Whether you're in an old cathedral, a traditional sanctuary, or a modern auditorium, how you light your church service impacts the mood and how well people will comprehend and retain what takes place in your service.
In this article, we're going to discuss lighting for the benefit of those attending the service. Lighting for broadcast (such as television, webcast, satellite campuses) has somewhat different needs, and won't be discussed here.
Lighting serves several functions. First, and most obvious, is to simply make the platform and the people on it visible. However, that levels at which you light your platform makes a difference in how it affects those attending the service.
"First of all, it’s important that the congregation be able to see the preachers face," comments Pastor Matt Reynolds, assistant pastor at Jordantown Wesleyan Church in Vinton, VA. "In some churches the platform is dark and the lighting is poor, so the people have a hard time seeing the expressions on his face which can be important in making points."
When lighting is too dim, people strain to see what is taking place, and can have a difficult time locating where people are speaking or singing from on a crowded or busy stage. This cuts down the amount of brain-power that they will put towards paying attention to the actual service, as they are spending time locating those who are speaking. It also is very tiring, and will cause people to start tuning out or disconnecting from what's taking place.
Conversely, lighting that is too bright can be painful to look at, and also causes people to disconnect or stop watching.
People's attention naturally tends to be drawn to locations that are brighter than others.
Lighting for the platform generally should be somewhat brighter than the general seating area so that people's attention is drawn to the stage and away from the squirming children a few rows over. Within the stage space itself, having the lights a little brighter in the areas where the key "action" is taking place will draw people's attention to that area.
If you have several people on stage who share leading worship for different songs, transitioning the lighting during worship to highlight the person leading worship for that song helps keep people connected with what's happening on stage, and lets them focus more on worshipping and less on figuring out where the person singing is located.
A common response to this thought is "it's a time of worship people don't need to be watching the musicians." However, if you've placed your worship team on a stage in front of the congregation, that in itself tells people you expect them to be watching the worship team, and trying to locate the "primary" thing going on is a natural instinct. So, you can try to (unsuccessfully) fight that natural instinct, or you can eliminate the distraction by guiding people's attention through your use of lighting levels and transitions.
Varying your lighting levels both in the seating area as well as on stage can also help the different parts of your worship service to achieve their goals.
"Dimmed lighting during worship sets a mood' where the focus is taken away from self and others and redirected to God where it belongs," adds Monica Ravenstein, worship leader at River of Life Foursquare Church in Great Bend, KS. "It helps the congregation to shut out the world for a bit and just spend time in His presence."
Reinforcing a Mood
Another purpose of lighting is to support and enhance the mood of what's taking place in the room. As Ravenstein pointed out, lighting intensity itself can make a great start at setting a mood.
"I like for the lights to be fully on at the beginning of service because people need to see where to sit," adds Reynolds, "they need light to read their bulletins, and also it’s helpful in being able to see others around you and makes visiting a little easier. Also, a more brightly lit room can increase energy at the beginning which I think is important. As the service moves into more of a worshipful atmosphere from a more celebratory atmosphere earlier in the service it can be effective to slightly dim the house lights creating a more intimate and worshipful setting. This could apply to prayer times as well."
The next step would be to change the color of the lighting that's illuminating the overall platform, and sometimes the side and rear walls and even the seating area of the room. Colors impact one's mood, and while your goal isn't to be manipulative in a negative way, colors can help create an environment where the natural emotions that worship can bring out are supported and reinforced. Brighter colors such as reds and yellows help reflect energy and excitement; colors such as deep blues and dark greens reinforce introspection and peacefulness.
With LED lighting becoming more cost-effective and often more energy efficient, the ability to change the colors used to wash your stage and room has become easier than ever. But like any technology, there's also potential to create a distraction. Therefore, working with your technical team to determine what's appropriate for your church is also important.
Lighting your facility is one area where significant electricity is used, and architectural lighting systems can help you save on lighting expenses by providing a greater level of control. These lighting systems can allow you to have time- and motion-controlled lighting, turning off lights in a room that's no longer occupied. They can also be sensored to "harvest daylight", keeping lights off near windows but on in darker corners of a room. Facilities built with architectural lighting control systems can be programmed to "sweep off" the building at a certain time of day (11 PM, for example) to avoid lights burning throughout the church after it's normally closed for the night.
Think Long Term
There's one other thought I'd like to leave you with. Think about the long term when making decisions about what lighting gear to buy. The adage "you get what you pay for" usually applies to professional lighting equipment (not to mention video and audio). If you buy the cheapest gear, expect to be buying it all over again in a year or two. If you buy the better gear, it may last you a decade or two.
When it comes to more complicated equipment such as moving lights, you also need to be thinking about maintenance.
A moving light has many small moving parts in them, and they do break down. And unlike regular theatrical fixtures, performing maintenance on them requires training and skill that most church volunteers (and even staff) don't have. Higher quality (and thus more expensive) fixtures will go longer before needing repair as they are built better to begin with.
Greg Persinger, owner of Vivid Illumination, suggests budgeting for a lamp change based on the rated life of the lamps and your expected usage, and then adding $100-150 per fixture per year to accumulate for repairs down the road. If you don't maintain them, you'll likely find them useless after a few short years. If you can't afford to maintain them, then you really can't afford to buy them either. A reasonable alternative is to rent them occasionally for services or events where they will make a significant impact, and do without the rest of the time.