Avid Deko @ Saddleback: So Easy a Volunteer Can Do It

Saddleback Valley Community Church is one of the fastest growing and influential megachurches in America.  Located in Lake Forest, California, total congregation figures exceed 70,000 with an average weekly attendance of 22,000.

Saddleback Valley Community Church is one of the fastest growing and influential megachurches in America.  Located in Lake Forest, California, total congregation figures exceed 70,000 with an average weekly attendance of 22,000.  Saddleback founder, Pastor Rick Warren, has also authored “The Purpose-Driven Life,” a spiritual self-help book that denotes the philosophical foundation of the church.

Since its publication in 2002, this book has become a New York Times best-seller for one of the longest periods in history and established a unique position as one of the most popular non-fiction books of all time.

From its first service in 1980 attended by 205 worshippers, Saddleback has expanded to encompass over 200 ministries while over 200,000 church leaders from around the world have been trained in its theological precepts.  An international personality in his own right, Pastor Warren was selected to deliver President Barack Obama’s inaugural invocation earlier this year.

One Church, Many Venues

Comprised of six campuses, five physical and one virtual, the church offers a wide variety of activities, from worship services to childcare for the deaf.  At the church’s center is the main Worship Hall, where a TV production facility broadcasts real-time video captured from the service to a generous array of stadium-sized overhead screens.

Despite its size, Saddleback functions similarly to churches on a more local level.  To a significant degree, it depends on the services of volunteers.  That is one of the reasons the video staff elected to go with the Deko 3000 graphics system and PostDeko offline software the facility currently employs – operation is so easy a volunteer can do it.

Deko 3000 and PostDeko solutions serve two types of graphics generation functions.  The first is a series of lower third message graphics encapsulating portions of the service into a short phrase or expression.  PostDeko provides all the design power necessary to create complex on-air graphic templates as well as animations to overlay the live video right at the desktop.  From there, the assets are transferred to the online Deko system for airplay.

The second function served is creation of song verse graphics overlayed on live video during sung portions of the services.  The Deko 3000 system is highly-flexible and adaptable; of particular value to the Saddleback video is its ability to facilitate quick, on-the-fly changes.

Smooth Volunteer Operators

Of the 10-20 verse lines in any given song, it may be necessary to change some of them within a very short timeframe.  Deko makes it possible for a volunteer operator to do that, if necessary, even while the service is in progress.

It’s a key concern for Saddleback video staff, since volunteers are typically scheduled to come in just once every three weeks, but are tasked with running the program and keeping up with any changes or alteration in song cycles as they occur.  If, for instance, the singer switches verses or set order, the operator must be able to follow and accommodate those alterations in real time.

The majority of volunteers have relatively minimal experience and a modest level of working knowledge about the system’s operation.  For the most part, their capabilities extend to running the program and making simple changes.  However, the whole service can be pre-programmed except for any last-minute changes before the volunteer arrives.

“I’m very comfortable with it,” comments Elaine Koehler, Video Director, “and our volunteers are comfortable running it.  It’s so easy I can just talk them through it.”

Picture Perfect

The graphics generated by the Deko products help worshippers keep track of the song verses and reinforce service messaging.  Prior to purchasing Deko 3000 and PostDeko approximately a year and a half ago, Saddleback invited other vendors to demonstrate competitive products but there was no disputing the quality.

“We had a number of companies in just to see what was out there,” explains Koehler, “but one look at Avid Deko and we knew it was going to be perfect for us.”

Saddleback offers six Worship Hall services every weekend, four on Sunday and two on Saturday.  For high holidays, the stage may even be graced with an orchestra of up to 80 players, along with several guest singers, speakers and worship leaders.  Graphics become a considerable challenge in these environments, but Deko solutions invariably deliver and congregations are very receptive, particularly to the overall display quality.

Beyond the live services, Saddleback streams Deko-generated message graphics with the video to other locations including the Terrace Café (informal), Traditions (small church), El Encuentro (Spanish-language), Elevation (singles), Overdrive (rock) and Praise (gospel).  At Fuel, the newest venue for young adults, services have their own identity, music and live pastor.  However, message graphics, converted to jpg files are delivered there for use in the worship program.

In addition, Saddleback has three satellite campus which also receive message graphics generated from the Deko system.  Prior to the service, video is distributed to those venues via DVD.  Services open with a live pastor delivering the opening prayer and announcements, after which the video is shown.  At the conclusion, the live pastor closes the service.

Currently, the Dekos are HD, but the screens SD.  Fortunately, Deko can generate content in HD which can be easily delivered in SD format for display on three screens above the stage and two more on either side.  Since the high costs of purchase and installation make a short-term upgrade of those screens unlikely, the ability to convert seamlessly from HD to SD affords the church ample time to consider and evaluate screen replacement options.

Sight Plus Sound

In addition to the Deko systems, Saddleback employs a full raft of audio gear, including Pro Tools, ICON and Venue.  After a year and a half, the system has been fully installed and operates to the satisfaction of Mike Mireau, Recording Engineer.

He is now ready to take on acoustic challenges that might include 40-50 inputs on non-orchestra weekends to orchestra weekends requiring 70-80 inputs at time.  The laundry list of tools at his disposal include a 96-input Pro Tools|HD system and an ICON D-Command digital console featuring 12 microphone preamp units that feed six 96 I/O audio interfaces.

While it may begin with the services, it certain does not end there.  Services are streamed live and archived for future downloads.  Two Saturday night services are also captured on the recording room’s Pro Tools|HD system and ICON D-Command console, then edited for offsite venues, uploaded and distributed to the venues via DVR.  Soon, Saddleback will switch to satellite feed, enabling delivery of live sound to offsite facilities.

Mike’s network also monitors Internet feeds, so he can continually compare live and online feeds.  ICON D-Command gives him the ability to bring the Internet mix back and balance with the live mix.  A mobile component will be added in the not-too-distant future, providing a stream for the iPhone in the short-term and eventually migrating to other mobile platforms such as Google’s Android OS.

“We’re pretty much an Avid house, “Mike comments, “so much so that if you guys came out with LCD screens, we’d probably have to make that transition as well.”

Growing with Avid

Both Elaine and Mike see the growth created by the technologies employed in their respective domains on a daily basis.  There is no denying the impact delivery of high-quality audio and video has on the worship experience for those witnessing it first-hand, as well as others congregated in separate facilities or viewing online.  It’s a key means of accomplishing Pastor Warren’s primary mission – to reach out to more people in more ways than ever before.