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Champion Forest Church Trains Volunteers to Run Powerhouse Clair Brothers System

Champion Forest Church

Champion Forest Church Trains Volunteers to Run Powerhouse A/V Systems

Originally published at
August 6, 2013

Champion Forest Church, Main Worship CenterChampion Forest Church recently completed a $4.1 million A/V upgrade, refurbishing its PA and videos systems across all seven venues on its Houston campus, as well as updating itscentral switching/routing systems that allow audio and video to be routed to any point on campus. Coming on the heels of a $40 million building campaign completed nearly two years ago, Champion Forest has both the budget and the technological complexity of a major-market broadcast facility, and with the addition last year of a new Clair Brothers Audio line array sound system and new DiGiCo SD 7 digital FOH console for the main worship sanctuary, a live-sound and video infrastructure that rivals many performing arts centers. Amazingly, however, this sophisticated operation, which provides live and produced A/V and media for the church’s 10,000 members, is run almost solely by church volunteers, supervised by Chris Todd, Champion Forest’s pastor of Media and Technology, and his seven-person staff.

“Of the 26 people we have working the media systems in the church on any given Sunday, at least 20 of them will be volunteers,” says Todd, who acquired much of his hands-on video and technology background editing and producing video for the athletic department at his alma mater, the University of Houston.

It seems like a daunting task, training a staff to run the high-end A/V systems that comprise Champion Forest’s media apparatus, including Ross A/V switchers and routers, and MADI-borne signal distribution. But Todd manages it by adhering to a few key protocols.

  • Start everyone out simply and build up their skills. Todd, an aviation buff, has a three-step protocol for training that he likens to pilot training: “First, you observe,” he says. “You see how things work by watching experienced users working with the equipment. Second, you get to be hands-on with the equipment assisted by an experienced user who takes you through the operational steps for each piece of equipment, including during a service. Third, you finally solo. You’re on your own. It’s an incremental approach that really works well.” Todd also runs a general training seminar twice a year that bring his entire tech staff together to review new developments in A/V technology.
  • Choose scalable key pieces of equipment. Todd says that each time the church upgrades its A/V systems, it will look for the next generation of technologies that it already uses, such as the Ross switchers. The most recent upgrade sees them using an integrated Ross Vision 4ME audio/video switcher, which also simplifies operation because it does not require external embedding/de-embedding for audio. All audio now rides on fiber cabling between all of the venues and the central post production and control room, and all of the DiGiCo digital consoles added in the last upgrade round are all on that line, able to keep the audio signals digital until they hit the sound systems amplifiers. “Any piece of equipment that has a user interface that we’re already familiar with simplifies training,” he says.
  • Choose user-friendly gear. Todd chose Sony video cameras when the church transitioned to HD not only because he liked the image they generated but also because they included features such as focus-assist that made them easier and more reliable for his volunteer staff to run. “These might be little things that just make someone’s job just a bit easier, but they can have a huge impact on their performance because they have that much less to worry about,” he explains.
  • Use checklists. Another idea borrowed from aviation, Todd is a huge proponent of using detailed, sequential checklists for every technology position, from cameras to post production. These are especially important for live events. “Just like with flying, you only get one chance and if you mess it up, it can be disastrous,” he says. “Checklists are critical if you want to do things with excellence and precision.”