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First Lutheran Church Finds “Solutions” with Community Loudspeakers

First Lutheran Church, Ellicott, Maryland

The leafy green hills west of Baltimore are home to First Lutheran, one of the area’s oldest and beloved churches. Established in 1874, the church has grown steadily over the years, moving to its current site in the mid-1950s. The campus is home to several buildings, including the Ellicott City Children’s House, Montessori School, and the current sanctuary, dedicated in 1996.

The octagonally-shaped sanctuary is as beautiful as it is acoustically challenging. Designed to feature the church’s exquisite pipe organ and choir, the building’s wood and glass ceiling, brick walls and rock and tile floor create a reflective environment that wreaks havoc with spoken word intelligibility. As Senior Pastor Eugene Kern explains, the issue was one that was initially not easy to discern.

“Since my arrival to First Lutheran in early 2009, there were complaints passed on to me about the sound system,” says Kern. “It took some time to interpret the specifics behind generalized statements like ‘I can’t hear,’ but we eventually determined that we did, indeed, have a number of ‘dead’ zones in the sanctuary where the quality of the sound was reduced. To make matters even more confusing, we also determined that we had a number of volunteers attempting to remedy the situation by making adjustments to the mixing console – with an astounding variety of results.”

Once the problems were identified, the church turned to Frederick, MD-based Audio-Video Group, who designed and installed a system based around Community Professional Loudspeakers’ Solutions Series SLS920 three-way high performance loudspeakers. A ring of eight SLS920 cabinets flown over the stage provides consistent, even coverage to the entire sanctuary.

“The system covers every seat, with no dead zones,” says Kern. “The sound is clear, and volume is controlled electronically. Intelligibility is vastly improved, and we are able to expand our inputs to two, three, six or even seven microphones just by turning a knob. The automation is an unexpected plus – we come in on Sunday morning, turn on the system, and we’re ready to go. We no longer have to rely on volunteers to turn knobs and adjust levels.”

As is often the case, aesthetics also played a key role in the system design. “When this sanctuary was completed in the mid-1990s, it won awards for its design – it really is a special place,” says Kern. “The original sound system, which I’m told was state-of-the-art for its time, was designed to make the loudspeakers look like light fixtures. In fact, visitors sometimes commented on how many lights were out in the sanctuary. But while it was interesting from a visual perspective, it wasn’t very effective, and AVG’s engineers made it clear that the best solution was a radically different approach, with a ring of speakers projecting out toward the pews. The new system sounds great, and you can hear clearly from every seat.”

Kern gives high marks to the AVG crew as well. “Eric Johnson and his team were a great fit for us,” he says. “They understand church – what goes on here, and what the needs are across multiple generations. They really listened to us, and took the time to get to the root of the issues affecting us. They offered us the best solution, and stood behind it with integrity, competence and professionalism.”

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