Purpose Driven Design

When Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA was founded in 1980 by Rick and Kay Warren, the average size of its congregation was 150 people. Today, the number of attendees at weekend services has grown to 20,000 worshippers who can pick from 10 possible venues and six different times to receive the Lord's message. The hub at the center of this bustling 120-acre church compound is the Worship Center, seating up to 2,300 with room for a live band, orchestra, and five rear-projection screens.

Warren's ministry and the Church's mission have grown to include two best-selling nonfiction books, Purpose Driven Church and Purpose Driven Life, and Saddleback has become the home congregation as well as a trial environment for all “Purpose Driven” initiatives, including the annual Purpose Driven Worship Conference, held this year in June.

With an operating budget of $21 million and more than 400 employees, running Saddleback is big business, and planning a four-day conference that draws thousands of church-going folks from around the world is no small accomplishment. Featuring a morning music service, inspirational speakers during the afternoon, and two bands performing each night, the lighting design, rigging, and concert operation was overseen by LD Jon Griffin, who says he generally starts planning for the next year's conference right after the previous one.

“The biggest challenge on something like this is to be prepared,” says Griffin. With two concerts per night and eight hours of music and speaking during the day, there's not a lot of time to make each feel different. Only for one of the concerts, the Saddleback Creative Arts concert, did I have any sort of set list. Keeping everything flowing and looking different each night for the attendees is definitely a challenge.”

In an effort to remain prepared, Griffin and his crew had a schedule that looked something like this: partial load-in the Friday before the conference began; the usual six weekend services that always run Saturday and Sunday; and completion of load-in, programming, and touch-ups Monday night for the start of the conference on Tuesday morning. While the attendees were at dinner, the crew had a small window of time to switch to concert mode in order to begin the two evening shows. The last day of the conference, Friday, everything had to be out the door by 8pm so it looked like nothing was ever there.

The conference has grown, even in the last four years that Griffin has been involved. We he came on board, the lighting rig consisted of just six High End Systems Technobeams, six Studio Spots®, and six Studio Colors®. The current rig includes 12 Vari-Lite VL3000 wash units to give the performances a full stage wash and tight beam overhead aerials, eight VL2500 Spots for lighting effects, 12 VL1000TS to create moveable specials with shutter cuts, 34 Color Kinetics ColorBlast® 12s, six HES Studio Spots, six James Thomas Engineering nine-lites, two Strong Truss Trouper 1,200 HMIs, and “truss, cabling, and motors for days.”

“The Vari-Lite units are definitely my workhorse in this facility,” Griffin notes. “We have 26 in the house rig, and we brought in an additional 30 for the show. Also, I have to mention my [Flying Pig Systems] Wholehog® 3. We've had this console for three-and-a-half years now, and it doesn't let me down.”

The conference center operates with Cast Systems WYSIWYG Perform with the Wholehog 3, and it is what Griffin uses for all his renderings and presentations. One DP-2000 DMX processor and two Playback Wings were also used for the conference. Everything goes into ELC Lighting dmXLANnode4 units and distributes out to the fixtures. About a month before the conference, he starts building basic looks in WYSIWYG and coming up with focus positions. “I try to match colors and textures based on what the graphics are,” Griffin explains. “For the concerts, it is generally IMAG only so I, as the lighting director, create the moods in the building.” Thankfully, rigging in the space is very easy, with steel beams running every 10' that span the building from front to back. “I can almost put a point anywhere,” he notes. “For the truss spots, we had rope ladders, ascenders, and fall protection.”

Streamlined was the way to go this year, with only vertical trusses on stage, a FOH truss, two followspot trusses, and Color Kinetics ColorBlasts on the cyc. “I definitely didn't want it to look as busy on stage,” he says. “The trusses were the main set pieces. The only soft-good was the house muslin cyc upstage.”

To complete his lighting hang, focus, and design, Griffin was given a day and a half. In the beginning, he ran into one slight hang up. “The Anaheim Mighty Ducks were using a large number of fixtures that were to be used in my rig, previous to us getting them for our performances. But thanks to everyone at Cal Stage and Lighting, we were able to get them all in time. After a quick cleaning on a few fixtures to remove some Mighty Ducks confetti, we got them all in the air and focused right on time.”

Fran Shaw of California Stage and Lighting in Santa Ana, CA (about 20 miles northwest of Lake Forest) recalls, “Literally, we got those lights off the Mighty Ducks show the day before, turned them around, and sent them back to SBC the next day working with a crew of four for install and strike,” he says.

With his lighting rig now in place, Griffin turned his attention to the programming. “During the morning music service, we used a few basic looks to accentuate the tempo of style of each song,” he says. “As the speakers would take the stage, the lighting would fall into a full stage wash. Then for the evening concerts, we programmed the 30 faders with three to four looks per fader and ran each show on the fly. This was the first time we had used the ColorBlasts on the cyc. They turned out to be extremely well received, and we actually ended up purchasing 30 units for permanent installation on the cyc. Being able to create interesting backdrops easily was a great tool to spice up the video shots.”

All other technical aspects of the conference, including audio, some lighting, and video were handled by Saddleback's in-house technical director, Steve Powers, who notes that they start planning the set designs for the conference even before some of the acts are booked. Says Powers, “The biggest challenge is definitely lack of setup time, but the team loves putting in all the long hours needed to pull it off.”

The video system is permanently installed in the Worship Center. It is an analog component system, and all video playback and recording was done on Sonx Beta SP BVW75 decks.

Griffin concludes, “We were able to pull off some great looks. All of the artists were very happy with the rig and how things turned out.” In fact, the road manager for headlining Christian rock band MercyMe informed Griffin that the band's LD was so confident in the conference center's lighting rig and design that he was not traveling with the group. “It was a bit of a surprise with only three hours before the show was to go up, but we were able to pull it off with no problems. Everything went off absolutely wonderfully. We couldn't have been happier. The conference was a huge success.”

Saddleback Church Equipment:

lighting Equipment

Flying Pig Systems Wholehog® 3
18 Vari-Lite VL2000 Spot
8 Vari-Lite VL2000 Wash
200+ conventionals (not used for the concerts)

Video Equipment

5 Sony DXC-537A Digital Camera
1 Grass Valley 100 Switcher
2 Digital Projection iVision sx Projector
3 Digital Projection HIGHlite 5100gv Projector
1 Pinnacle Systems FX Deko System

Rental Equipment For Conference

From California Stage and Lighting
1 ETC Sensor SP24 Dimmer Pack
8 Vari-Lite VL2500 Spot
12 Vari-Lite VL3000 Wash
12 Vari-Lite VL1000TS
6 High End Systems Studio Spots
34 Color Kinetics ColorBlast® 12
6 James Thomas Engineering PAR38 9-Lite
2 Strong Truss Trouper 1,200W HMI, Medium Throw
2 Truss Spot Chairs w/Safety Gear
10 20.5" 10' Box Truss
2 20.5" 5' Box Truss
5 12" 10' Box Truss
12 1/2 Ton CM Motor
2 LeMaitre Radiance Touring Hazer