Be intentional about effective lighting

By Will Sutliff

The principles of good lighting can help draw people deeper into worship.

Lighting for worship is as much artistic as it is technical. Crafting a lighting design in a church environment involves understanding the congregation to the same degree, if not more, than the layout of the space.

It is important to plan and prepare the technical aspects, including instrumentation (lights, also called fixtures), hanging placement, focus, color, etc. However, bringing the right brushes and canvas to a painter does not guarantee that they will create a painting that moves the viewer.  It is up to the lighting designer to use the tools available to enhance the worship environment.

Our culture has grown accustomed to a variety of entertainment lighting. Concert designers spend a great deal of resources on wowing their audiences with spectacle. Game shows have colorful lights covering the sets in an attempt to keep the audience visually interested in the show. Whether someone is going to a concert, watching a game show on TV, or attending the theater, lighting principles are being used to help captivate and draw in the audience.

Those same principles can help draw people deeper into worship. Lighting can create a variety of emotional responses and can be used to enhance the desired environment. Think about how much a sunset can change your mood on the drive home from work. Seeing the magnitude of the color pallete and the way the light shines through the trees has a way of melting away the stress from the day. That same concept allows the lighting designer to craft a wide array of environments such as celebration, reflection, praise, stillness and deep worship.

Reaching the emotions
The lighting designer can use color, texture and movement to create a captivating environment that taps into the emotions presented by the dynamics of the music or service element. For example, in a high energy and fast tempo song, yellows, ambers and other warm colors could be used to visually support the pace.

A slower more reflective song may call for blues, lavenders and other cool colors to match the mood of the music. If robotic lights are being used, the lighting designer will want to listen for dynamic changes within a song that justifies a movement of the lights. As an example, a slower pace verse of a song may transition into the full band chorus where energy is being built. In those moments, slowly moving the robotic lights can represent the energy that is increasing in the music.

Movement and energy can also be built with intensity. When the energy of the band builds, increasing the intensity of the lights can visually represent the change in the music. All lighting changes should reflect the dynamics of a song. Paying attention to subtleties and dynamics of the music can separate impactful lighting that is visually representative from seemingly random designs that distract the worshipper.

Lighting should also be intentional. Certain colors and angles complement each other like a painting. Blues and greens work well together as do reds and lavenders. Other color palletes may work against you, such as green and red, which may remind people of Christmas. In the same way using red, white and blue all together can remind people of patriotic themes.

Lighting for worship must be approached in a different manner than lighting for entertainment. If the goal is to facilitate an atmosphere that helps the congregation to engage in worship, they become an important element to consider. It is essential to understand the congregation so that you know what will enhance worship and what will distract from it.

Avoid distractions
For example, if a congregation has never seen robotic lights in a worship environment, it will be a distraction to them if the lighting designer crafts concert-style lighting from day one. If concert-style lighting is what is desired, it is going to take a gradual implementation plan to be effective. In this situation the lighting designer might start with just turning the robotic lights on in a particular color.

The lighting designer must remember that worship is not a show. If people walk away saying how amazing the lights were, the focus may have been more on wowing the audience than enhancing the atmosphere. Instead the lighting designer might ask, “How can I help lead people into worship?” If the congregation leaves the service knowing they were able to worship God, then the lighting designer can be proud of the looks they created, regardless of whether the congregation remembers any of them or not.

Will Sutliff is technical director at Mission Community Church, Gilbert, AZ.


Use new technology to solve an old problem

We all know about how popular LED lights are for the stage, and chances are your worship team has either acquired some for your facility or is looking into the possibility for the future. But what about the rest of the building? Are there places where the rest of the church can benefit from the same advanced technology that you use in the sanctuary?

Of course there are. There are plenty of ways that LED lighting can be used to cut down on operating expenses all over a worship campus, not just in the sanctuary. Just this spring Philips Lighting debuted the new L-Prize Lamp, winner of the U.S. Department of Energy competition to redesign the classic 60-watt bulb.

With more than 971 million 60-watt bulbs in use in the United States, the DOE anticipates huge reductions in energy cost, replacement cost, and waste across the country with this new technology. Think about it: a new lightbulb in every table lamp that can run for almost three and a half years constantly without ever being replaced — and drawing fewer than 10 watts!

You can get more light (the tested L-Prize Lamp put out light equivalent to a 75W bulb) for one-sixth the power, and it lasts for three years. How can you go wrong?

And it’s not just in regular lamps. Downlights in the sanctuary can benefit from LED replacement as well. We all know how difficult and time-consuming it can be to change out lights over seating, especially if you have pews that are bolted to the floor. The new LED fixtures feature extremely long life, so with the normal use cycle of a sanctuary, it might be decades before the lamps need to be replaced. That savings on lift rentals and time adds up pretty quickly.

The recent renovation of Catawba Heights Baptist Church in Belmont, NC, is a prime example of this kind of energy-conscious thinking. The church had Barbizon replace not only their stage lighting, but put in Solais LED PAR 38 replacement lamps in the fixtures over the seating area as well.

While slightly more expensive to install, the LED fixtures allowed the church to forego expensive catwalks and suspension apparatus, resulting in an overall savings for the church.

The savings will really start to rack up once the power bills come in, though, as the low-energy fixtures draw roughly 20 percent of the power of traditional sanctuary lighting.
Handy energy calculators are available online for you to determine how much money you could save by upgrading your current lighting.  They include:

There are lots of ways that this new technology can be used to save your facility money, labor and effort. Contact your local lighting company to see how moving to the future might save you cash.

John G. Hartness is systems manager in the Charlotte, N.C., office of Barbizon Inc.


4 Responses to “Be intentional about effective lighting”

  1. I loved it when you said that the savings will really start to rack up once the power bills come in, though, as the low-energy fixtures draw roughly 20 percent of the power of traditional sanctuary lighting. My sister is going to get married soon. The reception will be at her home. We need to rent Entertainment Lighting and a sound system for the event. We will follow your advice.

  2. This is amazing post that explains the facts for the lighting designer to keep in mind while they are decorating worship place.Also it helps us how to save money for lighting by using new technologies.It is really worthful. Thanks

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