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Lighting for contemporary, traditional services
The bottom line is that you need to choose the best lighting for what you are working to achieve, and for what best serves your congregation’s demographic makeup.

Contemporary Vs. Traditional Lighting: Find What Works for Congregation

Lighting is one of those elements where I feel that you need to cater to your audience or congregation. Just like in an audio mix, what appeals to one person, might not appeal to someone else.

One of the first questions you may ask yourself when reading this article is, “Do we need all those lights?” Or instead you may make a statement like, “We don’t need lights shining on our stage.”

Just like the sun has its job and was created for a purpose, so too are stage lights and other lighting elements.

Well, let’s go back to when God was in His creative mode, just as it was written, in Genesis 1:3: “Then God said, ’Let there be light,’ and there was light.” Then it goes on to say, “God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness.”

Therefore, to answer that first question, yes, lighting is very necessary. Just like the sun has its job and was created for a purpose, so too are stage lights and other lighting elements.

Another aspect that needs to be taken into consideration is not just what happens in the sanctuary on Sunday morning, but what occurs in that room the other six days of the week - whether it’s a Bible study, a potluck dinner or more importantly, a wedding or a funeral or other ceremony. Or even if it used by a school for any of their functions. Each of those aspects need to be considered, when you’re setting up and designing for your lighting needs.

Lighting is one of those elements where I feel that you need to cater to your audience or congregation. Just like in an audio mix, what appeals to one person, might not appeal to someone else. Like audio, though, it is a necessity to use it, while working toward accomplishing your overall goal.

To see your pastor or your musicians, or your choir, you will need some type of lighting, otherwise they’re just going to be standing in the dark.

If you don’t believe me, try turning off the stage lights when your pastor is up speaking during a service. I wouldn’t recommend this, though, unless you really want to be looking soon for a new job.

At Shadow Hills Baptist Church in Las Vegas, we run two different styles of services. One is more of a blended type of service. For those services, we largely play the same songs, but during such services, the choir sings as all the house lights are up, while the stage lights never come down, aside from when folks are walking in and walking out, or if a video is playing.

The second type of service, as well as for evening services, are more contemporary. During these services, the house lights come down and we frequently do a blackout after every song. We do this to create that moment where the congregation knows that a song has ended, and that it’s time for them to react, similar to what’s done at the close of an act in musical theater.

Since we don’t have a curtain at Shadow Hills, we need to close by creating that “end of the act” element, in a different way.

Another aspect of lighting are LED color lights. During services at Shadow Hills, we utilize such lights during either type of service. The main difference during one service over the other, is that we incorporate more color changes during our contemporary service.

At the contemporary service, I’ll create a main color and several different complementary colors, to go along with it. For example, everyone likes the color blue. So, I may put that color on our side back drapes, and use a brighter color, like orange or purple, for example, on the center drapes to draw one’s eyes to the middle.

If I were to use a brighter color on the outside, then your eye would want to keep being drawn away from the center of the stage, which is where you’re trying to focus the “energy.”

During our contemporary services at Shadow Hills, the LED colors are what really help set the “mood,” and really evoke the emotion of the songs.

When I am setting up the lighting for the weekend, I listen, all while paying close attention, to what each song is trying to say, and where each is essentially taking me. The lighting needs to match that as well.

For an upbeat song, for instance, I wouldn’t want to use the “cooler” colors as much, like blues and purples, because you can easily lose the energy and focus of where a song is trying to take you. For a more upbeat song, I prefer to stick with more of the “warmer” colors, such as red, orange, or yellow. I may add in some element of a cooler color, just to give it a degree of contrast.

By comparison, for our blended service, I don’t use as much in terms of color changes. I also try to stay away from the “louder” colors.

The bottom line in all this, is to enhance worship and not be a distraction. When your audience’s attention is being drawn in opposite directions, instead of helping to bring their attention to the focal point, then that needs to be addressed and rethought.

Having worked in a church environment for 17 years, I’ve seen a lot and done a lot.  My preference is to go with the more contemporary lighting feel, for several reasons. One reason is that I find that I am easily distracted, and it’s hard for me to focus my attention, when I can see everyone else during a service, whether they’re on stage or in the congregation. I’m like, “Hey, there’s so-and-so, I haven’t seen them in a while.” Or “There’s someone else’s kids being ornery and messing with each other…”

Like I said earlier, everyone is going to have their own opinion about the way the lighting should be.

The bottom line is that you need to choose the best lighting for what you are working to achieve, and for what best serves your congregation’s demographic makeup.

If your congregation worships more effectively in a traditional light setting, then great. If they do so in a more contemporary feel, awesome.

In either situation, though, God asks us to give Him our best and do our best.

If you find that in either situation, the message is lost, then something needs to change.

If you opt for a setup where the lights are going crazy, moving all around and flashing, but the Message is still there, and folks are coming to the saving grace of knowing Jesus Christ - then that church is doing their job.

By contrast, if the lighting is all on, but folks aren’t being drawn into worship and the Message is getting lost, then, once again, something needs to change and be fixed.

The tough part in either situation is to make sure not to criticize the other for the way someone wants to worship. For example, I had a pastor one time tell me that he went to a Christian concert and found the music was just “screaming,” (in his words), and added that he hated it.

After one of the sets at the concert, though, a guy walked up to the pastor - with tears in his eyes - and said, “That was incredible, during that last set, I just recommitted my life to Jesus.”

From that example, we can see that we are all created differently. God didn’t just take out a cookie cutter and start stamping us out, one by one, each identical from the others.

What draws someone in to the heart of God, may not work for someone else. Therefore, look to use lighting to enhance your worship service, and not distract your congregation, to allow them to feel the presence of God.  

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