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How to create an engaging worship space

By Duke DeJong

For years we’ve known that good sound is critical to creating an atmosphere for worship. But in the past 15 years, the technological age has come along and developed our need for multisensory engagement. We’ve not only been conditioned to crave multisensory engagement, but people are actually picky about what they see.

The popularity of stores like IKEA and Pier 1 reminds us that people care about good design. Cable networks like HGTV, TLC and DIY let us know that good design matters.

So what does this mean for churches?  It’s not enough anymore that the paint in your church isn’t peeling; people actually expect some thought, character and multimedia to show up in worship spaces today. The great news is engaging worship spaces don’t have to be about spending large amounts of money.

Your budget will certainly have an impact on the end quality of what you do, but you don’t necessarily have to drop tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring visual interest to your space. It’s not about adding expensive technology or visual elements, but about finding a style that engages your target demographic and using strategic media, color and contrast to enhance what is happening in the room.

Accompanying this article are pictures of the first church where I was on staff, First Assembly of God in Cedar Rapids, IA. We undertook a dramatic transformation by painting the walls a darker color (for contrast) and then lighting various materials that became our set. Pastors often see these types of before-and-after photos and ask me, “How can we get started in stage design?” Really, it’s a lot simpler than people think.

With a few strategic lights and a trip to Lowe’s or Fast Signs, you can be off and running. In fact one of the most viewed stage designs on www.churchstagedesignideas.com, a popular online gathering place of stage design ideas, is based entirely on lighting bubble wrap hung against a dark backdrop.

So to answer the question of how to get started, here are some tips and tricks I’ve learned over the years:

Build a small team for stage design. Creativity is better in collaboration. Our best ideas came from a small group of people who would refine ideas until they went from good to great.

Have diverse talents on your team. One of the most important people I had on my first team was not a lighting guy, but a skilled carpenter. When we threw ideas around, he’d take them and begin processing how to make them. He’d often come back with tweaks that made the design better.

Use the talents that are readily available. You don’t have to hire professional stage designers unless your situation demands it. If you have people skilled in metal work, carpentry or sewing, start with those skills. Use the talents that God has placed within your church and start in that direction.

Allow for a stage design budget. With a smaller stage, designs do not have to be expensive. However, make sure your team has a reasonable budget to work with. Most of our designs were between $250 and $750 for a stage that’s 40 feet wide by 30 feet deep by 20 feet tall. If your budget is tight, don’t cut the per-design budget, but decrease how often you change it.

Create contrast. Light is most obvious when it’s surrounded by darkness. Dark walls with well-lit materials create a dynamic contrast allowing your set to pop. Bright sets against a light-colored background can look OK, but usually not great. Use color to reflect the mood of what is happening. I love LED lighting and neutral-colored materials.

With a few strategic lights and light-able surfaces, I can lead people visually in the feel of what is taking place in our services. For example, light and bright colors are great for upbeat songs while darker, richer colors set the mood for more worshipful times.

Allow for learning experiences. Let your team’s creativity loose and while you need to be smart, empower your team to make mistakes. We didn’t love every design we did, and if we didn’t like it we changed it sooner. But we learned a lot in the process and it made future designs better.

Duke DeJong is the church relations director for CCI Solutions, a design/build, equipment and media company specializing in high-performance sound, video and lighting systems. [www.ccisolutions.com]

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