The Evolution of Video Technology at St. Matthew United Methodist Church

When video technology advances in a church setting, Daktronics can provide a solid solution as proven by St. Matthew United Methodist Church.

Justin Ochsner on 1/19/2023

Categories: Spectaculars

When we chatted with Don & DJ Rockwell of Saint Matthews United Methodist Church during a podcast, they talked about how they use video for their services. It was interesting to hear the history of video technology at the church as well as their decision to make the jump from projection technology to LED displays. They also shared how the change has been received by their members.  

As we’re on the heels of the holiday season, we transcribed that conversation to share Don’s account of their first Christmas service of 2022 along with some kind and encouraging words regarding the performance of their LED video system since it was installed in 2021: 

Our screens have been installed for a year now and last evening was our first Glory of Christmas with them. They looked fabulous! We get nothing but positive comments about how wonderful they look! Thanks for helping make our Christmas a bit brighter this year! “pun intended”🤣 Merry Christmas to you all! 

Thanks! I’d like to add, one year and absolutely 100% trouble-free! We just turned them on and they work. 

– Don Rockwell, Saint Matthews United Methodist Church, Bellville, IL 

Below is a transcript of Justin and Matt’s conversation with Don and DJ on the podcast. Don is director of Media Ministry and D.J. is engineer in charge at Saint Matthew United Methodist Church in Bellville, Illinois.  

Justin Ochsner 

Let’s start with a little bit of background. Don, let’s start with you. Can you tell us about yourself and what you do with Saint Matthew United Methodist Church? 

Don Rockwell 

Well, my name is Don Rockwell, and I’ve actually been in the video business for probably about 40 years. It was about 40 years ago we started the video ministry at Saint Matthew. My late father worked for CBS and I worked for the FOX affiliate in Saint Louis. And it was just kind of natural when they decided to start video at Saint Matthew that the pastor asked me if I would do it. 

And so anyway, we were on cable in the metro area of the Metro Saint Louis Belleville area for many, many years. And then in more recent years, I’d say probably the last four or five years it’s been strictly just streaming. But so I’ve basically built and run our video ministry for, like I said, the last 40 years. 

I would have probably run screaming from it many years ago. But with my son being born into the video family, he was born and raised in it. And he has kind of taken it over through the years. I mean, I’m a big part of it yet, but he’s kind of more of the technical side of it now than I am. So, yeah, we’ve been doing it for many years at our church. 

Matt Anderson 

And you’ve kind of talked about growing up with video, Don, and I know video can mean a lot of things. What did you start with for operating video cameras? Was a lot of live switching or what are some of the different roles you’ve had over the years? 

Don Rockwell 

When we first started the video at Saint Matthew, it was a Panasonic VHS portable recorder and a camera that had a cable that plugged into it. You know, back when a VHS deck like that was probably a few thousand dollars. And then we had a gentleman that would take the VHS tape that we would record and he would take it around to nursing homes and shut-ins during the week and play that tape for them.  

So, that’s literally how it started at our church. And we did that probably for about a year back in the early eighties. I would say probably about 1983 is when we put in the full initial control room and started being on the local cable channel. 

And at that point, we had two cameras and a switcher, and everything was done on three-quarter inch videotape and we would edit it. We had a one-hour slot in the cable program. So, basically, everything was fair game except for the sermon. I would edit whatever I had to so we would get it to an hour or 57, 58 minutes, and then we would deliver it to the cable company. And then they would play it on our designated evening that we had. So, that’s kind of how we started. 

Justin Ochsner 

D.J., we kind of alluded a little bit to what you do there. Could you tell us about your role as well? 

DJ Rockwell 

Yeah, I was born into this and I’m a third-generation broadcast engineer now. In the last few years when we did our upgrade to HD and digital at the church, a few years before we did the video boards, I basically designed the whole system and installed it all. And now I’m our only engineer for the most part. 

Matt Anderson 

And D.J., can you talk about your experience and what it’s like helping out with video now compared to when you first started? 

DJ Rockwell 

When I was little, I used to play on our beta decks and edit my little videos together and the different tapes we had. And then I started running camera for the services and I then started running sound and working my way up through all the roles, so I got a handle on everything. 

Justin Ochsner 

Dan, can you tell us more about the church, their membership and how many different services you run? 

Don Rockwell 

The church was founded back in 1956 and it used to be just a little bitty church with probably 50 members. It grew in the seventies to be very large for a United Methodist church in southern Illinois, probably about 12, 1300 members. Our average attendance now is probably around 600 between the two services, even with COVID and everything. 

We have a traditional service that is a full orchestra choir at 9 a.m. and at 11 a.m. we have a contemporary service that’s a full band with a guitar and the praise team. And so the main service, which is what we’re known for, is a traditional service, which generally runs probably five or 600 an average attendance on a Sunday morning. 

And then the other service, the contemporary one, is more in the 100 to 150 range. And we just have two services now. We do have a Wednesday evening service also, and we have other Christian classes on Wednesday evenings or whatnot. So, there’s a lot of stuff going on at the church during the week. But of course, with COVID and everything, the last two years, things have changed a lot. 

But our attendance has been really good since we’ve been back from COVID, along with streaming and everything, but the attendance has been good since we’ve been back and it’s been nice. 

Matt Anderson 

With all of that, when did you go digital? Or when did it kind of go to that next level? 

Don Rockwell 

Originally, when we went to the cable company, we were three-quarter inch in 1994, we had a major fire at the church and it basically gutted our sanctuary and all of our video equipment. So, when we rebuilt three or four months later, we had all new video equipment. Insurance was very good to us and we installed all beta cam then. 

So, it was broadcast beta cam equipment like what we use at the TV station where I worked at the time. I actually got the cable company to go to a higher standard of beta cam versus the three-quarter inch. So, from 1994 until 2018, we were all analog, as we call it, in the broadcast world. And then it was in 2018 that we upgraded to full blown HD across the board. And we did the control room first instead of our video boards because we did a couple of tests and determined that if we tried to use our existing feed and put it into a video board, all we did was make bad video look really, really bad. 

At that time we realized we either need to do it all at the same time or we need to upgrade the video room first, including all of our control room and equipment. And so that’s what we did. 

Justin Ochsner 

You mentioned the video displays and you recently installed displays from Daktronics, but what were you using prior to that and how long were you with that type of technology? 

Don Rockwell 

So, the year 2000, our pastor came to me and said he was at a conference and they used a video display for the words and everything in the service. And he really liked that. And we had the praise and hymns were on an overhead projector, and it looked really pitiful. 

He basically said, “Yeah, I want to I want to do this and I want to have it ready to go by the first of the year.” So myself, in conjunction with the contractor and the church and a couple other gentlemen, got the first projectors installed. They were four by three. I’m not exactly sure what the size were, but they weren’t huge. But we built boxes and they were projection.  

Well, we have a lot of glass in our church. We have a stained-glass window that’s probably 30 feet tall. And then on either side of that, it’s all glass. So, it’s an octagon-shaped sanctuary. And if you imagine, three panels of that octagon is basically glass from floor to ceiling. So there’s a lot of daylight coming in. 

We did some testing and we determined that front projection just didn’t work at all because of the reflection of the light off the reflective surface for front projection. It just washed it out completely. Rear projection did work and when we were four by three, it wasn’t horrible and we were able to use it. You know, if it’s not a super bright, sunny day, it was acceptable.  

But then in 2010, we did a big upgrade and the main upgrade was for sound. Now, we wanted to do video at the time, but we had other priorities in the church. So, we let video take a back seat because it’s very important to make sure the house sound is very good. 

Following that, we put in 16:9 video screens. We had a larger screen, but a little bit of a mistake was made at the time because the projectors we used, although they were they were good strong projectors, the wide-angle lens they had to use to make it fill the screen ended up having a bit of a hot spot. 

So, I can’t say we were ever satisfied with our first 16:9 screens. We had bigger screens, but the image quality was probably not quite as good as it was when we were four by three. So that was in 2010 when we made that move. And then 2018 is when we upgraded all the video control room and then in December 2021 is when we put in the new Daktronics boards. 

Matt Anderson 

So, D.J., I guess I didn’t find out what year you started kind of helping out with all this, but during this were you involved in this process at all?  

DJ Rockwell 

Yeah. In 2014 my dad and I saw all sorts of different LED displays out there and noticed the price is at a point now where we can recommend it to the church. This technology has come along far enough that the pixel pitch we need is affordable and it’s time we started looking at it and getting serious about it. 

In 2014 we did a demo with one LED company and liked the product but the church wasn’t ready to move on it. So, we kept looking. And then I started a new job in 2015 where I traveled a lot doing satellite uplinks for different sports companies. 

And then we also manage other broadcast facilities for the pro sports venues in Saint Louis. And that’s where I met Zach, our local Daktronics technician. I realized Daktronics has a tech in Saint Louis, so let’s give them a call and see what kind of products they have. That was really the first time I had an interaction with Daktronics. 

And so, we gave you guys a call and met with our first sales guy and got a tour of the Brookings factory, and we were pretty much sold at that point. 

For the full conversation, click here to listen to the entire podcast episode.