According to research conducted by the Pew Research Centre, it is estimated that Southern Africa will be home to more than four out of every ten Christians in the world by the year 2060. Unlike in Europe – where the number of practising Christians is steadily declining – there has been a staggering surge in the number of active Christians in Southern Africa over the past century – with a notable increase over the past two decades.

Despite our deepening cultural diversity, Christianity remains the dominant religion in South Africa, with almost 80% of the population professing to be Christian in the 2001 national census. While there is a fairly even spread across denominations, there has been a marked increase in churches that follow the Pentecostal paradigm over the past few years. According to the Journal of Religion in Africa, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, somewhere between 10–40% of South Africa’s population could be called Pentecostal – however, this classification varies depending on how the religion is defined and may, in fact, be higher.

The Pentecostal church emerged in the early 20th century as an offshoot of the Protestant reform movement in the USA. According to The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, at the centre of the churches’ philosophy is: “the direct experience of the presence of God by the believer.’ Churches that adhere to this paradigm believe that faith should be powerfully experiential, and not something merely found through ritual and contemplation. In practice, the Pentecostal church holds joyous praise and worship services for their followers, with the inclusion of live bands, pro-level staging and high-end sounds systems designed to facilitate an ecstatic, celebratory experience for congregants.

The live events entertainment industry in South Africa has served the houses of worship market for more than half a century – delivering state-of-the-art installations that are specifically designed with the unique needs of churches in mind. While the biggest and most impressive rigs are traditionally found within Pentecostal churches, places of worship that fall within more the more traditional and conservative denominations also require audio, video, projection and integration systems to enable the delivery of effective religious services – all be it on a smaller and more discrete scale. The scope for AV integration and live event technology within the houses of worship market is, therefore, expanding along with the Christian population in Southern Africa – and companies that specialise in realising these projects remain committed to catering their services to respond.

As non-profit organisations, church management has to navigate a difficult balance between investing in church infrastructure versus devoting resources to the charity and outreach work that remains central to the Church’s role in society. One of the most consistent themes that emerged during the research process that preceded the publication of this special feature was the willingness of distributors, dealers and installers to take this factor into account when collaborating with church leaders to develop project plans that deliver the desired results with parsimonious budgets in mind.

Close working relationships, mutual respect, and a commitment to getting the job done despite challenges is the order of the day when one examines the dynamic between churches and those implementing AV projects – and it is this unique connection that we explore in the houses of worship feature to follow.

I would to take this opportunity to thank everybody that made this feature possible – from the AV technicians in churches who took time away from their preparations for the Christmas season to talk with us, to those within various companies who similarly fitted us into their busy end-of-year schedules – we appreciate your contributions enormously.