In a recent article that appeared in Christianity Today, author Philip Yancy expressed optimism about worshippers returning to in-person services. Yancy offered reasons why in-person church will never go out of style, despite the expediency and comfort that many church-goers experienced while they attended services from home during the pandemic.
Watching services from one’s living room, in a bathrobe, with coffee in hand, is admittedly convenient. However, Yancy notes, “embodied gathering” — whether at a temple, church, mosque, or synagogue — offers community, a sense of belonging and a way of showing up for one another. People inherently crave these things.
Congregants Coming Back
In the work I do, I see evidence that supports Yancy’s optimism. Houses of worship are eagerly welcoming back congregants, and they want to offer a positive experience for those who are returning to in-person services. Many updated their AV systems during the pandemic, optimizing streaming and video services so they could stay connected with congregants remotely.
They also want congregants who attend in-person services to hear and see as easily as they can online, while simultaneously enjoying the benefits of connectedness and community. They aim to make the sanctuary a more dynamic experience and ensure that everyone can hear clearly and engage fully.
Many houses of worship inquire about adding or upgrading an assistive-listening solution. Increasingly, they are interested in audio-over-Wi-Fi technology as a convenient, reliable way to accommodate large numbers of users. There are several benefits of this type of assistive-listening system in worship settings. We’ll explore those benefits in turn.
Audio-over-Wi-Fi Assistive Listening
Accessibility promotes inclusion: In houses of worship that have audio-over-Wi-Fi assistive-listening systems, users can stream church audio to their smartphone and listen through headphones or a headset. If users wear Bluetooth-enabled hearing aids, sound is transmitted directly from their smartphone to their hearing aids. With the prevalence of smartphones and smart devices, audio-over-Wi-Fi technology democratizes assistive-listening systems.
In venues with this technology, anyone with a smartphone can download the free audio-over-Wi-Fi app and access church audio on its Wi-Fi network. Houses of worship can also purchase dedicated audio-over-Wi-Fi receivers to give to worshippers who either don’t have a smartphone or prefer not to use their personal device.
Ease of use encourages utilization: Audio-over-Wi-Fi assistive-listening systems utilize devices that many people already have. Once they download the audio-over-Wi-Fi app, it is on their device and available to them each time they visit the worship center.
This makes it ideal for anyone who regularly attends daily/weekly religious services or classes. Users select the designated audio channel, and they can hear clearly anywhere within the house-of-worship network.
This means they can move about in the sanctuary, ancillary children’s rooms or even outside, all without losing audio. Because people use their smartphone as a receiver, no one has to be responsible for checking equipment in and out, cleaning it or storing it.
Anyone in the house of worship and adjacent spaces can use the system anytime, including during services, for religious-education classes, for fellowship meetings, during Scout meetings and for any groups that utilize house-of-worship facilities.
Simple installation saves money: Audio-over-Wi-Fi assistive-listening systems are affordable to purchase and offer plug-and-play installation. They operate on a venue’s existing Wi-Fi network. A house of worship’s AV tech or volunteer member simply adds a server to the local area network (LAN), connects to an audio source and downloads the audio-over-Wi-Fi app. There is no need for costly reconstruction or retrofitting, and there are no concerns about disrupting services or altering architecture and aesthetics during installation.
Systems typically have very low latency, and they don’t slow venue networks. For houses of worship that want to install a quality, user-friendly assistive-listening solution quickly and affordably, audio-over-Wi-Fi systems can be ideal.
Multi-function means multi-use. Audio-over-Wi-Fi systems are multi-channel, which means they can offer more than assistive listening. Systems can transmit audio-over-Wi-Fi in multiple languages. Users select their preferred audio channel (e.g., Spanish, Portuguese), and they can listen and engage in the same worship service with others, despite not sharing the same language.
Systems that offer a customizable app present more ways for venues to engage with users, communicate information and provide a positive experience. For example, houses of worship can post song lyrics, as well as links to bulletins and calendars. They can also share information about tithing and volunteer opportunities via the app.
What’s more, since audio-over-Wi-Fi systems are portable, churches have used systems like these in parking lots to support drive-in worship services, movies, game nights and other ancillary events.
Optimize the Experience
Houses of worship that want to bring back congregants know they need to optimize the in-person experience. People crave the fellowship and connection of “embodied gathering,” but only if the experience is fully accessible to them. A crowded sanctuary can feel lonely and isolating when hearing loss, language differences, physical distance, background noise or other distractions prevent understanding and engagement.
Audio-over-Wi-Fi technology democratizes listening systems and supports inclusion so that everyone can hear as clearly as they would online. That’s good news that’s worth sharing and showing up for in person.
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