Purchasing & Preventive Maintenance of your Church Lighting System

by | Lighting, Lighting Connections, Production

Automated lights and consoles can be or become very involved. The lighting industry has changed over the years, from basic lighting fixtures, dimmers, and lighting boards to amazing color changing and moving light fixtures and lighting consoles that really allow you to design a production.

Automated lighting fixtures and lighting consoles aren’t cheap, even lower end products have a cost.  So, making the right decision will help you purchase the right products for your church.  Once you have purchased these items and have started to use them, maintaining and servicing them will extend their usage in your system.

Automated lights are intelligent lighting fixtures that can move, focus, and change color or GOBO pattern, typically by DMX control. Moving lights, or intelligent lighting, refers to stage lighting equipment that has automated abilities that go above and beyond traditional lights. These types of lights can produce the most complex and extraordinary effects. Moving lights are usually controlled by lighting control consoles.

Automated lights are controlled by a lighting control console (also called a lighting board, or lighting desk) which is an electronic device used in theatrical lighting design to control multiple stage lights at once. The newest ones are running on some the fastest software available, maybe are touch screen which makes programming automated lights very easy to position, color, pattern and design.

Benefits of automated lighting

There are multiple benefits of automated lighting:

  • They can clean up the appearance of the interior of a room
  • There is no need for bulky fittings or stands
  • More energy efficient, only being used as necessary.

Your lighting setup makes a statement about your worship service long before your team takes the platform. Traditional or contemporary, your house and stage lights are the lens through which new faces and regular attenders will view your service. Therefore, it’s important to be mindful of the impact of good lighting.

Stage lighting in your church serves two major functions: visibility and atmosphere. Some lighting fixtures, like spots and PARs aimed at the stage, help the congregation stay tuned in to what’s happening onstage. And atmospheric wash lights and up lights used in the background can complement the stage or architecture of your space, and they go a long way in enhancing beauty, and providing comfort. So, whether it’s sight lines or ambience you’re after, choosing the right lighting setup can help you create an effective and engaging environment for worship.

Relative cost

Good lighting is affordable. Compared to traditional fixtures, a modern system of cool-running LED lights can save money year over year (with as much as 85% savings on reduced electricity costs). That’s just good stewardship. Good lighting is available for all sizes and budgets. Stage lights aren’t just for megachurches. A modest lighting setup can be built for well under $10,000.

Good lighting is easier to incorporate than ever. Modern fixtures, sound-activated programs, and app-based controls are empowering volunteers to get involved in lighting design even without prior experience. This means that creating a sharp-looking environment doesn’t require hiring dedicated personnel.

What’s best for you?

When it comes to choosing a lighting control system for your church, there are endless options and, if you ask any church Lighting Designer, chances are they will share with you why they believe their chosen platform is the best. In my years in lighting design, I’ve had the opportunity and pleasure to work behind many lighting software packages and consoles. All control platforms come with advantages and disadvantages, but used properly, all of them can help programmers achieve great lighting looks within a church worship service.

There are a few factors in determining which lighting software/console platform to adopt, but ultimately the quality of your lighting cues, looks and creativity all comes down to the level of training you have and received in that software.  Before you pull the trigger on a new lighting control system, first talk with a true lighting expert. Also, plan on getting training for your volunteers. Training is one of the lowest cost investments you can make in taking your church lighting to a whole new level.

An important factor to consider is who will be behind the lighting desk for programming and operation. In 95% of churches, volunteers will be doing the weekend worship service programming as well as operation – with the occasional staff tech / production director hopping in for some programming and playback sessions along the way to help out their team. The other 5% of churches would include a full time LD (lighting director) as a paid staff position which is a “luxury” most churches can’t even fathom. A full-time lighting designer/director staff person is not a reality for most churches – we’ll assume that your churches lighting team of programmers and operators will be volunteer. So, with that being the case – it’s of most importance to take into consideration the time that volunteers are able to dedicate to programming.

Just because your lighting team is volunteer-led doesn’t mean that excellence cannot be achieved in lighting. It simply means you must set your lighting volunteers up for success. And this comes down to choosing the right system and getting your volunteers trained.

Another aspect (and an obvious one) that is far too often missed is choosing a lighting control system that best fits the application. Based on your lighting package/rig size and weekend service style, some systems and console choices may lend themselves to be more effective than others. 

If your lighting rig only consists of a handful of front stage wash fixtures and a back light, then a simple, small console or lighting software is the solution. Computer-based control should be opted for if possible as it allows you the most flexibility for future expansion.

And even though convenient, a console with physical faders and encoders for a small lighting package is not a necessity. It would be more important to invest your extra budget into more lighting fixtures than into a physical lighting console or surface.

Now, if your lighting rig is more complex with stage wash, movers, led bars, blinders, media server etc., then a more complex system to allow for more options in setup and control would be advisable. The more lights you have, the more DMX channels you will need and the more “pieces” you’ll need to communicate with.

When it comes to helping create a worshipful environment, the last thing we want to do as lighting designers is to not support our pastors and worship leaders. Being open and supportive to leadership makes you a great lighting programmer. The toughest thing to take in consideration is which software provides the features that your church needs. Being in tune with what your church needs versus what you want is a skill that is needed in any production role at church.

Based on the service style, do you need a console? Do you and the volunteers have the bandwidth to preprogram? Do you need a system that is robust enough to make changes on the fly? Do you need to visualize to program because your church is a portable church? Will this system grow with my church? Ask yourself hard questions when determining what is needed versus wanted in terms of software’s.

Perhaps the most important factor to consider when choosing a control setup is whether there is training readily available. It’s not uncommon for a church to purchase a piece of gear solely because it’s top of line. You can have the most versatile, powerful lighting software with the top of the line console, but be completely underusing it.

Once you’ve determined the best option for your church in lighting control, be a student of it. Constantly seek out training for it so you can harness the full potential of what it can offer. Feel free to experiment and seek out training. Oftentimes, a solution to a problem can be discovered by seeking out wise counsel in the matter.

Production lighting needs TLC to perform at its best. Follow these tips and attend to your fixtures regularly, and you can save your church big money. 

Maintenance

Like anything of value, production lighting requires some care if you want it to perform at its best––and for a long time. Much of what’s involved in the maintenance of the fixtures themselves could be classified as good housekeeping (want them to work? Keep them dust-free), but sometimes how well, or poorly, lighting performs depends on how you’re powering your systems.  Here are some best practices for church techs to keep in mind.

If you don’t put lighting maintenance on the calendar, chances are you’re not going to get around to it. Most production lighting manufacturers provide maintenance schedules for new fixtures on request. If you’re purchasing used fixtures, it’s a good idea to ask the seller about the unit’s maintenance history. Some products may need software or firmware updates. This exercise serves as a safety inspection, and ensures that your lights will, well… lighten up.

While the fans in moving lights tend to stir up one of the primary enemies of all electronics––you got it: dust––you need them all to be operational. Otherwise, you’ll experience failures due to another major enemy of electronics: heat. If you’re using moving lights, every so often feel them and make sure that there’s airflow, and that the fans are actually running inside the mover. A lot of movers may have four, five, or six fans in them depending on the model, and one or two fans may fail. When that happens, the fixture will eventually overheat, which decreases its overall lifespan. 

Choosing and Maintaining Automated Lights and Consoles can be or become very involved, as I said at the beginning. I hope this gives a few things to think about or to discuss with your tech team prior to making purchases.  Remember to maintain and performing preventive maintenance to keep you gear in the best condition to get a long life out of your investment. Your house of worship will be glad to know the investment is being maintained and your team will be more educated on the consoles and lighting instruments. Please contact me with any questions.

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