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Crossroads Community Church Crossroads Community Church 2019
The congregation joins in worship under dark house lighting.

House Lighting: Communicating What is Important

The question of whether the leaders of a church are our representative before God or God’s representative before us, is a substantial theological question each congregation answers in their own way.

This is the second of two parts on a look at house lighting. The first part of this piece appeared on Thursday, July 4: "What House Lighting Tells Guests About Your Church."

House lights in a worship space can easily inform guests what is important in the room and in the theology of the church culture. For example, a Methodist church near me has the distinct look of a church on a New England town green. It’s a white church with a steeple, modest artwork, and an organ. Its focus is congregational worship. While the preacher might use the pulpit, he’s also as likely to preach from the space in front of the pews or part way up the aisleway. Vestments are often saved for special occasions and usually casual dress or a minimum of formal attire is worn by the preacher and leadership.

How you present your church visually, using the house lights and other cultural tools, should accurately portray who you are.

This church’s house lighting is provided by massive 20-feet tall windows in the day and modest chandeliers in the evening. The light is kept bright and uniform. There is no effort to use film or curtains to dampen the light from outside. It splashes everywhere, including the projection screen and on the stage. There are some modest lights directed to the stage, but they are so subtle, they go unnoticed most of the time.

This uniformity and exposure to the outside world is a tentpole of their culture and theology. My description of the architecture and pastoral attire is to help provide more context to their culture overall. Culture is not just lighting, but all the elements of church or society as a total sum of all the parts.

In this setting, modesty in design is important, as they contend that the focus should be on God and not on any representative symbol or person, even the pastor. If the pastor isn’t wearing a stole, a ceremonial sash, there wouldn’t be anything in particular to define them as the head of the church.

If we were to take this congregation and drop them into a megachurch, what would change? Do you expect that the pastor would be comfortable, suddenly thrust into a literal spotlight? Likewise, the congregation may feel suddenly uncomfortable sitting in a dark house.  

Contemporary worship, on the other hand, has a vastly different approach culturally and theologically. Spotlights and the high contrast of dark and light place high significance on the brightest points. This can be used to draw a line between the congregation and the sacred altar. It can be used to make the worship leaders and the pastor feel special and separated, not as an ego trip, but because they are anointed to lead the congregation.

The question of whether the leaders of a church are our representative before God or God’s representative before us, is a substantial theological question each congregation answers in their own way … I’m not trying to start a fight today.

I only bring this up to point out that during worship, the best tool for creating this contrast between the stage and the people, is often the house lights.

Be mindful of what you believe when setting them.

Translating the Language

As a consultant to churches trying to upgrade or modernize their worship style, I’ve experienced a common scenario after a church finishes a stage lighting upgrade: Someone in the congregation reacts to the upgrade by saying, “Worship has become too much of a show. This is becoming a concert, not a church.”

Try not to dismiss this out of hand. Often the person saying it has a hard time expressing the disconnect between what they see and who they believe the church is culturally.

When you hear “This is a show,” I would challenge you to help them make their argument better in an effort to understand them clearly.

What do they believe has changed, in addition to the lights? For example, by turning down the house lights, did the people on stage become more important than the congregation? Or did the people on stage suddenly become more important, at least in their minds, than the worship of God? “This is a show” can often be the only way they know to say, “This doesn’t look like who I thought we were.”

The scenario also works in reverse, when a contemporary church opts to scale back on its production, to present a more reserved style. Instead of hearing reactions such as “like a show,” the coded expression is often “old fashioned.” If you hear this, ask why do they have a harder time connecting?

If the house lights have been turned up, maybe the formerly dark room provided enough privacy to be emotional, and maybe in the light they can’t worship as freely as before. Again, house lights are freedom agents.

Whatever the scenario you are dealing with, remember the conversation about the lights is almost never really about the lights themselves, so much as a bigger cultural concern. (Although watch out for phrases like “blinding, glare, can’t see,” etc., as those are light problems.)

So how do you deal with these comments?

It depends entirely if you meant to make a cultural shift or not.

If it such changes were accidental, because you were experimenting with something you saw in another church or on TV, then maybe the concern is a valid one.

Don’t lose your focus on who you are for the sake of a cool look. But if you are making a deliberate choice, then you can have a much better discussion with that person about the future, and the direction of the church. They may still disagree, but everyone will at least understand each other.

How you present your church visually, using the house lights and other cultural tools, should accurately portray who you are.

If your look disconnects from your desired culture or your committed beliefs, you may be sending mixed signals to a new guest.

What is important should be plainly seen.

Provide the best experience to glorify God in your own way. Be genuine and do it with excellence. This will always leave a lasting, positive first impression.

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