Avoiding Church Lighting Distractions

by | Lighting, Production

As a Lighting Designer I find church lighting designs to be the most difficult to produce. We usually have a lot of input on ideas others have seen before in other churches, then we need to think about the amount of space to light, the necessary power, the rigging, and the budget. We have all seen the simple plots that work and the state-of-the-art systems that can either work very well or that become too distracting, to the point you start to look up at the lights and stop listening to the service. I feel if that happens, the design has failed by becoming distracting. Also, the problem may not be the designed system it may be the lighting console operator over-using fixtures in the system.

So, before I continue let’s remember that churches have been meeting with little to no light for centuries. Services depended on candles, torches, or moonlight. When electricity came along, churches could meet at any time with enough lighting for a pastor to see his congregation and the congregation to easily watch the service.

In the early 20th century, some churches were experimenting with the potential upsides of affecting people’s emotions with lighting. In the last few decades, youth leaders were turning the lights down in their meetings, reasoning that near-darkness made teens feel less noticed and more comfortable. Low lights would give them an opportunity to hear the gospel and
participate more.

Enter the world of rock concerts, mega churches, and modern lighting. Now that almost every church can easily purchase LED moving wash units and profile units that draw a small amount of power, most churches can find themselves is this situation in the lighting design. We can control lights in every possible way, including the intensity, focus, color and movement. We can now create a mood and a focus point that will draw everyone attention to look and listen.

Using specialized lighting in worship can be a tremendous benefit in setting an appropriate worship environment, however you can become too distracted by using too much haze and over-using the moving lights. These elements can create a concert environment rather than a worship environment, and this can easily take your worship participants and turn them into
spectators staring at the effects and no longer listening.

New lighting and effect equipment is truly amazing, whether your church has a large budget for name brand gear or a lower budget for inexpensive online gear, you can easily incorporate it into your design, and if you use it correctly, your worship service will be enhanced and the attention of your church congregation will easily follow along. I find that the LED lights either Pars or moving Wash Units are a great way to set the mood, especially basic color settings – blue, purple, red, and the basic no-color break up what can be obtained in a Profile unit for easier focus. I also like front lights in a Rosco 33 Gel or similar which allow a natural face light. Simple can be just as effective. The front specials are a great way of leading the congregation along in the sermon without distraction.

I am a strong believer in drawing attention to what should be seen or heard with lighting, rather than designing a lighting plot that is too distracting with too much color and movement. Remember we are creating a church service, not a rock concert. A rock concert lighting plot is meant to be part of the show. It’s meant to make you think the band is even more cool than you already think they are. In a worship service, what is your lighting scheme doing? Is it drawing attention to the band?  Is it simply adding a cool effect or is it intentional, with the purpose of bringing the worship songs and lyrics even more to life. Do the lights help to draw people’s attention to the service even more? Using our sense of sight is a powerful thing, and can absolutely impact the atmosphere of worship.

The Test: If you are the designer or console operator and you go to a cue that you programmed and you notice everyone’s heads look up and away from the sermon, choir, or band, then you may have created a distracting look or cue. It can always be recreated and simplified to reduce that effect. Sometimes just a slower fade up/down time can correct that.

My point is simple: What is lighting design accomplishing? Cool lighting effects used over and over will eventually become dull as well. The Goal should be to use this technology to enhance the atmosphere of worship of your church and making the messages of your praise even more real to your congregation. I strongly believe that planning a lighting design and slowly building in new looks that don’t distract will guide you in the right direction, that’s something worth shedding some light on.

Bill Di Paolo has worked in live production for over 30 years, He is the owner and technical director of Entertainment Services, a production company based in upstate New York that handles lighting, audio and video for events of all sizes in the Northeast. If you have any questions, feel free to contact him at bdipaolo@worshipfacility.com.

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