“Do you stand under that?” I asked that question to a pastor as we observed a speaker cluster slowly swinging in the breeze generated by the air-conditioning system. The free-moving cluster was hung above the podium, on the stage, inside of a mid-sized house of worship (HOW). When the pastor said that he had been standing under the speaker cluster for nearly 10 years, I told him that he is a braver man than I am. I estimated that the four loudspeakers weighed at least 250lb. and were about 25 feet in the air. As we looked more closely at the cluster, we saw swing-set-type chain coming through the ceiling tile, connected to a number of S hooks and, ultimately, connected to eye hooks that had been screwed into the loudspeakers. Then, we climbed above the drop ceiling and found two 2×4 pieces of wood that had been strapped across two slats of the wooden A-frame that supports the roof. The chain had been wrapped around the 2x4s a numbers of times, and then dropped down to the speaker cluster. Yikes!
Thankfully, there had not been an incident over the past 10 years; however, to my eyes, it was a “miracle” that the speakers had not fallen and injured someone (or worse). I asked the pastor who had installed the speaker cluster, and he told me that volunteers had done the work. We were there to design a new sound system based on line-array technology. The pastor asked me if the 2x4s would support the line arrays. I think you know my answer. But, respectfully, I said to him it was “not possible” for a host of reasons.
Lest you think that these challenges only occur in small to mid-sized HOWs, let me tell you about the challenges we experienced working with a large HOW. It purchased a warehouse kit to create its worship space. The warehouse company claimed its kit could be used to create a worship facility. I will confirm that the warehouse kit worked, but not as easily as the warehouse company had advertised. The kit consisted of a huge cement slab that was poured, and the warehouse/worship facility was built on top of it. Huge arched steel beams were used to create the skeletal system. Metal panels were attached to the steel to create the walls and the roof. Insulation was attached to the metal siding on the inside.
We were happy to serve the wonderful group of people at that HOW. We were thrilled that the facility used us to purchase a lot of equipment, including trusses for lighting, lighting fixtures, projectors, video screens and a line array sound system. It was certainly on the path to creating a vibrant worship space. We also knew that the cumulative weight of the gear was very heavy; thus, we had to install the gear securely so that people would be safe.
In new construction projects, we insist that structural engineers are part of the design process. We believe it is vital to ensuring that the structure will support new and future technologies. Because the worship space was already constructed, we brought in the structural engineer after the fact to determine the best way to rig the gear safely. He determined that the heavy load had to be distributed throughout the metal structure in order to maintain the structure’s integrity. Done that way, we were assured that the structure would safely support the heavy load of the gear.
To distribute the weight properly, the engineer determined that we had to bring in additional pieces of steel truss and bolt them to numerous locations on the steel frame. That delayed the process and caused some heavy metal discussions with the leadership regarding the need for the additional steel. However, ultimately, we completed the project and, in so doing, created a vibrant worship space for that wonderful group of people. We also learned a lot from the experience.
I’m sure that many of you have stories of installations that caused you to use every bit of knowledge that you have. Rigging gear is not simple. Thus, I believe professionals should do the installation. I believe the potential consequences of not using professionals to do the job are not worth the “deal.” I love volunteers who give their time to support their HOW; however, when HOWs want to use volunteers to complete the install, I believe that they compromise the safety of the untrained volunteers, who are asked to work in a high ceiling with no real knowledge of how to rig a system—no matter how big or small—safely.
I believe that we must stress that vigorously with HOW leaders who are thinking about using volunteers for their installation. I see the situation like this: If a loudspeaker, projector or light were to fall and hurt someone (or worse)…well…that’s a tragedy that no one wants to experience. And, if it were to occur, in addition to the physical trauma inflicted upon the injured persons, the incident would inflict emotional trauma on the congregation and, possibly, the entire community. Plus, the HOW could face significant litigation.
The good news is that house of worship leaders of all sizes continue to purchase new technologies, and they typically want those products to be installed in locations above the audience. We should do the job; volunteers should not. But, to make our case, I believe we might be required to bring heavy metal into our conversations with HOW leaders, as well as heavy metal into our installations. By doing that, I believe we can play a huge role in helping worship leaders to create a vibrant worship space.
That is what I believe. Please tell me what you believe.