In a hidden-away room that used to house the church library, a new ministry opportunity is taking shape. It’s an audio and video production studio aimed at improving First Free’s online worship services. As we all watched services online during the worst months of the pandemic, it was hard not to notice that the music didn’t sound nearly as good as it sounds live.
Because the existing broadcast booth is located in the sanctuary, it’s hard to engineer the audio for an audience that isn’t. It’s the same reason TV crews produce sporting events from soundproof trucks outside the stadium.
“You want to be far enough away from the source that your mix isn’t being affected by what you’re hearing in the room,” says Dave Peterson, Technical Arts Director.
So, church leadership decided to create a new space for a new era, and as another way to follow Jesus’ Great Commission to “go and make disciples of all nations.”
“The Broadcast Room will be a great resource for us as we continue to accomplish the mission that we’ve been given,” says Lead Pastor Luke Uran. “Through this room we will be able to give the quality of our livestream services a much-needed upgrade and use it as a means of encouraging those viewing online to engage in the other ministries of the church in person.
“Our ultimate goal is people entering into a relationship with Jesus Christ and then encouraging them to be a part of the church as they, along with the rest of First Free Rockford, continue to worship together, grow together and serve together.”
An early choice for a studio location was an empty area above and behind the stage, near the old baptismal area. That is, until Dave went up there during Classic Service one Sunday morning and found the walls rattling.
“It’s right next to the organ chamber,” he says. “So what would happen for a mix engineer is, you hear the organ bleed through the room. It’s tough to discern what you’re hearing in the room and what you’re hearing through the speakers. So you might not run it as loud in the mix, and then the end user who’s listening (online) wonders, ‘Why is the organ so quiet?’ You want to isolate yourself from any other audio that could throw that mix off.”
The library room near the north entrance provided a perfect location: far enough from the Sanctuary to be able to shut out the live sound, but close enough for Tech Team members to run back and forth — and for the project not to cost a fortune in new network wiring. So the library and the prayer room have been combined next-door.
Wait. Don’t we already have a glass-enclosed booth in the balcony? Isn’t it sound-insulated? Couldn’t the Tech Team have just used that?
Yes. Sort of. And … have you ever looked in there on a Sunday morning?
“That room is really small,” Dave says. “We have no room for growth of the team. There are a few positions that we’d like to add, but we just can’t because there is no room in there. It’s tight.”
Along with a video director, several other team members already cram into the space during a service: controlling lighting, live audio, running the song-lyric slides and several other tasks that require in-Sanctuary presence.
A separate studio for the offsite presentation will allow for a whole new approach to the livestream.
“There are things that contextually might not make sense to put on our streams in the sanctuary,” Dave says. “As Luke or Josh make a point, we could put up a graphic that says, “Hey, if you want to know more about what Pastor Luke or Pastor Josh just said, click this link and it will open a new window you can check out afterward.”
The new Broadcast Room is configured —and sound-proofed — for the noisy, controlled chaos of a live production crew.
“That group has to be talking,” Dave says. “The director is talking to the camera people nonstop. He needs to be able to focus and not hear all that, and they need to be able to talk to each other without yelling.”
The room is split by another sound-insulated wall into two distinct spaces (with a window between), so all of that chatter from the video volunteers won’t mess with the volunteers working with the audio feed.
Did we mention volunteers?
Two staff people comprise the Tech department. There are no plans for additional staff to cover any of these new roles. That means the volunteer Tech Team needs to grow. Camera operators. Graphics people. Sound mixers. Even on-camera hosts.
Hey, come back here! This could still be you, and you could learn something fun.
“I don’t think there’s a person who could come to me that I couldn’t find a fit for,” Dave says. “Regardless of experience. There’s always a fear with tech — I have never done anything like this. But for about 70 percent of our volunteer team, this is the first place they’ve ever served on a tech team.”
To check out volunteer opportunities in Tech or any other team, visit our Volunteer page.
‘This is a mission field’
Online attendance might have accelerated because of COVID, but it’s a trend that isn’t going away. The emerging reality for all churches is that fewer people attend live services every week. Instead of cursing the darkness, First Free is lighting a digital candle.
“The whole point of it is to increase our reach for our online congregation, but also to increase the personal touch,” Dave says. “So it doesn’t just feel like a service of observation, but a service of participation. It’s easy just to sit on the couch and just consume. I’ve found myself guilty of that sometimes when I’ve watched a service at home. So we’re constantly thinking of how we can better connect those who are watching at home. And some of these positions will allow us to do that with a little more personal touch.”
“I hope it excites people to see what is possible through this room,” he adds. “This is a mission field. We are reaching people far further out than what we have ever had the possibility of doing as a technical department and as a church. I hope people see this and get excited about the potential, and want to be a part of it.”