lighting
Lighting does not grow a church, it gives opportunities for people to feel connected to the ideas and teachings on a subconscious level.

Big Lighting Design, on a Small Budget

With a smaller amount of lights, you have more space for contrast. You can use your LED pars to shoot directly up the wall or on angles. To make your backdrop lighting look intentional, make sure to lay out your fixtures symmetrically.

Lighting design is one of the most powerful tools in communicating feeling during a worship service. With this, many churches feel the pinch of budget versus creating an atmosphere. In this piece, let’s dive in to how we can be good stewards of what we have, what we ask for, and what we create.    

For many people, a great place start could amount to 12 LED pars, or even just a few old school par cans. Regardless of what it is, let’s use it to further the kingdom.

Before we dive into the nuts and bolts, let’s briefly explore why we use lighting in worship. Lighting in worship can be used to impart feeling, tone, and energy. The combination of color, texture, and contrast can convey feelings ranging from awe to suspense.

When intentionally used, our lighting in our worship settings can help support the message of the song, the feel of the sermon, or even the energy of the church.

Lighting does not grow a church, it gives opportunities for people to feel connected to the ideas and teachings on a subconscious level.    

Since our context is desiring to create an atmosphere where people can connect with God, and the ideas he is teaching through his church, lets explore how we can do that within our budgetary limits. Even churches with a small budget or a few lights, can maximize what they have, to serve the kingdom well.

Where to start?

The easiest place to start, is with what you have.

For many people this will be could amount to 12 LED pars, or even just a few old school par cans. Regardless of what it is, let’s use it to further the kingdom.

Our first goal should always be to light the stage well. Front light is essential for people to connect. It’s hard to connect with someone teaching you when you can’t see them.    

There are a lot of ways to do front light, that can help or hurt your stage. For most situations, front light should be the standard white.

Adding color can (with exception of color correction) sometimes make your pastor and worship team look unnatural, sick, unwelcoming, or like an Oompa Loompa.     

If you can control how your front light hits your stage, it will help a ton when lighting your backdrop, walls, etc. Depending on the fixture, you can do this through changing the lamp type (par type fixtures), the lens (ellipsoidal and source 4 type fixtures) or adding a light shaping filter (LEDs).

Ellipsoidal fixtures also have shutters that can control where your light hits. As a rule of thumb, you should try to light the stage areas well that you will be using, and not light the areas that are not used. For example, if your pastor speaks in the middle of the stage and your worship team is near the front of the stage on either side, you should light those areas and leave the choir loft in the back dark. This separation creates focus where it is needed, and the dark places give you a canvas of area to light. Typically, I try to keep all the front light off of the back wall to maximize the impact of whatever background lighting I do. In some spaces, this is not possible.   

Once the front light is well positioned, the next best step is to focus on lighting your background. Background lighting helps to communicate depth and gives a visual context for the rest of the stage. Your background can simply be the walls behind the stage, some leftover plastic foliage from the 1980s, something you create to catch light, drape, or any other type of scenic element. One of the keys to this type of lighting is making it look intentional.

Most churches don’t have “enough” lights to fully fill their back wall with color. That is OK, though, as it’s actually even better!

With a smaller amount of lights, you have more space for contrast. You can use your LED pars to shoot directly up the wall or on angles. To make your backdrop lighting look intentional, make sure to lay out your fixtures symmetrically.

Create even gaps and even focus angles, and this will make even the sparsest stage look intentional. To further your looks and maximize the area lit, you can purchase Holographic Light Filters for LED pars. This will allow you to make the beam wider and throw light into a larger area. These filters add width to your beam. For example, a 15-degree wide LED par with a 10-degree wide filter, would wash an area that is 25 degrees wide.    

The next part of the lighting design should be backlight. Backlight is lighting hung from above your backdrop area, that lights the backs of your pastor and worship team.

Backlight helps to separate the onstage team from the backdrop even further. It also helps to create additional contrast and makes the stage feel much less flat. Backlight brings the color forward and if used with haze can create beams which are very powerful visually. One key with backlight is to make sure it either evenly lights the stage or looks intentionally spread out.

If your stage and lighting design gets more complex, back lighting will likely be your cornerstone of the design. Backlight also ties the top edge of your stage into the rest of your stage design creating a more cohesive design. Many times, simple and cheap LEDs that are relatively bright, work just fine for backlight.   

Side lighting is another type of lighting that can be helpful in creating depth and color on a budget. This is lighting positioned shooting across from one side of the stage to the other. In some rooms, this can be a good supplement or replacement for backlighting.

The great thing about side lighting is that many times you can light a full stage with only a few fixtures. The biggest thing to watch out for with side lighting is sightlines. You want to make sure you are not shooting lighting directly into the seating areas of your congregation.   

Ways to maximize your current stage lighting

• move your fixtures around every 3-4 months, as this gives the illusion that the stage has changed a ton and costs very little if anything. It also has the great side effect of creatively energizing your team (or yourself in many cases)!

• Change the focus of your lights to hit a different backdrop area. This small change will create a big visual payback.

• minimize ambient and house lighting as much as reasonable (lean on your leadership, for what they think is reasonable).

• control lights separately. Use your lighting console to build contrast into your cues. A back wall that is lit with alternating red and amber, red lights can look a lot more exciting, than running a series of amber lights all the way across.   

How to get the most out of your next stage design purchase

• buy high quality lighting from a company that is selling it used.

usedlighting.com and Facebook’s Marketplace are great places to find great deals on good used lighting gear.

• communicate how lighting would impact worship with your changes, instead of what gear you would choose.

• Purchase “wash” type fixtures instead of “spot” type fixtures. This will save lots of money, and many times you don’t need all the functionality a spot fixture has.

• have a couple of options of how to get to the same place.

• change out backdrops instead of lighting (this can have a huge impact for a fraction of the cost).

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