can lead to a host of audio and acoustic issues. It will be imperative for church leaders to engage their experts to take a closer look at how each room was designed and how it’s now being used, including its shape, structure and surface treatments used. This will guide churches as they remap their audio, which will also assist them in selecting audio equipment and acoustic treatments that best meets their needs.
Whether a church has moved out furniture to create more open areas for easier social distancing, or incorporated a transitional space just outside the entrance, it’s possible to create a welcoming, inviting variety of spaces with the right audio equipment. By adjusting worship spaces and outfitting them with audio solutions that support the post-COVID goals of the space, everyone will be able to participate. These decisions will make sure churches are ready whenever their congregations regather.
Connecting your communities
As churches integrate a variety of worship experiences to meet the needs of their parishioners, the expectation is that the audio will be clear and consistent, no matter where they regather. No matter if services are in-person and socially distanced at church, an outdoor space or joined from afar by others who are simply hesitant and join from home, your dealer is your ally. You should leverage their expertise in audio to help make services available in a variety of formats each week, and enable church leaders to focus on opportunities to connect with their parishioners rather than challenges imposed by the technology they are using.
By understanding that spaces and technology will need to be used differently than they have in previous times, churches can overcome the audio distortions, acoustic artifacts and audio fatigue caused by the increase in hard surfaces — and ultimately deliver dynamic, high-quality sound to their congregations no matter where they may be located.