A TECHNICAL RENOVATION AT NORTHWOODS COMMUNITY CHURCH HELPS DRAW IN MORE PEOPLE—WITH GREATER RESONANCE
by Jim Kumorek
Northwoods Community Church has a long history of being innovative in the Peoria, Ill., area. Originally planted by the Evangelical Mennonite denomination (now called Fellowship of Evangelical Churches, or FEC) in 1990, Northwoods modeled its ministry approach after Willow Creek Community Church's seeker-focused approach. Initially meeting in a variety of temporary venues as a portable church, Northwoods acquired 40 acres of land in the northern part of Peoria in 1991 for $135,000, paying cash through an eight-week capital campaign.
At the end of 1997, Northwoods moved into the first building on the land, and the first weekend services in their 900-seat multipurpose room drew 2,148 people. In 2001 the church completed the expansion of Phase II of its campus, opening a 1,800-seat auditorium and drawing 3,382 in attendance.
The mid-2000s brought a new vision for ministry to Senior Pastor Cal Rychener. Ministry style shifted from seeker-focused to seeker-friendly, and weekend services shifted more towards worship and participation and less presentational. And the church continued to grow, opening video venue campuses in Galesburg, Ill., and Chillicothe, Ill. Current attendance is approximately 4,200 across all three campuses.
“We desired to prepare ourselves for being able to reach 6,000 people,” says Video Content Creator Dave Marks. “Phase II in 2001 had added the infrastructure for a balcony, so we set our sights on adding 1,300 seats to the balcony, providing a better youth ministry space, and updating our AVL technology to better meet our ministry style and today's media-driven culture.”
In 2012, the renovation of the auditorium to add the 1,300 seats in the balcony and replace the AVL systems began. Advanced Audio and Lighting Systems of Peoria was contracted to do the technical aspects of the project. And a recent technical production staff hire, Technical Director Rick Jeremiah, oversaw the entire construction project for both the physical and technical aspects.
Northwoods has developed a culture of hiring from within the congregation. Dawn Minch, executive director of creative communications, was hired in 2001 from the congregation to be the department's administrative assistant, and as her talents were recognized by the leadership, she was promoted to be the department director and a member of the church's leadership team. When the position of technical director opened up in 1999, Minch turned to then audio volunteer Jeremiah and said, “You're going to apply for the job, right?”
Jeremiah remembers, “Up until seven years ago I never went to church—I had had some bad experiences. My wife dragged me to church at Northwoods one weekend, and the next thing you know I'm accepting Jesus. Until I was hired as Northwood's technical director, I was a project manager for a private contractor, managing the construction of large buildings. I used these experiences to manage the construction of the auditorium upgrades and youth space construction.”
Dave Marks is the exception to the rule. He came to Northwoods in 2005 from the East coast with 30 years of film
and television experience. “God told me it was time to go work for a church,
and Northwoods is where he put me,” Marks states.
Marks, Jeremiah and Minch lead a technical ministries staff of four additional part-time people—two in media creation, and two in tech. Minch's Creative Communications department also includes the worship and music staff.
The auditorium renovation
“The center screen can be flown in or out in sync with the projectors,
making it possible to show live video on a moving 48-foot by 15-foot screen.”Don Delong
System Designer and Programmer, Advanced Audio and Lighting Systems, Peoria, IL
“We did a lot of the research on what major pieces of equipment we wanted ourselves,” states Marks. “We let Advanced know what we were interested in, and they took that, expanded upon it, made suggestions and enhanced the vision. Advanced did all the engineering work and all the installation.”
“The design process was definitely collaborative,” adds Steve Nelson, sales and project manager for the project with Advanced. “That was one of the main things the church was looking for in an integrator. In past experiences, the tech staff were never really considered as part of that process and ended up with systems that fell short of meeting their needs. For us, it was a good fit since collaboration is our preferred approach anyway. The tech team from Northwoods was actively engaged in that process from start to finish.”
Live video design
The most significant change in the auditorium from the AVL perspective is with the video systems. Prior to the upgrades, live video was directed from the tech booth at the back of the auditorium. The renovation has brought video production to the forefront, with a dedicated master control room, three editing suites, and a media management system to bring more order to the challenge of many terabytes of raw media material.
“The control room features a machine room with a self-contained AC system to support the equipment needs of the control room and edit suites,” states Marks. “The control room was designed with extra room for expansion, and one of the three edit suites is also set up as the broadcast audio mix room supporting live events.”
“The video system is based on the Ross Video Vision 2 production switcher which is driving the main left and right screens, as well as the two feeds for the center screen, and a program mix [that] is sent throughout the building and web streaming,” says Don Delong, system designer and programmer for Advanced. “The Vision 2 has the flexibility to drive all these (and more) outputs independently, which is very important for the way Northwoods' services are run. All signals are HD-SDI through a Ross NK series router.”
A Ross BlackStorm server provides video playback capability with both key and fill channels, and can be controlled from the Vision 2 switcher. ProPresenter is used for graphics, running on a MacPro with a Blackmagic dual SDI output card enabling alpha-keyed lower-thirds.
For cameras, Panasonic HPX-370 series were installed, complimenting the church's existing Panasonic HPX-300 cameras. “All cameras are connected through Telecast Copperhead Pro systems to allow CCU control, video, genlock, intercom, tally and power through a single cable,” adds Delong. “We used Neutrik OpticalCon connectivity throughout the facility to allow the cameras to be patched in the auditorium, studio, balcony, and student center for maximum flexibility.” A ClearCom Eclipse intercom system keeps the technical production crew in contact throughout events.
Projection and rigging
Projection in the auditorium is handled by six Christie Digital Roadster HD14K-J projectors: two rear-projecting on the center screen, one on each left and right main screen, and two mounted on Christie YK-200 moving yokes that are used for environmental projection throughout the room. The YK-200s allow those two projectors to be used for different applications depending on the service.
The center screen and its associated two projectors are mounted on ETC Prodigy hoist systems, providing easy access to the projectors for maintenance. “Additionally, the Prodigy system provides programmable reconfiguration of the center screen position which can be flown in or out in sync with the projectors, making it possible to show live video on a moving 48-foot by 15-foot screen,” Delong reports. “The bulk of the over-stage lighting is also on Prodigy hoists, allowing easy service access as well as configurability for different looks from week to week.”
“The Prodigy system is the bomb,” adds Jeremiah. “They are very smooth, starting and ending slowly to not jar what they are lifting. We have five lighting bars that can now be dropped all the way to the floor.”
Until now, media asset management was handled manually using a collection of external hard drives attached directly to Mac editing stations running Final Cut Pro 7. With video production only becoming increasingly [more] important, Marks began researching media management systems to replace the manual system.
“In researching options, I came across EditShare. It was one of those cornerstone things that we just had to buy. We needed something affordable, something that could expand, and the lower-end version would work for us. It provides shared access from all our workstations with 32 TB online storage and tape backup. Now we can sit down at any machine and call up anything we want across the network. It was a $70,000 investment for the system, with a $5,000-per-year service contract. It's been the biggest change in our workflow.”
While the church currently uses Final Cut Pro 7, they are hoping to switch to Autodesk Smoke. “We do so much compositing with After Effects, and Smoke provides both editing and compositing in one package, reducing the need to go into another tool for special effects.”
The audio system was completely replaced, installing a Nexo Geo line array system. “The Geo system has the accuracy to reproduce the spoken word, the wide bandwidth needed for orchestral and choral type music, and enough punch to grind out a rocking presentation for contemporary worship,” states Senior Designer and VP of Operations Trent Keeling with Advanced. “We wanted to avoid or minimize the need for distributed audio for the new balconies and under balconies, and Nexo products came through in a big way.”
“We chose Avid Audio Profile audio consoles, with three identical consoles serving at FOH, monitors, and broadcast,” adds Jeremiah. “They are easier to train on, and so are good for volunteers. Sonically in the room, it's a big step up from the Yamaha M7CL we had previously. The big thing for us was the head amps—you can control head amp settings from each mix location independently without affecting the other two mix positions.”
Northwoods already possessed a good complement of lighting fixtures, with ETC Source Four and Source Four PAR fixtures forming the backbone of conventional tungsten lighting, along with a host of moving lights. They added more LED lighting to the rig, as well, some Martin Professional Roboscan intelligent fixtures and Elation DesignSpot fixtures.
The biggest change (aside from the ETC Prodigy Lifts for the lighting bars and soft goods) was switching from an older ETC Congo console to the Jands Vista L5 console. “The Vista has the horsepower we needed both for now and for the future,” Jeremiah says, “as well as user-friendliness for volunteers.”
Northwoods' expansion has positioned the ministry to do well technologically for many years to come. And it has brought the technical systems to a level of user-friendliness needed for a church that relies heavily on volunteers to make its services happen.