How technology is used in a worship service can be a contentious topic.
Audio, video and lighting can all generate either negative or positive comments from members of the congregation, and it's not uncommon to be both praised and chastised for the exact same thing.
This demonstrates that the response technology usage evokes is a very subjective thing.
In this article we're going to explore the use of lighting technology in worship services. Few would argue against being able to see the preacher, choir or band clearly, but there can be a great deal of argument when you move past basic illumination and into using lighting as an effect.
Color, brightness, motionthese are our building blocks when we think about effects. We use effects to compliment the musicwe want to support the music, but we don’t want to draw attention away from what’s happening on the stage. Dan Larson, lighting designer at Willow Creek Community Church
But first what IS a lighting effect?
"For lighting effects," says Dan Larson, lighting designer at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, IL, "we have a few things to work with as far as tools go. Color, brightness, motionthese are our building blocks when we think about effects. We use effects to compliment the musicwe want to support the music, but we don’t want to draw attention away from what’s happening on the stage."
So, lighting effects can be as simple as changing a color, or changing an intensity of a fixture, and can be achieved through a standard theatrical fixture. If you have a larger budget, effects can include fixtures that are capable of panning and tilting the beam of light, adding a pattern into the beam to project shapes and images, changing colors, and many more options as well.
So, what is the point of using lighting effects during your time of corporate worship?
"The purpose of lighting effects," states Helena Kuukka, freelance lighting designer in Orlando, Florida, "be it for a worship service or a dramatic production, is to advance the story'. Everything you do should be to support and enhance what is happening on the stage at that moment in time. That should raise the question as you program your event, is what you are about to do for a transition in your lighting in service of the event, or are you just doing it to do it?'"
There can be a lot of ways to approach lighting effects for worship, ranging from the very understated and subtle, to the "rock concert" look. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, and the decision on how to approach the use of lighting effects in worship actually will stem from bigger-picture questions.
"The questions to ask are: what is the personality of the church? Who is the target audience for the service or event? And what is the intent of how you light your service?" says Andrew Dunning, owner of Landru Design in Nashville, Tenn.
The personality of your church congregation, and associated with that is the style of your service, should will dictate your choices when it comes to implementing lighting effects. If your church is more traditional, using the rock n roll light show approach isn't going to go over well. "For this type of church, simply changing color is a pretty dramatic effect," comments Dunning.
Conversely, if you have a congregation with a contemporary service style, gentle, subtle effects won't even be noticed.
The second question is about intent. This at first may seem like an odd question to ask: what is the intent of your service? However, there are several overall approaches to worship services.
One approach is that the worship service is a time for believers to come together and focus on praising the Lord through singing, and hearing a message that builds up and encourages the body of believers. "The intent here would be to create an environment that enhances or accents supports the emotion or "feel" evoked during worship, and that’s conducive to a message being shared," states Dunning. "And the target audience is the church membership."
Another approach to worship service intent is to use the service as a primary means to share the gospel with non-believers. "In this case," continues Dunning, "the use of lighting effects is to create an exciting environment that a non-believer might find appealing and familiar, with the hope that they would keep returning and through that, hear and accept the gospel message." In this case, the target audience is people in the community who do not currently attend your church, and the use of lighting needs to be far more visually interesting and exciting.
Note that this is different than your service style. What style would reach these two groups of people in your community will vary by community. However, in both of these cases, the goal is to create a visual environment that supports the style and intent of the service and is appealing to the target audience.
For a more traditional style of church or one where the intent of the service is to support congregational praise and worship, using effects that enhance the mood of the moment but not draw attention to itself is important. This may mean little or no visible movement of the lights, and slower, more subtle changes in lighting intensity and color. If your congregation is repeatedly being pulled out of the moment to wonder what just changed instead of staying focused on God, this would be a "lighting fail."
The specifics of what supports the service and what distracts from the service will vary significantly from church to churchthis is something you need to figure out yourselves or in partnership with a local lighting consultant who can take the time to understand who your church is.
For a church focused on delivering the gospel to non-believers as the main goal of their worship service, the approach is usually very different.
"If we have a faster song, we tend to use faster effects, be it a blinking effect or pan/tilt effects to move the beams of light around the room," says Larson. "The speed should match the tempo. For a faster song, during the intro we will have the lights moving around the room in a way that represents the dynamics of the song. When the lyrics start, we switch to not have the lights moving around the room as much. This is to be less distracting and allows people to focus more on the message of the song.
The choruses tend to be peppier, so we might move the lights around the room a bit more. If a bridge in a song tends to be slower, we bring the energy down in the room via color change and perhaps less or no movement. It is critical to follow the dynamics of the songyou can do that really well with lighting."
When people think of lighting effects, they probably think about the larger touring concerts they've attended with dozens of expensive moving lights. However, you can create lighting effects with the simplest of lighting fixtures. Most fixtures allow you to put a colored gel in front of them, and thus can be used to add color to the stage and architectural elements of your room. While simple, this is definitely an effect, and can make a big difference in the environment you create for worship.
If you have a little more budget available, adding color-changing LED fixtures lets you set the color from the lighting console and eliminated the need to purchase and change out gels. This puts a lot of flexibility at your fingertips, and saves significant time for your volunteers. Colors are also frequently brighter and more saturated with LED fixtures.
"Use of saturated colors and interesting patterns," says Kuukka, "all add to the environment being created through lighting."
Where you position your fixtures can also impact the environment you create.
"Is your church more contemporary or traditional?" asks Kuukka. "The more obvious and visible the lighting system, the more contemporary feeling you'll create. Shallow backlight angles will bring those fixtures into view, and give your set a more contemporary feeling."
The most contemporary looks, however, are created not by what the lighting is projected onto, but the space it passes through on its way.
Lighting Effect: The use of lighting to change the look of your environment, as opposed to merely making something visible.
Conventional Fixture: These are basic lighting instruments that project white light. They are "static" fixtures, meaning they do not have the capability of moving or changing other attributes via the lighting console.
Intelligent Fixture, or Moving Light: These are lighting instruments that have attributes controllable via the lighting console. Where the light is aimed, color, beam width, and patterns are all examples of attributes that can be set from the lighting console.
Haze: Haze is either a fine mist of mineral oil or water put into the air via a hazer, to enable beam of light to be visible.
"We often add haze into the air, which enables us to use light to paint the air," says Larson, "This provides a dramatic visual experience that you would not otherwise have. Beam fixtures are especially good effect creators when you have progressed to using haze. They add a lot of visual interest and energy to the room. However, they must be used carefully because the distraction factor can go way up."
And using a hazer also has some challenges. If your fire alarm system was not designed with the use of haze in mind, you probably have a system where haze will be interpreted as a sign of fire and set off the fire alarm. And your HVAC system needs to be designed to not spread the haze throughout the rest of your facility (and thus set those smoke detectors off).
Lighting effects can be a powerful environmental addition to your worship services. However, it's important to make sure that their use is in alignment with the goals of your service (or event), that they make sense for your target audience, and they support what's happening during your service at any given moment in time.
"Our job is not to be the center focus," summarizes Dunning. "Our job is to enhance the intended feel, to facilitate the message being shared. For worship, our job is not to BE the message."