WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — For more than 15 years, thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses have gathered at the Joel Coliseum for annual conventions, but this year the conventions are featuring new technology, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
Dozens of volunteers were hard at work on Thursday setting up the stage and two large LED video walls for the second of four regional conventions at the coliseum this summer.
They will also be utilizing the coliseum’s Jumbotron screens.
Benjamin Williams, a convention spokesman, said this is the first year the conventions are featuring video.
“Which makes every seat a good seat,” Williams said.
They expect 12,000 people to attend the three-day convention this Friday through Sunday, which is free and open to the public and will feature Bible-based symposiums, videos and dramas. They expect attendees from as far as West Virginia, Williams said.
Other cities across the country will also hold conventions this summer. Each convention features the same program. This year’s theme is “Keep Seeking First God’s Kingdom.”
The screens will allow local convention attendees to connect with a convention in New Jersey, which will feature a number of missionaries returning from around the world. Some of the sessions will be broadcast live from the New Jersey site.
Steve Nester, who oversees the video department, said the video screens are about 10 feet tall. It takes five to six people and about four hours to set up each wall.
“It’s an improvement in the teaching ability, to be able to see the facial expressions,” Nester said.
Ninety-year-old James Dunnagan of Winston-Salem never imagined when he became a Jehovah’s Witness 70 years ago that he would be attending an annual conference with such technology. Back then, a recording was a big thing, he recalled with a chuckle.
“Now look at what technology’s done,” Dunnagan said.
Dunnagan said he enjoys attending the convention each year to learn Bible truths and refresh his memory.
“It’s so amazing to see the crowd like this,” Dunnagan said.
Yawnie Hill, 18, of Winston-Salem, attends the convention each year. She volunteered on Thursday to prepare for the conference.
“I just love seeing all the people and everyone working together,” she said. “It’s a feeling of unity.”
She is excited about this year’s convention, saying it will be one like no other with the video screens.
“It’s going to be easier to pay attention and easier to see,” Hill said.
Even though Jehovah’s Witnesses are offering more technology this year, they are not straying away from the personal connection they are known for.
Williams said they continue to knock on doors and offer to teach people about the Bible.
Witnesses are known for taking their message door-to-door. The Jehovah’s Witnesses denomination was founded in the 1870s and holds many beliefs that differ from mainstream teachings of other Christian groups.
For the past three weeks, Witnesses have been focusing on handing out invitations to the convention.
Hill said the response has been positive.
“They’ve been really receptive,” Hill said.
In a day when most people spend a lot of time on smart phones and tablets, it is nice to have that face-to-face connection.
“It’s more personal. … I think that’s really important,” Hill said.
The first summer convention, held at Joel Coliseum in early June, drew congregations from areas such as Charlotte, Elon and Greensboro. There will be a Spanish-speaking convention next weekend and the first weekend in August. Witnesses expect about 44,000 people to attend the conventions in total.
Witnesses said the 2013 conventions had an estimated economic impact of about $16 million.
The denomination boasts more than 7.9 million Witnesses worldwide, according to a convention news release.