Posted in projects on June 30, 2017 4:04 am EDT

Unity Through Technology

Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, Ala., built two campuses from the ground up. Its remaining locations are portable churches that meet in a combination of schools, community centers, and conference facilities, with technology binding them together.

Most campuses are equipped with an Avid Profile audio console, Meyer loudspeakers and subwoofers, High End Systems lighting consoles (either Full Boar 4s or Road Hog 4s), and Martin lighting fixtures. For video, the church utilizes ProPresenter, and AJA Ki Pro decks for playback.











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TAGS: architectural design, avl design, collaboration, multisite, streaming, sustainability, technology,


By Carolyn Heinze

Led by Pastor Chris Hodges, Church of the Highlands held its first service at Mountain Brook High School just outside of Birmingham, Ala., on February 4, 2001. Established as part of the Association of Related Churches (ARC, of which Hodges is one of the first members), the church has experienced tremendous growth, expanding to 14 campuses across the state. According to Justin Firesheets, production manager at Highlands, more than 41,000 people attended its 15th anniversary in February.

To unite all of these campuses, Highlands relies heavily on technology. “We wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing without technology, which means that we must have great systems and teams in place,” he says. “We often say that the ministry need determines the technology response, so it’s up to our various technology teams here to ensure that we’re ready to adjust as the vision of our ministries grows and evolves.”

Multi-site Maneuvers

Two of its campuses are located on Highlands’ main Grants Mill site in Birmingham, which houses a broadcast auditorium that seats 2,400, a 400-seat chapel with a more traditional live worship experience, and an 800-seat overflow space that serves as a video venue. There are six additional campuses in the Metro Birmingham area, and then six more in outlying cities throughout Alabama. One of these campuses was previously a church that was gifted to Highlands, which expanded it as the congregation grew, while another is an [adaptive reuse] of an office building.

The church built two campuses from the ground up, and the remaining locations are portable churches that meet in a combination of schools, community centers, and conference facilities. “All of our campuses really start portable, and then over the course of time we acquire land in that area,” Firesheets explains.

The church is currently in the process of building another campus, which is slated to open sometime during the first quarter of 2017.

Live Design Group, an architecture and interior design firm based in Birmingham, Ala., designed the master plan for Highlands’ Grants Mill location, as well as its first phase of construction, and the overflow auditorium. “[Chris Hodges] wanted people to be comfortable, and he wanted it to look fairly modern, where the landscaping looked nice and the building was clean and simple,” recounts Aubrey Garrison III, architect and principal at Live Design Group. The firm also designed the prototype satellite campus for the church’s Riverchase location. Both projects feature a tilt-up concrete structure with modern “storefront” entrances, with high ceilings and open spaces inside.

From there, Highlands took its architectural design work in house—a bittersweet development for Garrison. Ned Ruykhaver, the Live Design architect who had been involved in the Highlands projects, left the firm to work as architect for capital projects at the church.

“[When Ned came to me and told me that he was leaving,] I sent Chris Hodges an email that day that said, ‘I just met with Ned and got the news, and I’ve never experienced joy and sadness at exactly the same moment like I did this morning,’” Garrison recalls. “I said, ‘I’m sad because Ned is a great guy, he’s a great member of our team and I’m sad he’s leaving us, but I’m joyful that he’s going where he feels God is calling him.’” And, while he admits that at first Ruykhaver’s departure meant that his firm was losing a considerable amount of work, Live Design has since been involved in a number of projects for other ARC churches thanks to its involvement with Highlands. “It’s just the way God works.”

Technology Choices

To keep things consistent, Firesheets explains that everything originates out of Highlands’ broadcast campus at Grants Mill. Because the church does not hold Saturday evening services, “that means Sunday is game day—that’s your only chance to get it right,” he says. Currently, Highlands is using Haivision’s video software platform to deliver content from the main campus to the other locations. “That allows all of the campuses to take a live feed of the service. They can time slip a bit if they’re going to transition a minute or two later—they can pause and catch up when they need to so there’s not the pressure of having to go live at an exact moment on the clock.” If they are unable to go live, campuses can play back a service from earlier that morning: "After each service, we transfer a file of that service capture over FTP to every campus so that they can have a local version to play back if they need to. Then, if there’s an issue of some sort with the live service feed, they can transition over to that backup and still have the service continue without interruption.”  continued >>