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Lighting for Contemporary vs. Traditional Services: Focus On His Glory

Lighting in our contemporary setting, isn’t about the lights. It’s about using those lights as tools to set an atmosphere, allowing everyone to worship freely.

Walking into the room of a traditionally lit service, reminds me of my childhood. There’s just a simplicity to it.

For some who walk into a contemporary service, they could say it feels like they are walking into a concert. They might think that this isn’t church, and nothing more than a distraction.

The house lights are up for everyone, to see the word of God. Plus, the stage wash is turned up, so everyone can see the pastor delivering the message. Everything has a warm light, that many times displays the creative aspects which were built into the room. Like stained glass, or special architectural elements, built into the space.

It's beautiful art, displayed in a different way.

Today’s traditional service for us at New Life Church, though, does look a little different. When looking at our Downtown congregation, it leans more toward the traditional side, compared to that of our North congregation.

Walking into our Downtown service, for instance, you will see the house lights up, and there will be a basic stage wash. Standing in the middle of the stage is the cross, draped with linen, and in front of that cross stands an altar with the elements for communion. There is one small difference, though, for lighting at Downtown - they use color. This color is to just give the room a little atmosphere.

While color is used Downtown, we don’t use haze, and we don’t pulse any LEDs that are producing that color.

There is this simple beauty to it.

It fits the very character of our Downtown congregation.

Our pastors and team love creativity, and what we do up North with all the lighting gear, but for them and their house, this simple cozy atmosphere just works fine for them.

For some who walk into a contemporary service, they could say it feels like they are walking into a concert. All that smoke (haze) along with the lights, moving and flashing. They might think that this isn’t church, and nothing more than a distraction.

At the New Life North congregation, where I do 95 percent of my design and running of lights on Sunday, we have it all. You walk in, and there’s haze, to go with lights that move, tons of static light fixtures, LED walls and lots of color.

With all these tools, though, it still comes down to the heart of why we are there, to worship Jesus and to hear the word of God.

Our sanctuary that we call the Living Room, it isn’t small by any means. It was built in the round and to seat more than 8,000 people. Today, with a stage buildout and adjustments to the room, it now seats more than 5,000. It’s really a small arena when you see the size of it.

Yet, with all the tools we use, they are meant to make that small arena feel like an intimate space, to meet with God.

Lighting in our contemporary setting, isn’t about the lights. It’s about using those lights as tools to set an atmosphere, allowing everyone to worship freely.

Let’s start with our house light values during worship. They are lower than a traditional service. Now we don’t black out during Sunday services, but we do run things lower in value.

We want to create a space where you can worship personally, and still worship congregationally, as the bride of Jesus, united as one. As for our stage wash values, they’re definitely different. Downtown will keep one value, and that value is probably a good 20 to 30 percent higher than our highest wash value.

The biggest difference at the North campus, though, is that we will ride that wash value up and down throughout the worship set. Because here in this setting, I’m dynamically following the Holy Spirit. When we get into a soaking moment during worship, I will pull the front wash down low, if not all the way out. This takes the focus off the band members, and hopefully puts the focus onto the Holy Spirit, and what He is doing to our hearts during that moment.

Now this atmosphere that I’m creating in this moment needs one key element, and it is called haze. Haze allows LED washes to create hues of color within the room. It allows beams of light, to come to life. It allows the beauty of a gobo to elegantly surround the band. And for basic pars fixtures to create warmth to the stage.

With all of that, the biggest question I receive is: How much and where are you hazing from, because I don’t see it?

What I’ve learned over my time doing this, is haze needs to be unseen, as much as possible. This allows me to get the amount of haze that I need, while at the same time, not having people questioning why it was on for 30 minutes straight.

What haze allows me to do is paint with light. God uses haze in the outdoors all the time.

Just the other day, I saw rays of sun blasting through the clouds and thought, “Wow, God is using haze to show the beauty of the sun and the clouds right now.”

In a contemporary setting, we are doing the same thing. We are taking our light fixtures and creating beauty. We use them to move to the beat of the music to visually show this energy of the song.

I even use the lights to show the dynamic shift during a drum breakdown. Then there are those moments, where I use them to move ever so slowly, to hopefully resemble the Holy Spirit in the room. Which then leads to this beautiful image of God covering over us.

Yet, what I’ve learned is this, everything in contemporary lighting is subjective.

Why, do I say this? Well, it’s art in a different form.

The definition of art is the works produced by human creative skill and imagination. And because it’s my imagination and creativity creating this painting, for that moment.

Well, it can create things that are questioned at times. Why did you do this? Why did you do that? We need to recognize that these questions aren’t a bad thing, and that they’re just a part of what amounts to a difference in perspective.

We all have one thing in common, Jesus.

Honestly, what we all need to remember is that is not about us, it’s about Him, Jesus, the Lord of Lords and the King of Kings.

We are all trying to move and flow with the Holy Spirit, to be vessel for His glory in the moment of worship.

As I finish typing up this piece, He is placing this one thing heavy on my heart. He doesn’t care if the lighting is set for a traditional service or a contemporary one, it comes down to our hearts. If they are pure and sold out to worship, to honor Him, that is all that matters.

We do this for His glory, not our own.

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