The Valleys To The Mountain
By Dawn Allcot

Published in February 2009

Peckville Assembly of God Church hosts high-profile acts.

Assembly of God Peckville's sanctuary, viewed from the 200-seat balcony.

In October 2008, the superstar Christian rock band Mercy Me performed at Madison Square Garden. The group's stop just prior to its concert at the 20,000-seat New York City venue? Peckville Assembly of God Church in the small mountain town of Peckville PA, outside of Scranton.

With a left-center-right array from Community loudspeakers, a Soundcraft GB8 40-channel mixer and an Aviom in-ear monitor system, plus full projection systems that include image magnification capabilities, the church has the technical infrastructure to host high-profile Christian acts.

The church is the only venue of its size and type in the Endless Mountain Region of Pennsylvania, and is large enough to host well-known bands but small enough to create an intimate concert environment. This month, the Grammy Award-nominated Newsboys will play in the 1000-seat venue.

In addition to permitting the church to bring in outside groups, the new facility offers many other advantages to church staff and the congregation. For instance, the old facility's sanctuary housed only a few hundred worshippers; the church held four separate Sunday services to accommodate all congregation members. Now it holds two Sunday services, and the new facility gives the church much-needed space to grow. The congregation has doubled in size since the building project was completed six months ago.

Additionally, the new systems offer interconnectivity between the main sanctuary, a youth room and a production studio.

Perhaps most importantly, the new systems permit the Pentecostal church to perform outreach to the community. "The main reason to have media is for outreach," said AG-Peckville's Media Director, Fred Cicilioni. "We have two responsibilities: One is to enhance the services and to be transparent while we amplify the worship leader's message to the people in-house, and the second is to go make disciples." The new AV systems, part of a multi-million-dollar building project that moved the church's home literally from the base of the valley to the top of the mountain, help the church's media ministry fulfill both objectives.

Assembly of God Peckville's new home provides room for its rapidly expanding congregation.

The AV and lighting systems were installed and designed by Pottsville PA-based Audiobahn, Inc. Audiobahn, which also owns and operates the domain name www.churchsound, has been dedicated to providing sound, video and lighting solutions for houses of worship for many years. President and Chief Systems Designer Tony Hersch offered advice for breaking into the lucrative church market.

"You have to realize that, when you're talking about Christian churches, every denomination is different. Catholic churches work one way, Baptists work another and Assemblies of God work yet another. You have to learn their politics, how their services are structured and what they need. If you don't have knowledge of their service, you're just shooting in the dark." He noted that one thing is the same across the board: Most churches find their audiovisual integrators through word-of-mouth. "In most cases, the only way to get in is to get direct referrals," he offered.

That does not mean the market isn't wide open for integrators who are willing to take the time to understand their client's needs and explain how systems work in easy-to-understand, jargon-free language. In fact, Hersch stressed that the technological trend is toward contemporary worship with high-tech systems, even in many formerly traditional churches. "The young contemporary Christian movement is very big," he stated. Referring to his recent project at AG-Peckville, he added, "The Assembly of God church has always embraced their youth. That's why they flourish."

Hersch said he was fortunate to work with the media director at AG-Peckville, a flourishing church that puts great emphasis on its youth ministry and the technical systems throughout the facility. "Fred is just wild about technology and what it can accomplish," Hersch said, calling Cicilioni a media director who truly thinks outside the box. "We ran conduit up to the highway because he hopes someday to put a digital billboard out there and broadcast services on Sunday morning to people driving by down in the valley."

For now, Cicilioni outlined three main objectives for the new systems: AV in the main sanctuary that would attract big-name Christian performers, interconnectivity throughout the facility and systems that would assist with quality television production. Each goal, in some way, points back to the church's mission to create new disciples.

Cicilioni stressed that systems were present in their old sanctuary to accomplish these tasks, but the sound, lighting and video were unreliable and barely adequate. "We've been doing this for years, bringing in groups, doing television production," Cicilioni said. "But now we have the equipment to do it well. Everything's reliable now; it does what we expect it to do."

Additionally, the church was running out of room. "The old sanctuary held 250 people if we pushed it," Cicilioni said. "And we were really pushing it. We had people literally turning around and leaving the parking lot because there were no spaces available."

The new sanctuary has an extremely flexible design that allows the church to fit anywhere from 400 to 1000 people in the venue without it looking jam-packed or too empty. "We built the facility with the intention of growth," Cicilioni said.

The main sanctuary floor seats about 450, and the balcony houses an additional 200 worshippers. By turning off the lights in the balcony, the room looks full even if only the sanctuary floor is occupied. Beneath the balcony sit classrooms with collapsible walls that open up, creating space for another 200 seats. Finally, movable seats can be brought in to bring the total capacity up to 1000.

"No matter how many or how few people are in the room, it can always feel full," Cicilioni said. "We shoot for 70% of capacity, because that statistic provides the highest growth rate to attract new people to worship."

Wherever you sit in the sanctuary, Cicilioni emphasized, the systems sound equally good. Hersch and his team, which included Project Manager Joe Dobry and Systems Technicians Rob Bona and Dave Lanzone, installed Community Professional two-way loudspeaker clusters flown horizontally in a left-right-center configuration. IHP1264 12-inch 60x40 cabinets sit at the top to cover the balcony, with an IHP1296 90x60 cabinet underneath to cover the main floor. Dual ILF218 dual 18-inch main subs sit at either side of the stage at deck level. XLT41E 12-inch boxes are used as stage monitors. Hersch relied on an Ashly 3.24CL main system digital processor and 4.224G and 4.24GS digital graphic equalizers. The system is powered by eight QSC RMX2450 main amps and two PLX1804 stage monitor amps.

Dual fixed-frame screens sit to the left and right of the podium on the stage wall, and arrays hang in a left-right-center configuration.

One of the key challenges, Hersch said, was hanging the speakers from the extremely high ceilings. The sheetrock ceiling sits 22 feet up, but the actual roof trusses reside 20 feet above the drop ceiling. "It's a long way up to get to the rigging," he offered. "We had specialized lifts in there during the construction process, and 20 feet of chain coming down from the main roof trusses."

Acoustical panels on the parallel left and right walls help alleviate flutter echo. Community CPL27W dual eight-inch two-way monitor loudspeakers hang in entryways at stage left and stage right, pointing toward the choir risers. The praise band performers use an Aviom AN-16/I system with six A-16ii personal monitor stations.

Microphones include six AKG C1000S instrument mics, two Shure SLX24/SM58 handheld mics and an SLX14 wireless beltpack system with a Countryman E6i earset mic. Front of house mixing is accomplished with a Soundcraft GB8 40-channel mixing board. "The GB8 was chosen for its functionality, sound quality and price," Hersch said.

Dual Panasonic PT-FW100NTU 3200 lumen projectors provide projection capabilities, firing to dual Vutec Vu-Easy fixed-frame screens sitting on the wall behind the stage on either side of the podium. Hersch liked the extruded aluminum beveled edge and black velvet covering on the screens. "It's a really nice looking screen, and easy to install."

The integrator anticipated a challenge with the projectors, which had to hang above the proscenium opening, but discovered they worked perfectly. "They're coming down at a little bit of an angle onto those screens," Hersch said. He noted that they keystone-corrected very well, and maintained focus at both the top and bottom of the screen.

The projector's ambient light sensors make it an eco-friendly solution, and the filter mechanism advances the filter as it gets dirty, making it easy to maintain. The fold-down front prevents dirt from getting on the lens. Hersch said he used the new projectors for the first time at Peckville and, since, has specified them for several other jobs.

The church presents PowerPoint, song lyrics, sermon notes and I-Mag (image magnification) on the screens. I-Mag is accomplished through Canon and Sony (high definition) cameras that were part of the previous sanctuary systems. The cameras also capture the service for webcasting on the church website,

A 60-inch LG plasma display hangs on the balcony as a confidence monitor for those on the podium.

Video and audio is routed through Kramer VP 4X4 video/audio matrix switchers and Intelix DIGIVGA active distribution baluns systems. These components, which transmit signals over Cat5, provide connectivity throughout the venue, a key feature of the installation.

The new facility contains a production studio, youth room, café, lobby and multiple hallways, all of which feature extensive AV systems of their own. The systems in the youth room were originally installed in the former facility's master control room and sanctuary; the church's 25-person tech staff, comprised mostly of volunteers, completed the transfer themselves, along with running conduit in the new sanctuary.

Audiobahn also added JBL Control 26CT 70-volt, six-inch, two-way ceiling speakers in the hallways and Control 25Ts in the lobby. These broadcast the service while it is taking place on Sunday morning.

The production studio, youth room and main sanctuary are connected through the Kramer matrix switchers, which Hersch said were an affordable way to provide three-way connectivity. "There's a send/receive from each of those main areas to and from the other two," Hersch said, describing some of the possibilities. "From the front-of-house position in the main sanctuary, you can switch to the AV signal coming from the youth room, have a two-way conversation and then the youth can play a song for everyone in the sanctuary. Or you can take a DVD playing in the youth room and send it to the two other locations. Similarly, the production studio can load up a PowerPoint presentation and send it to both the youth room and the main sanctuary."

The systems permit the church to use the youth center as overflow space if necessary. The church can also do a live webcast of Sunday services and tape, produce and create multi-track recordings for play on-air to the local ABC, FOX and ION Television affiliates, along with several regional networks and stations overseas, as well.
"We have an international ministry," Cicilioni said, noting the webcasts are viewed by Assembly of God members on all seven continents.

Hersch and his staff had some fun with the web cam feed when they were photographing the sanctuary for this report. "Earlier today," Hersch said, laughing, "I had two guys in the church and they had the webcam on. I went to the website, and then sent them a text message saying, ‘I'm watching you'."

Of course, AG-Peckville's congregation members are enjoying the new systems even more. "A lot of people say the video screens are so much easier to read. And the sound is so much more evenly distributed across the room," Cicilioni added. "Sometimes people don't comment at all, but you look around the church during services and you can tell they're feeling a difference."

Dawn Allcot is a freelance writer specializing in the audiovisual and health and fitness industries.

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