How To Update Your Lighting Without Breaking The Budget

by | Lighting, Production

Lighting is one of the areas in tech where it’s very easy to give in the temptation to go cheap because quality lighting fixtures tend to be quite pricey in comparison with their conventional cousins. However, make no mistake; the extra cost is worth it. While there are more budget-friendly options, if you find yourselves seeking out stage lighting options in the $50–$500 range, you’ll likely be disappointed with what you get.

Issues abound when going with non-name-brand gear, particularly from sources that are not typically known for their rigorous quality (pretty much any alternative marketplace using sources in Asia). Even with the higher cost of quality lighting, there are ways to keep your cost down, but it requires dedication and discipline to a single goal: better lighting.

You can get by with buying one or two fixtures at a time, as money becomes available. This approach will ensure you’re able to only purchase what you can afford, but it will take longer, depending on how large an area you need to light.

In The Zone

Another design approach I use is zoned lighting. I create zones of light (e.g., stage left, stage center, stage right, baptistery, etc.) to create greater flexibility in the lighting system. If you just need a wash, turn on all zones. If you want to help direct attention, use one or two zones at a time.

This is something I learned in theatrical lighting, but bear in mind that it may not be appropriate to your worship style, space, or needs. Many churches just need to bring the overall lighting intensity level up for their new live streaming camera systems. Base your purchases on what your actual needs are.

If taking the zone approach, you can start with the center zone as this tends to be where pastors are and the bulk of “action” tends to happen, thus it’s more important to get good lighting first, with other zones following as funds allow. But don’t forget that there needs to be an overall vision and master plan for not only what the lighting needs to accomplish, but lighting positions, wiring plans, any electrical changes that need to be made, how the new lights need to be controlled.

Further, if you’re planning to integrate the house lighting with the stage lighting, it generally requires two wall controls at entrances to the sanctuary to meet with code. If you haven’t generated this information, you shouldn’t purchase any lighting equipment as it could likely lead to wasting money as what you’re buying doesn’t fit into an overall strategy or plan.

The Long Game

Lighting is a long-term investment, with systems and components generally lasting 15 to 20 years (this assumes it’s quality gear), and so while the up-front cost can lead to sticker shock, when you amortize it over that
time frame, the yearly cost is quite low.

This is an important point to not only bear in mind and also communicate regularly with your leadership. A $10,000 to $30,000 investment is a lot easier to swallow when it’s broken down into yearly cost over 15 to 20 years. Granted, smaller churches may not need to spend even $10,000, but half that amount is still a sizable chunk for a small church to come up with.

The other approach is to do what you can for now, taking the pain and critique until the funding is available to upgrade the entire system at once. Use complaints and critique as fuel for requesting donations to upgrade the system — funds can quite miraculously appear when the issue directly affects parishioners.

Tip: I’m a strong proponent of creating an upgrade plan for when money appears rather than waiting for the money and then figuring out what can be upgraded. This helps you have a ready answer when people ask if you have any needs they can donate towards.

Without a plan, you’re frantically searching for an answer to that question, whereas with a plan, you can answer with what your next planned upgrade is. People like knowing there is a plan and that helps them feel much more comfortable donating.

On The Same Page

My final recommendation is to make sure leadership is part of the planning and strategy discussions. This not only helps ensure they have skin in the game, but they can then champion and support the plan to the church at large. It’s so much easier to get the financial support you need when leadership is casting the vision to the church.

You can go it alone but will likely never have the influence that the pastor does with church members, and thus the fundraising will take longer and you’ll have to work harder in order to accomplish the goal.


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