Seventeen years after construction of the original building, Lake Bowen Baptist Church, located in Inman, South Carolina, was in need of additional auditorium seating and up-grades in lighting, sound and video equipment.
Unused attic space over a row of classrooms around the rear of the existing auditorium provided an opportunity for expansion in the form of new gallery seating. A steel support structure was built over the existing classrooms and the gallery seating levels were created using large blocks of Styrofoam. The Styrofoam was covered with four inches of poured concrete creating a very economical method for constructing gallery seating while maintaining the classrooms below. The addition of the gallery seating in the auditorium provided a 25 percent increase in the total number of seats.
An analysis of the seating habits of the church members showed that the existing pews were part of the problem in not having enough seating for the congregation. First, the “spread factor” led to individuals taking up too much space on the fixed bench seats. Secondly, the long rows were hard to fill-in toward the center, with people sitting along the edges first. The difficulty in filling the center areas was directly related to the fixed pew seat which only allowed about 12 inches of clear space for moving in or out.
Theater seating options were explored and found to correct all of these problems while at the same time providing a more comfortable seat. 941 theater seats were installed in the auditorium to the delight of the congregation, which included a large number of middle age to senior adults.
LIGHTING AND SOUND UPGRADES
All of the existing incandescent quartz house light fixtures in the auditorium were removed and replaced with LED fixtures, which are controlled individually with DMX cable and a lighting control console. The positive impact of these lower temperature, energy efficient lights on the air conditioning system did not go unnoticed. Upstage and downstage lighting trusses were also installed, featuring color LED stage lights. Additionally, the old sound system was replaced with an up-to-date digital system, utilizing line array speakers that were carefully aimed to distribute sound to all parts of the expanded room.
Existing 4:3 ratio rear-projection screens were removed from the left and right sides of the angled stage walls and an environmental projection system was installed in its place. The three projectors making up this system can project an image onto the wall using a virtually unlimited palette of backgrounds. This system is regularly used to create an immersive environment for a variety of worship styles.
The church was able to increase their auditorium capacity by 25 percent, obtaining 941 seats in the room (not counting the stage), with the help of McAbee Architects. Additionally, they obtained better quality seats and a much improved sound and lighting system more suitable for today’s culture. 1,804 square feet of new space was created above the existing classrooms and another 13,350 square feet of existing space was renovated for a total cost (including all equipment) of $1.1 million.
Existing churches should look for opportunities to expand their capacities inside the envelope of their existing building. A well thought-out approach for ministry upgrades is good stewardship when compared with constructing new buildings or opening new venues at other locations.