Church Production

Images courtesy of Bob Sullivan.

Permanence & Purpose

Southeastern Michigan’s Woodside Bible Church takes a major leap from a middle school cafetorium to a fabulous repurposed retail space. CPM looks at the technology moves that happened in the process.

By Andy McDonough
May 24, 2016 12:46 pm EST

Topics: Medium Church 300-800, Audio-based, Video-based, Lighting-based, Multisite/Portable Church, Audio-based, Video-based, Lighting-based,
Tags: audio, loudspeakers, multisite, production, project,

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"Not only were there significant changes that needed to be made to the structure and power to bring the building up to code, but the sanctuary space had supporting columns on stage and in the worship seating that would impact sightlines."

Bob Sullivan
Principal, Advanced Lighting and Sound, Troy, MI.

With 12 campuses, Woodside Bible Church is well known to Southeastern Michigan's Contemporary Christian population. Woodside’s unique Lake Orion campus recently made a huge leap from five years of being hosted in a middle school “cafetorium” to a repurposed, 85,000-square-foot retail space. The shopping complex, themed with an old world grey stone exterior, stands in sharp contrast to Woodside’s modern worship style, but it turned out to be an ideal location. “We are like a church in a castle,” says Lake Orion’s technical director, Mike Hutson, ‘’and people seem to like that, but the new location presented some significant challenges.”

The Back-story

Hutson was there when the Lake Orion campus was originally founded, in 2009. “We were a church on wheels,” he recalls, “operating out of a middle school ‘cafetorium.’” Though the school location was just “a glass and concrete room,” Hutson’s technical experience helped him transform it for worship. “I’ve always had a heart for music,” he says, “even as a child.”

His love of music coupled with a career in information technology and project management for Detroit-based automotive giant General Motors has made his approach to church technical direction unique. “I’d managed projects of all sizes,” Hutson notes, “including major renovations of call centers and entire offices, but had to learn about production.” Even with little experience in church production, Hutson was able to help when a small church wanted to present cantata events. He designed lighting and sound, and built out their small stage to support larger productions. “I was learning as I went,” he recalls, “mostly from textbooks, articles and whatever else I could find.” In addition, Hutson recalls that his experience in a smaller worship environment taught him many of the important skills needed to work well with vocalists and a band.

Applying the experience he gained at the smaller church, Hutson was able to make the limited technology at Lake Orion’s middle school location work well for them for more than five years. Even with the limitations of a temporary location, the campus showed continuous growth and, with the support of Woodside’s main campus in Troy, Mich., church leaders found the retail space that would become Lake Orion’s new, permanent home.

New Purpose

Hutson and church leaders decided on a Birmingham, Mich., architectural firm, Douglas Johnson and Associates, to handle the structural renovation and adapt the space to include a 750-seat sanctuary. The age and design of the building for retail, along with budget constraints, challenged Hutson’s project management skills and the team’s resourcefulness. For AVL systems, the church turned to Bob Sullivan, principal of Advanced Lighting and Sound in Troy, Mich.

“The former retail store was an unusual and challenging space,” Sullivan recalls. “Not only were there significant changes that needed to be made to the structure and power to bring the building up to code, but the sanctuary space had supporting columns on stage and in the worship seating that would impact sightlines.” One of Sullivan’s most significant challenges was providing solid audio that could [work] with the shape of the room. An escalator that had adorned the retail space would cost too much to relocate or remove. As a result, the room had to be designed in a dramatically asymmetrical way.

Sullivan and Hutson share the opinion that involving AVL integrators early in any remodeling process can be key to reducing costs and preventing marginal designs that have to be redone or worked around. As an example, Hutson had looked at other church renovations in the area and had taken note of rooms where air return ductwork was inappropriately located over the stage area. “We were able to catch this and correct it before it became a problem,” he says. “We don’t use haze effects very much, but when we do, we’d like the effect to stay in the stage area.” As a result, air return ducts at Lake Orion were more appropriately relocated toward the rear of the room.

Similarly, Sullivan, who had years of experience working in churches and with electrical contractors, pointed out that house lighting need not extend over the stage area. The observation saved the church significantly on materials and costs to run additional circuits to support the unnecessary lighting.

Major design criteria for the Lake Orion campus included the ability for the campus to have a similar look and feel as other Woodside churches. Each of Woodside’s 12 campuses (most are 200-400 members) follows the lead of the main campus in Troy, Mich. Central creative and technical teams at Troy aid in production design and technology for all the campuses. Productions are revised three or four times a year, to reshape stage design, coordinating lighting and color schemes. On Sunday mornings, teaching pastors preach live, and share an outline with the other pastors, but the teaching at each campus is separate.

A Working Relationship

Sullivan’s relationship with Woodside goes back over 10 years and includes work on building the main campus in Troy. With a long history of working with churches, Sullivan is proud to say that he has been an integrator from the start. His introduction to production technology goes back to high school where he inquisitively “followed an AV installer around.” He quickly learned how to operate the new AV equipment and was awarded the keys to the technical booth.

After school, he managed a theater and learned more about the professional aspects of the business. “Productions were always competing with my goals for a formal education,” observes Sullivan, “and eventually technology won out.” As more side work presented itself, Sullivan took on additional projects and had to find help. “What started as part time grew rapidly,” he recalls. Today, Sullivan and ALS principal Bob Minchella have 15 employees, and 65%-70% of their business is churches. “With most of our clients, we have a long history,” he adds.

Sullivan’s goals for the Lake Orion campus reflected his approach to technology in general. “Let me provide you with tools that are best for what you need to do,” he says, “and help you find the solution that will last.” Sullivan worked closely with Hutson and his team to provide the best choices for lighting, sound and media that would meet the budget and provide the best solutions for the room.

Gear Selection

To meet the objective of keeping the Lake Orion campus in sync with the high production values of Woodside’s main campus, Sullivan specified 12 ETC 426-A Source Four 26-degree fixtures to provide basic color wash, equipped with Ushio HPL750/X 750-watt halogen bulbs and two Elation Platinum Spot 5R Pro spotlights. “The 5Rs employ a pre-aligned reflector and are always focused. They just look beautiful every time,” says Sullivan. In addition, the installation called for eight Martin Rush PAR 2 12x10watt RGBW fixtures that boast a 10-degree to 60-degree zoom. Sullivan reports, “Rush Par zooms help us to get different looks with minimal effort.” Fifteen Universal 12x12x10 box trusses provide the mounting structure for the installation.

Lighting control employs an ETC DRd system with Paradigm control along with an Elation Opto Branch 8 single rack space, eight-way DMX distributor/booster. This unit takes an incoming DMX control signal splitting eight ways to separate outputs. Each output provides a total electrical isolation of up to 1000V between branches. Sullivan also installed and provisioned a Jands Vista S1 Lighting Control Package that provides Hutson and his team with a small, portable lighting control surface that’s easy to use. While compact, the S1 presents five playbacks, including faders and flash buttons, a complete programming section with three encoder wheels, a rotary master fader and two clear LCD displays. According to Hutson, “The Jands Vista system is easy to learn and operate so just about anyone can jump right in. I’m very happy with it, as are the volunteers.” Next page