Simple Ideas for Creating Lighting-Friendly Church Stage Sets

by | Lighting, Production, Worship Service Planning

Article originally posted on

Effective lighting can set the mood for worship and focus attention on the important moments of a service, but, as a backdrop to the action, a good set is important, too. Properly lighted, the setting helps production designers to capture the imagination visually. This is just as true for medium and large venues that have a formal stage to work with, as it is for smaller churches that may even be in temporary spaces that are used for multiple purposes.

Large or small, the basic goals for a worship set are the same: to provide an interesting space that will help direct attention to the action on stage without creating distractions. Simple sets often work the best to transform a blah or busy gathering space into a more worship-friendly environment. And, acquiring the materials to build sets is probably easier and less costly than you might think.

Basic Can Be Bold

If you don’t have a stage to work with, first consider mapping out the area in which the worship team and band will operate. On a formal stage, curtains mark the end of the stage on each side, but any prominent vertical construct can help keep the congregation’s attention where the action is happening. This could be soft and easily stowable common fabric, scrim or a harder structure, like a flat that could be painted or textured to provide great effects with colored stage lighting.

Fabric materials look great when stretched, pulled at an angle, or dropped straight to the floor. Feel free to experiment for simple lighting effects as fabric looks good lighted from most any angle. However, as with most vertical elements, uplighting fabric by placing a colored light at the base is often all that is needed to create a great look.


Commonly used in the theater, a traditional scrim curtain’s fabric offers unique capabilities. When lit correctly from the front, a scrim appears opaque, but when the front light is turned off and objects behind the scrim are lit, the fabric appears transparent. Simple asymmetrical framing behind a scrim along with simple colored backlighting can create an interesting stained glass look that pays homage to traditional worship. Any number of static silhouette effects can create interesting and easily changeable backdrops for worship.

Sturdier Options

You might think that harder materials would present a greater challenge for construction, but easily cuttable sheets of corrugated fiberboard, signboard material or rigid Styrofoam insulation can be easily stapled, glued or even taped into place to create geometric shapes or flats.  Colored flagging tape can be added to create hard edges or shapes and, painted white, flats will reflect any color your lights can produce.

Structural Flats

Professional lighting designers often make an existing wall part of the set by giving it a textured look with hard lighting broken up by a gobo. In fact, any flat surface can be made more geometrically interesting by placing simple materials (rope, tree branch, netting, fencing, etc.) between the flat and your lighting. Even something as simple as a pile of cardboard boxes or crates stacked creatively and painted white can create a bold look on stage. Just remember to light all your stage elements at a level that doesn’t compete with the people and action you are lighting up front.

The dramatic transformation of your space for worship with simple set design and basic lighting can enhance your congregation’s worship experience while engaging people in your church with creative arts talents. It can be a very rewarding experience all around—one that is only limited by the imagination.

Parting ideas

To keep things interesting, Bradley Fox at Inland Hills Church expects his production team to see about four set changes a year that roughly coordinate with the change in seasons. Whereas, Trevor Dixon at Venture Church has moved the church’s set changes out to six months to align with the maintenance schedule of his lighting and projection gear. Both churches use set changes to “recalibrate” and rejuvenate their lighting by finding new and interesting lighting positions. “A new set gives us a chance to move our lights around on the grid,” says Dixon. “New positions and angles give us the opportunity to find new ways to be creative with light.”

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