Church of the Highlands, Birmingham

The Opportunity:

Founded in 2001 by senior pastor Chris Hodges, Church of the Highlands is a non-denominational multi-site church with headquarters in Birmingham and sixteen additional satellite campuses across Alabama. With an average combined weekly attendance of 60,000 members and reaching as many as 85,000 attendees for its annual Easter and Christmas services, Church of the Highlands boasts the largest congregation of any church in Alabama and the second largest in the United States. While each campus has a resident pastor and its own community worship experiences, the sermon portion of each service is delivered from the main campus in Birmingham and a live video feed is simulcast to the church’s satellite locations.

With technology playing an integral role in creating meaningful worship experiences for the church’s thousands of members across separate locations, church leaders wanted to ensure high production standards for the video simulcast.

The Solution:

Lighting Director Patrick Hentz made the decision to upgrade the church’s aging lighting system with a state-of-the-art lighting solution. Hentz selected an extensive range of Martin fixtures to ensure premium image quality for the video simulcast, in addition to providing immersive lighting for high-energy worship events.

The church’s new lighting rig features an array of 12 MAC Encore Wash fixtures which provides excellent key light across the entire stage, resulting in rich color and highly accurate white light on camera. The Encore Wash’s unparalleled 6000k daylight temperature is critical for overcoming challenges posed by the large LED video wall behind the church’s stage. The soft-edge moving head fixtures also enable Hentz and his staff to make quick adjustments when a guest speaker steps off the stage or when an event goes off script.

In addition to the new MAC Encore Wash fixtures, Church of the Highlands’ new rig consists of Viper Profile, Quantum Wash and Quantum Profile fixtures for front wash and spot applications. MAC Aura and RUSH MH6CT fixtures enhance the general wash by adding textural backlight from upstage, and Hentz utilizes MAC 101 fixtures when an engaging crowd wash is desired. Because the lighting rig is in constant use and each fixture fulfills different roles, reliable performance and longevity were among the most important factors considered by Hentz when designing the new system.

The Impact:

“There were many reasons behind the upgrade, but the greatest benefits we gained from the new Martin fixtures are brightness, reliability and versatility,” said Hentz. “With 80% of our congregation watching the sermon via the video simulcast, it’s very important that we deliver excellent video quality, and that requires powerful and consistent lighting. Our general approach is to create an environment where people can worship free from distractions. The Martin fixtures give us a great deal of balance and control over accenting and highlighting the most important aspects of our weekly services without going over the top or blinding our guests. On the other hand, when we host youth group events and special concerts, the lighting rig enables us to deliver a stunning visual show which enhances the live music experience with excitement and intensity.”

“A few years ago, we added a 60-feet-by-40-feet LED video wall and that introduced a significant challenge,” related Hentz. “The video panels have a native color temperature of 56k, and our previous rig just wasn’t bright enough to compete. The new Martin fixtures allowed us to increase our maximum levels from 65 foot-candles to 80 foot-candles, yielding a much greater depth of field and improved color accuracy. Another huge benefit is the flexibility to make lighting changes on the fly. If a guest speaker wanders too far to the side, or goes off script and moves from the stage and onto the floor, we can take advantage of the Martin fixtures’ incredible range of motion to follow them. There was even one recent event in which we lost our conventional spotlights at a key moment due to an equipment failure, but we were able to quickly bring up the MAC Encore Wash fixtures and pick up the slack without missing a beat.”

“Martin’s build quality is second to none—their fixtures tend to last five times as long as other manufacturers’ products,” continued Hentz. “When we invest in equipment, we want it to work properly and look great. Before acquiring the Martin rig, we had to run our older fixtures at 100% brightness to achieve the desired output and that was causing a lot of maintenance issues—we were replacing at least five lamps a week! We don’t want to be constantly buying replacements and conducting extensive repairs, so it’s a huge benefit to know our new Martin rig will perform just as well ten years from now. And the Martin team has been extremely helpful when it comes to providing training resources and educating our team about preventative maintenance.”