Once churches discovered the value of video, the multi-site and satellite campus model went from a handful of mega churches to tens of thousands of churches. With this explosion of multi-site churches, a separate venue utilized as another service style option – or even just a simple way to make more room – has also been gaining popularity on existing church campuses. In both cases, I have found that there are 4 types of church video venues. For churches considering video venues or multi-site campuses, I am presenting these 4 types of video venues as helpful research that looks beyond the venue to the technology and logistics required for effective services.
Type 1 – Overflow Video Venue
Growing churches will find themselves running out of space in their main meeting venue. A seemingly simple step is to open up another part of the facility, run a video and audio cable to the room and fire up a projector and portable sound system. Voila! A “video venue” is born. Well, not really. While the concept of space-sharing is great, the implementation of the technology and the logistics of planning are often overlooked.
Years ago, a church I volunteered for did this for what I’d euphemistically dub a ‘family friendly service venue.’ The reality is that they didn’t want to let kids into the main service, so they had those families attend an overflow area in their 300-seat chapel. The music feed from the main auditorium sounded great. The video looked pristine. The lighting was appropriate. But it failed – miserably.
So what was the problem? Authority and leadership.
When a video venue is used as an overflow area (or family friendly service) and no leaders are present at the front (stage area) of the room, people treat the space like a very large living room. What I witnessed the last time I ran sound in this venue can only be described as ‘distraction on display’. Kids climbing/crawling on pews. Kids running up/down around pews. Parents taking cell phone calls (and not quietly, either). Audience participation during singing? Zilch. People paying attention during the message? Somewhat.
What was needed was authority and leadership. A praise singer/worship leader up front during the music, a leader (possibly even the same person) to do “meet and greet” (or however you choose to help make a personal connection), someone to help with segues and basically just a presence in the room to give a sense of order to the video venue service. YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary), but the trend for adding pastors and worship leaders in a video overflow room is a good one.
Type 2 – Video Cafe Video Venue
Often called a Video Cafe, the worship service format/space/style can be very different from the main service auditorium, but still utilize the sermon video taped (or live or time-shifted – more on that in a minute) from the main auditorium. The term Video Cafe usually equates with a Starbucks type of setup, but in all reality is just a term that more accurately describes a different venue from the main service.
A Video Cafe can be on-site (at the same campus but in a different venue) or off-site (at a satellite campus), depending on the vision and intent of the church leadership. Technically, these can utilize single or multiple screens (venue specific as the needs fit) and most have a single tape/disc of switched camera shots recorded during the main venue service. Most will only include the sermon/message portion from the main service, opting for live (and often different) music, or video roll-ins for these alternative worship services. The biggest difference is in the contextualization of the service type.
Type 3 – Independent Satellite Campus Video Venue
Satellite campuses can take on many forms – from temporary facilities like school gymnasiums or fine art centers, to new campuses. Aside from the logistics of set-up and tear-down between temporary venues and new permanent venues, the technology is often utilized much like a Video Cafe, only without the shared facilities.
A quick side-bar: One of the least touted, but best reasons for adding satellite campuses, is local community involvement. Many folks will drive 30 minutes or more to attend a weekend service. However, when a weekday event or service happens, the church will only see a fraction of those people face rush-hour traffic to and from the church in order to get plugged in outside of a weekend service. However, when a local campus from the same church plops down within 15-25 minutes of their homes, non-weekend attendance and involvement soars.
Having visited a large number of church satellite campuses, I’m convinced that the ultimate (and, unsurprisingly, most expensive) format includes a multi-screen, multi-source approach. In this setup, two (or more, as the venue needs demand) side screens provide the IMAG feed.
Defining IMAG – The use of close-up and medium (*mid-leg to waist-up) camera shots used to visually engage those seated far from the platform. In video venues, close IMAG camera shots are used on the side screens, while a larger center screen shows a locked-down (*doesn’t move to follow any action) shot of the main stage area, covering an area slightly taller than the main teaching pastor, often without panning the camera to follow. The end effect is a life-sized person on this center screen ‘walking around’ on the stage while the side screens capture the up-close IMAG.
It was North Point church in the Atlanta area that started out using High Definition video for their lock-down camera projected onto a center screen (borrowing an HD camera from NASA, no less). Since that time, many churches have implemented HD video and had stunning success with what I call the “suspension of disbelief”. What happens is that two sources – one recorded from the main campus IMAG switcher and one recorded directly from the center locked-down camera – are routed to the screens. The IMAG feed goes to the side screens and the center camera video is sent exclusively to the center screen (which drops down after the music is concluded). They are synchronized with Time Code, and play back in perfect sync.
The end result: the audience watches the tight shots (IMAG) on the side screens (non-HD) while they see the main speaker/teacher in their peripheral vision. Because people see a “life-sized” version of the person on the stage (in HD), they quickly forget that it’s not real for two important reasons:
1) The HD image quality is far superior to standard NTSC video, resulting in a more life-like version on the center screen.
2) The physical spacing between the side screens and the center screen allow your mind to believe that the center screen is the ‘real thing’, especially if it’s either hung low enough to be near/at the stage or it’s an ascender screen that comes up out of the stage (see the four photos above).
Type 4 – Interactive Satellite Campus Video Venue
The most difficult of the four types of video venues, by far, is the interactive satellite campus video venues. The technology required to connect – in real-time – campuses spread out by miles is not inexpensive or easy to manage. But, for the church willing to make this leap, the results can be amazing.
The trick here is to have a live audio and video backbone (over IP, Microwave or Satellite), and enough channels of audio, video, & communications (such as Clear Com), as well as the necessary bandwidth to do it all in real-time. It’s usually done over dark fibre, with direct connections made through a dark fibre backbone (point-to-point or point-to-multi-point) so that bandwidth is never an issue. It’s very expensive (think hundreds of dollars per mile, per month).
Often, though, because video is bandwidth-intensive, some systems integrators will compress the video to reduce the file size during transfer. However, remember that the whole point of that center screen was to make it life-like (hence, the use of HD video). So, if the HD signal needs to be compressed to make it fit over a connection, the end result can be less-than-HD video quality, which negates the point of HD in the first place.
Other than that, just the sheer logistics, staff and volunteers necessary to pull this off is staggering. I know of one church in Florida doing this, going so far as to share the mix between three campuses in real-time, such that the FOH engineer at each campus can pull in the vocals/instruments from any of the other campuses for their own mix. This requires incredible planning and logistics to pull off, and I’m not personally sure this is something I’d ever want to do. But…it can be done.
First, I give kudos to my friends pastor Larry Osborne and tech director Dennis Choy of North Coast Church for thinking radically about using video technology – over 20 years ago! – to increase their effectiveness and outreach. They have truly paved the way, and Dennis and Larry continue to make changes as they’ve increased their number of venues.
Second, this is not something to be entered into lightly. While there are quite a few churches doing the Video Overflow or Video Cafe thing already, the disconnect created with the audience if it is implemented poorly is a high price to pay – not to mention the stress on staff and volunteers in a set-up-to-fail scenario.
Done correctly, and within the context of your local predicament, video venues are a tremendous tool for churches.
What have been your experiences with different types of video venues? Comment below.
If you want Anthony to consult with your church on video venues, fill out the contact information below.