April 28, 2006 4:00 AM PDT
Is Jesus the next killer app?
Companies such as Sony, Panasonic, Avid and Hitachi are helping churches spread the gospel as part of an effort to cash in on an exploding market known as "house of worship technology."
In recent years, members of the clergy have begun competing with MTV, video games and the Internet by jazzing up sermons with image magnification systems and large-screen video displays, a la Apple Computer's Steve Jobs at a product launch. The trend has evolved, and churches now are Webcasting to distant parishioners with sophisticated multicamera operations and pumping up the volume inside worship areas with state-of-the-art sound systems.
"It's like going to a rock concert," says Patrick Teagarden, one of the growing number of sound-and-video technicians whose main customers are churches. "It's a fact: Media helps make it easier for people to pay attention."
An illustration of the market's growing clout came this week at the National Association of Broadcasters 2006 electronic media conference. For the first time, NAB dedicated an exhibit area to tech and consumer electronics companies that are catering to churches.
The titles of some of the conference sessions included "Radio Frequency Interference & The Church Sound System," "Worship Software to Expand Your Media Presentation" and "Microphones & Religious Applications."
Perhaps America's best example of the tech-savvy house of worship is the Houston-based Lakewood Church, which last year recorded a weekly attendance of 30,000. Pastor Joel Osteen needed the Compaq Center, a former basketball arena that was once home of the National Basketball Association's Houston Rockets, to serve as his chapel.
Osteen employs three massive video-display screens to project his image to people sitting in the nosebleed seats. Illuminating the walls and the giant globe spinning behind Osteen's pulpit are Altman Micro Strips, strip lights that use a range of tungsten halogen lamps to create different lighting effects.
Lakewood is also planning a migration to HDTV and recently bought eight high-definition cameras from Sony. The dollar value on Lakewood's video and production facilities is about $4 million, according to CIOinsight.com.
At Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Ill., the technology budget is $1 million a year out of a total annual budget of $27 million, CIOinsight.com reported.
This kind of spending attracts disciples.
"There's not one major electronics manufacturer who isn't trying to target this space," said Dan Stark, who operates Stark Raving Solutions, a company that specializes in outfitting churches with the latest in audio and video technology.
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