Built-in Technology & Architecture

Once the decision has been made to build a new facility or expand an existing facility, there are many choices that must be considered:

Once the decision has been made to build a new facility or expand an existing facility, there are many choices that must be considered:

  • The overall size of the structure
  • Its use now and for the future
  • Its aesthetic characteristics
  • The associated costs relative to building the structure and maintaining it over time.

These are some of the key components in the planning stage of any building project. Frequently, and with regret, technology is often not considered in the initial planning phase.

The key is getting the right people involved from the very beginning. In today’s modern society, technology (i.e. audio, video, lighting, broadcast, streaming) is an integral part of any worship facility. Just like with the planning of the structure itself, technology requires vision and planning as well.

The church is a center for activities – weekly worship services, youth services, events and activities, concerts, presentations, musicals and drama, weddings, funerals – all require technology. Sporting events, walking tracks and exercise spaces; educational space and meeting rooms; family life facilities – they all require technology. In short, there are very few examples of church activities that do not require some level of technology.

The first step in the building process is finding a qualified design firm that can guide you through the building process. Equally important is finding a technology firm that can make you aware of what is available and what is possible – a firm that will ask the right questions and provide the information that might slip through the cracks. You need a firm that can guide you through the technology aspects of your project and make sure everything is covered.


Without infrastructure, the implementation of technology is very difficult, expensive and aesthetically unappealing. Furthermore, the lack of infrastructure affects one’s decision-making process. Technologies that were slated for implementation, but without infrastructure, are often never realized for the above-mentioned reasons.

One extreme, but real world example is the church that built a new structure adjacent to their existing buildings. They were just about ready to take occupancy of their new building when they realized that they would like to be able to tie the two separate buildings together for overflow and other special events. There was no mention or thought about this in the planning stage and now, at this stage, they are forced to make alternate decisions such as tearing up the new parking lot and adding conduit underneath. This obviously was a very costly undertaking, so the plan of tying the two structures together was abandoned. Had a technology team been on board from the beginning, appropriate questions would have been raised and appropriate infrastructure planned into the design.

It is important to enter into a relationship with a technology firm at the very beginning of your project – a technology firm that has expertise in all areas of performance and presentation systems and knows how all systems work. A good technology firm has expertise in worship and performance audio/visual systems, acoustical design and treatment, theatrical lighting, staging/theatrical curtain rigging, broadcast/recording systems, facility networking, technical system project management and CCTV systems.

They will have the knowledge and experience to design the infrastructure in all these areas and can work with architects/designers to make sure everything is in place for these systems. They also will have a working knowledge of all the other trades found on a typical project and an understanding of project schedules.

Some other examples of technology infrastructure include stage and technical booth issues such as connectivity, line of sight, and size requirements; screen locations and power requirements; isolated circuits for audio and lighting; projector locations and power requirements; theatrical lighting design and circuits and distributed audio; video and data connectivity throughout the structure.

Technical booth locations/size and stage layout

A proper size and location for the technical booth(s) is one of the most common mistakes made by churches. Often, a mere storage closet or a room somewhere in an alcove or balcony is all that is allotted for the technical booth. But, what if the church wants audio, video, projection, theatrical lighting and perhaps future broadcast capabilities – each requiring space for equipment and technical personnel. All this is to be crammed into a 10x12 room, off axis with no line-of-sight or sound. There may be as many as four operators in this area, plus the need for some workspace – ooops!

Now along comes the technology firm, well after the plans are completed. The ensuing struggle is set. Where can we find the additional space required? The architect is reluctant to change his drawings and he will try to salvage what he can using the “path of least resistance” method. The church is not happy, the technology firm is not happy and when the drawings have to be redone, the architect is not happy, and the church has to pay more money. All this because of a lack of communication, and not getting the right people involved at the beginning of the project.

Stage layout is another critical area especially in those cases where multiple services are employed. Often there is limited set up/tear down time available between services and in many cases the worship style changes from service to service.

This information is critical in the design of the stage. There are a myriad of factors that have to be considered and the information usually can only come from people directly involved in the praise and worship areas of the church working with the technology firm (once again, identify the right people and get them involved from the very beginning).

Designers have to know the number of musicians, praise teams and the choir. Are there times when choir and orchestra will be used for special events? Will concerts be performed in the space? Will regional or national artists provide concerts? What is the floor box layout? Will an onstage monitor mix be required? If so, is there a provision for a splitter?
These questions will be raised and addressed by a strong technical firm and can save the church considerable money and frustration when planned for in advance.

Acoustics/Room Geometry

Is it “form follows function” or “function follows form”? Regardless, the aesthetic aspects of the building are important, but the functionality of the space is paramount.

We would never buy a car that looked great but did not run. Consequentially, why would we design a building that looks wonderful but is not optimized for presentation? After all, the church facility is a presentation venue.

Think about it. That’s the role of the building. The role of the church as an institution is to present the good news to the people and minister to the congregation. If the congregation (audience) cannot hear, worship suffers. If they cannot see, their worship experience is hindered. If the worship leaders and technical staff cannot see or hear, it makes it very difficult for them to lead the congregation into worship.

If the church goes from a 500-seat facility to a 2000-seat facility, it is inevitable that the “feel” of the sanctuary will change. If what was once an intimate space suddenly feels cold and disconnected to the congregation, the worship will suffer. What’s the answer? Properly planned and implemented technology.

During the initial planning phase, a good technology firm – one who is well versed in all aspects of presentation and performance technologies – can provide valuable information and design solutions relative to room geometry that can help limit the amount of acoustical treatments used in the space. Furthermore, much thought should be given to materials used in the space. Carpet, wall coverings, ceiling materials and seating systems are all necessary components in worship facilities. The acoustical value of these materials should be considered when making choices.

Stage and choir space materials are another area where mistakes are made. What is the criterion for selecting these materials? If you have ever heard a 35-voice choir moving on a hollow wooden stage during a Christmas performance, you know what I mean. They can sound like a cattle herd. Taking into account all aspects of the function of the space when making these decisions can be very important to the overall sound, and also save money down the road.

Multipurpose Facilities

How do you change a basketball court into a dinner theater? Answer, use technology. The trend currently is multipurpose space. This presents an interesting challenge, but proper planning and technology can be used to accomplish desired results.

The multipurpose space is often used for everything from weekly services to sporting events and everything in between. Often the spaces are used for temporary worship for a specified period of time, then the building will function as a sports venue or youth area once additional facilities are completed.

So how do you change a basketball court into a dinner theater? First, apply some of the things we discussed relative to acoustics and room geometry. Addressing the room acoustically will lower the noise floor and make sporting events more enjoyable. Make choices for floor materials that have positive acoustic attributes.

Design an architectural lighting package that utilizes both HID lighting for sports and incandescent lighting for house lights. This way the congregation will not feel like “french fries under the heating lamps at McDonald’s.”

Design a theatrical lighting package that can control the incandescent house lights as well as the theatrical fixtures.

Design the speaker system and fly the speakers to accommodate different room configurations. Design the infrastructure for connectivity with quick disconnects capabilities for mobile sound mixing. Add connection points at areas for general house mixing and sports events. Design connection points that are recessed in the walls and floor for protection during sports events. These are simple ideas that are easily implemented if all parties are working together at the very beginning of the project.

A word about design/build

It just makes sense – the firm who designed your system is best equipped to install it and train technical personnel. When a technology design/build firm works on your project from start to finish, you have one team from conception to completion. This team designs the systems based on conversations with the church personnel and the architect/designer. Through these conversations, the firm gets to know the needs, desires, aspirations likes/dislikes and technical skill levels of the worship leader, pastor, members of the building committee, technical staff, youth pastors, and perhaps even some of the praise team.

During this process, the technology firm has learned about the weekly services, style of worship and future plans and growth for the church. They have developed a good working relationship with the architect/designer and are in the best position to develop a similar relationship with the builder. What better way can you achieve built-in technology & architecture? This also speaks to other core principals of the design/build concept such as accountability, budget control and quality.

The common threads that run through this article are planning, vision, communication and getting the right people involved at the very beginning of the project. As stated previously, in today’s modern society, technology is an integral part of any worship facility. If designed and implemented properly, technology can contribute greatly to the function of the church, reaching people.