Less Is More: Lighting

Continuing in our “Less Is More” series, today’s post is on lighting.  This is a touchy subject, I’m sure, so read with an open mind.  Many of these ideas we will share in this series could be boiled down to personal preference, but I am writing with the overall worship perspective in mind, not just what I like to experience.

To be honest, I grew up in a church with lights that you flipped on from a switch on the wall and you were done.  The sun shown through stained glass windows and the walls were white with tall ceilings and natural light shone through in the day.  In my first three churches of ministry service, it was basically the same way.  Honestly, I have had only two churches in my five church ministry career that have had additional lighting (more than house lights) on the platform/pulpit area.

If I were to be completely honest, I am uncomfortable with the “extra” lights.  I am uncomfortable in the worship “spotlight” and if we were to give that idea some thought, we all should be uncomfortable with that, too.

More and more churches are building new worship centers and the prevailing design seems to be a theatre-like setting.  Low house lights, multi-colored stage lights with unlimited settings/pre-settings all of which developing a particular “mood” within the worship “experience”.  But does having the ability to do all of the fancy lighting schemes demand that you use them within worship?  Simply put, does our worship demand fancy lighting scenarios within them?  No.

Moreover, it also does not demand special arrangements, platform setups, and countless other things that are man-centered, seeker sensitive and habitual that we all do each week.

I currently lead at First Baptist Church Leitchfield.  A church that ten years ago transitioned from a traditional church building and sanctuary into a gymnasium with a stage and lighting system.  I’m still not yet comfortable with the lights.  I may never be.  But, within worship, I am learning the people God has brought here and I don’t see people who demand fancy light presets.  I think that is part of our job as pastors in our area.  Learn and love our people.  We are not called to give them what they want – but we are called to be Biblical in what we do and teach/equip them in why we are led to do what we do.

We use stage lights but we don’t have to.  We use one basic setting in worship and bring them down to show media during our services.  We could leave all the house lights up and be just fine.  The lights give help to add a central focus and the ability to control them from a light board makes things very easy for media, plays, etc.

It is my opinion that the more lighting presets the more of a possibility it is for the worshipper to become distracted.  Moreover, there is another possibility that our worship is seen more as production, instead of proclamation.  I believe that as we plan our services, we take into consideration A/V needs, media, lighting, etc, and prepare in such a way that they don’t become a distraction: make good notes for your volunteers, rehearse, etc.  But at the same time, let’s do a little less in production.  Let’s concentrate more each week on lyric substance, thematic songs, and a variety of people used in worship instead of the latest in-ear monitor, motion backgrounds, and lights synced with the beat.

Final thought: use your gifts where God has gifted you.  But, don’t go overboard in any one area because you think it is cool or it will attract people to come into your church.  God and His Holy Spirit will move within the people as His Word is clearly presented in spoken and sung words.  Let’s leave room for Him to work and make worship more of a proclamation than production.

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3 thoughts on “Less Is More: Lighting

  1. Thanks for these thoughts, Dennis. I am part of the worship arts staff at church of ~1000, and we have an ongoing discussion about production values, so I found your words timely.

    A question: how different is stage lighting from other visual “decoration,” for lack of a better term? I think of seasonal floral displays (e.g., poinsettias, Easter lillies), sermon series banners, and other visual elements that grace the fronts of our worship spaces. Is the difference in the dynamic nature of stage lighting by comparison?

    • Eric,
      Thanks so much for reading our site and for taking the time to write a comment.
      Later this month I have a post with the same idea concerning media and in it I think I pose the thought you make.
      Much of what we do isn’t necessary. That’s the main idea I need to pray about and work on in my planning as well.

      My thought about lighting is the sheer emphasis put upon the lights and the “theatrical” mirroring that the church is dangerously doing. What do we say to the church goer when the church platform looks the same as a broadway theatre? Just questions I ask myself!! 🙂 what are your thoughts?

      • I come from a very classical, Conservatory background, so my instinct is to artistic and technical excellence, with the motivation, “Won’t a poorly-conceived space and service be a distraction” and “God has blessed our church with both talent and resources, why not use them to proclaim?” I realize, of course, that I am very susceptible to taking that to an extreme, and becoming man-centered rather than God-centered.

        I look forward to the coming post about media!

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