A veteran technical director speaks out on effective church stage use
Shaun Miller · December 3, 2013
Every one of us has heard the Shakespeare quote, “All the world is a stage.” But where would the church be without its stage? The stage is the focal point of any worship space, not that we worship who or what is on that stage; it is where [we] place our attention and direct our focus during services. These spaces at the front of every auditorium take many shapes and sizes. The stage can be in a corner or centered along the wall; 12 or 36 inches high—but at the end of the day, every church has a stage.
We have come far from the days of giant cathedrals with ornate artwork, stained glass, and marble altars making up the focal point of the sanctuary space. Today’s stages are more like black boxes: they can become anything you want them to be: a blank canvas for creativity. I have often heard the argument made that modern stage design detracts the focus from God—the reason we attend church in the first place—and promotes the popularity of the person standing upon it. However, I believe that how the stage is used, and the motives behind that use, make all the difference.
How a church utilizes its staging area is individual to each building. One way vs. another is not necessarily right or wrong, it all depends on what the church is trying to convey. It’s what makes every church unique. A more traditional facility may have an ornate altar year-round, only seeing a change in staging at Christmas and Easter. Or, as in the case of my church [Northview Church in Carmel, Ind.,] the look and feel of a modern auditorium may [be transformed] almost every week. I believe as the church becomes more technology-driven, we are starting to experience an overall shift in thinking toward using the spaces we have been given to engage the congregation and bring them into an attitude of worship. Ever-evolving stage designs are a way to keep church “fresh,” in an attempt to reach a new generation.
Out of my 10+ years in ministry, I have gained the most staging experience at my current church. Let me give you a brief idea of what the facility looks like. Our curved stage is 80-feet wide and 40 feet at its deepest point. Directly behind our stage is an 80-foot by 30-foot rear projection screen that can be seen from all points of the auditorium. While I was not here when the stage was built, I know what the thought behind the screen was: we’ll use this for scenery, and will no longer have to build anything to enhance the stage design. That idea lasted about three weeks. While we do utilize the back screen almost every weekend, we still employ portable staging, built sets, and soft goods to help bring cohesion to the weekend services.
In January of , we invested in a new portable staging set-up: modular platforms for our musicians. These “decks” are 4-foot by 4-foot squares that can be connected together to create any [sized] platform we want, creating an added dimension to the stage. Prior to this change, we had built large cumbersome platforms out of two-by-fours, plywood, and industrial casters. These hand-built platforms were a pain to move, required constant upkeep, and were impossible to store. Being in a venue that serves midweek activities as well as weekend services required us to look into more portable options. While portable staging has been around for quite awhile, recent improvements in weight and “stowability” have made this a much more practical option for many churches. Satellite campuses can also utilize modular stage platforms to make up their entire stage structure. Not only can these modular systems reduce weight in trailers, but they allow for quick setup and teardown.
Another way to easily transform the look of your stage design is by using “soft goods” such as rugs and fabrics. Some of the best investments we have added to our staging arsenal are white cardboard boxes, crumpled mesh screening, and white Christmas lights. The idea that creating a beautiful stage has to cost thousands is, frankly, just untrue. Several of the most inexpensive materials we have found have turned into the best looking additions to our services.
When approaching stage design, I like to remember that this platform, in and of itself, does not bring anyone to Christ. It is a tool that God can use to reach out to people. It engages, makes a memory, and can drive the church’s message home. Innovative staging can give church members a great way to invite friends to come “check out their church.” No matter how you approach your stage, remember that your entire congregation is looking at it for the entire service. Don’t miss your opportunity to make an impact.