Small Church Stage Lighting Ideas


Proper stage lighting is more than throwing up a few spotlights and picking out some lighting colors. It’s about human psychology, it’s about planning, it’s about possibility, and it’s definitely about timing. Take your lighting to the next level by learning how these ideas can be applied the next time you walk into the sanctuary.

Use the Right Colors for Setting the Mood

You can’t pick random colors and think they will work for a particular song. Financial institutions have used reds, blues, and greens as key colors in their web sites because those colors conveyed trust and peace and confidence. In stage lighting, red conveys passion and love and even anger depending on the scene. Blue can have a subdued or calming effect. And what color better represents royalty than purple? Every color has an associated emotion.

Keep those color-emotion relationships in mind when programming song scenes. A song which professes great love for God could have some red backlighting. Do you use a lot of red or only as highlights? That’s for you to decide. There are even times during a song when a stage bathed in bright white light can have a great effect. Pick your colors for a reason; don’t think “I haven’t used green yet, so I’ll use that for the next song.”

In case you need color ideas, there is an easy way to get those creative juices flowing. I suggests a great way for learning colors and mood setting, watch live concerts or live videos from other churches. Observe how they light things and what emotion you get from that lighting cue. Being their makes one other great point, Get to know the emotional control you have with the color palette and discern how it can help bring the congregation a more intimate connection to the worship experience.

Work Wisely Within Your Limitations

If lights need to be re-pointed, the lift needs to be brought into the sanctuary. Therefore most stage work is strategically planned. What I recommend, and what we practice at our church in less than ideal situations with a lift, is to light the talent areas. We block our stage for both visual effect and camera angles and then strike the spot where people need to stand and then we light that area. It might be dark around them but we are lighting them and only them.

There is more to the stage than just the people; you have risers, trusses, and whatever else there is that isn’t human. Place these elements in key locations. Combined with fixtures on the floor, you can get great contrast. Also, LED light bars are great for up-close lighting of walls and stage scenery.

Expand Your Lighting Possibilities

Gobos not only give you the ability to change light colors on the fly but they also enable you to paint your surfaces with light patterns. Instead of splashing your empty wall surfaces with a solid color, use a gobo for a patterned effect. Plus, the patterns can move so you have some added life in your lighting.

Don’t take this as a reason to use gobo patterns on everything. You have to know what the congregation likes and what they would consider “too much.” On a related note, plan the timing of your lighting changes so they benefit the experience. Don’t change lights every five seconds just because you can. The line between rock concert and worship can get crossed not only by the worship team, but also by the production team.


Hit Your Lighting Cues

You don’t want missed microphone cues. You don’t want to see a video played after an awkward ten second delay. Just as important, you don’t want to miss your lighting cues. A missed lighting cue causes several problems. First, the lighting change was a planned part of the song. By missing that lighting change, you’ve altered the feel of the song. Second, if you don’t realize you’ve missed a lighting change, then the rest of your scenes will not sync up with the song. I’ve seen the stage lights rapidly flash through several scenes as the operator was trying to find the scene with the pastor’s spotlight. Don’t be that person.


Part of church technical production is creating an environment which enhances the worship experience. By understanding the relationship of color to emotion, you can better enhance that worship experience. The same goes for working wisely within your limitations and seeing areas for possibility. And whatever you do, please don’t miss a lighting cue.

More than a few churches that I’ve visited have a set of moving lights piled in a corner that no longer function. There are a variety of reasons for this: churches fail to recognize that unlike static fixtures the complexity of moving lights with all the mechanical moving parts means that they are going to break — something they fail to budget time or money for. Or, in trying to save money, they invest in low-quality fixtures, which often means that they are going to break far sooner and more often. But another reason is a failure to perform basic preventative maintenance, which causes lights to fail sooner than they should, and can cause repair costs to be far higher than they should.

Moving head preventive maintenance is really important and needs to be a scheduled event. Keep in mind that there are some commonalities between arc-source and LED-source fixtures, but there are some differences as well. Scheduling preventative maintenance on a quarterly basis is a great way to make sure to cover the needs of both types of fixtures.

Light maintenance schedules are influenced by location, and lights may have a light duty vs. medium duty schedule, this will help for them for a longer work life. However, even in churches where by most standards would be a medium-duty environment, adopting the heavy-duty schedule for arc-source lights is a good idea due to the heat of the lamp. An [arc-source] moving light is basically a robot with an oven in the center. Even if it is an LED fixture it still produces heat. Therefore, the cooling fans are critical. If your fans fail, your moving light will cook on the inside and lamps, LEDs, motors, and wires will all suffer. I’ve had that happen before and I learned the hard way by, damaging expensive lights.

Maintenance items that should be performed on a regular basis

Belts.   Are all of the belts tight enough, and do they show signs of cracking or fraying? To make sure that they are tight enough, you should be able to twist them 90 degrees with a little force, but not much more than that. If the belt won’t turn at all, it is too tight, if it just spins to 180 degrees, it is too loose. This is a good rule-of-thumb to go by.

Fans.   Are the fans clean? If not, wipe them with a soft cloth, or you can use an air hose or a can of compressed air. However, make sure that you are not allowing the fans to free spin with the air hose. While it sounds cool, you can cause major damage to the fan and to the driver PCB (printed circuit board) that the fan is attached to. Free spinning fans generate electricity and can cause electrical feedback to the PCB as well as potentially damaging the brushes inside the fan itself. Keeping the fans clean and operating are the most important things you can do to keep your lights working well.

Optical Components.  Is there any gunk buildup on your colors, prisms, lenses, or gobos? Cleaning your optics is important because you decrease the light output when your optics are dirty. Use a lint-free micro-fiber cloth to clean off all of these components. If wiping them with a clean cloth isn’t sufficient, use a little denatured alcohol on the cloth. Denatured alcohol evaporates completely, leaves no streaks, and isn’t as harsh on the components as an ammonia-based cleaner would be.

Cable Connections.   Are all of the wire harnesses properly and firmly connected? Make sure everything is plugged in tight and the cables are not crimped or caught in other components.

Base.   Is there any dust build up in the base? Fans suck in everything from hair, hazer fluid, to confetti. This tends to build up on top of the power supply and main PCB. Make sure that you clean all of this out of the base. This will extend the life of your power supply and main PCB greatly. Remember that these items are really expensive to replace out of warranty.

With specific reference to arc-sourced fixtures, you will need to take the extra steps of inspecting the wires that connect to the lamps and make sure that they are still looking like new and are corrosion-free. If corrosion is present, use some contact cleaner to clean them off. You also will want to check the coatings on all of the wires that are around the lamp itself and make sure that the shielding is not burnt up or crispy. If they are, you will want to send in the light for additional inspection at an authorized repair center.

Make sure nothing looks ominous like something is about to happen. If you see inflated capacitors, replace the capacitor or possibly even the PC board, as may indicate a failing board. Check where the drivers (electronic chips) are soldered onto the board. If there’s discoloration, it’s on its way out and should be replaced.

For discharge lamps, be proactive and replace the lamp after its rated lifetime. When it gets to 70% of life, increase the frequency of inspections and look for warping. If this is present, replace the lamp. If the lamp is over-used and it blows, there may be collateral damage to the fixture: The lamp can literally explode, spraying sharp debris into the fixture.

The ballast and heat filter will take the brunt of it, and can be damaged. And remember not to let the bulb of the lamp come in contact with your skin—the oils from your skin will cause the lamp to shatter when hot. Should you accidentally touch the bulb, use denatured alcohol to clean it before installation. While you’re in there, do a full preventive maintenance check as already outlined.


How much maintenance can be performed by the end user, and how much should be done by a qualified technician, really depends on the individual. During the warranty period of new lights, if they break, you can return them to the manufacturer and they will cover the costs of the repair. However, they will not cover the costs of getting the light down from the installation or the shipping costs back to the repair center. These costs are not insignificant, so this should be added incentive to perform regular maintenance.

Buying from a local dealer may also make more sense. Most churches often like to go for the cheapest price. Thats understandable if it is a small congregation. Sometimes you’re better off spending a little more that includes service behind it. Some dealers do a great job of servicing church groups. You’ll pay more, but you have someone to call, which is especially wise if you don’t have someone on staff that has both the time and abilities to maintain them. Given that moving lights are also installed in awkward locations, contracting regular maintenance out to a local company may be a smart move to ensure it actually happens.

As lights get older, your maintenance costs go up, just like owning a car. Keeping a war chest of 10% of the purchase cost [annually] is a good idea to start with. Once the units are out of warranty, you may want to put aside 15% to 20%.

Over the last 10 years—many could argue even the past 5 years—the industry has seen monumental leaps in LED technology and usage. And with the marketplace exponentially saturated, keeping an eye on emergent and relevant products becomes increasingly difficult. This same overload, though, has brought the technology into a wider space of affordability, performance and diverse usage. While LED is not always the answer for every situation, it’s worth knowing the pros, cons, and new developments available for houses of worship and beyond.

Ups & Downs (Advantages & Disadvantages) LED’S

Early adopters of LED lighting pointed to one major advantage that soon trumped all others: power draw. Remember the past days of concert touring and the massive Par64 lighting rigs? Not only were those rigs a flaming heat storm on stage, but the power needed to feed that much lighting was borderline insane. In order to provide the needed stage wash and color, it necessitated grids of epic proportion. LED technology has helped all but erase those challenges. With even a few 20-amp circuits, daisy chaining multiple LED fixtures is now commonplace. Now with fixtures capable of color mixing, DMX control, no need for dimming racks, and at a fraction of the weight, LED lighting has changed the game with various lighting applications.

While the advantages run deep, it certainly has not come without applicable growing pains. Unlike traditional discharge-lamp sources, LED uses an additive process to create its color output. Many lighting designers, early on, noted the lack of attaining proper color mix results, especially when used alongside traditional fixtures. This is where you often see shadows and non-linear performance. Early fixtures used 5mm and 10mm diodes that progressed into 1W and 3W sources. These represent fixtures where you see individual color elements on the face of the light. Manufacturers now employ Tri, Quad, and Hex elements, meaning there are three, four or five individual LED diodes combined with a reflector and lens. This has eliminated the “multi-color” look on the fixture face and dramatically improved shadowing and a more homogenized color mix.

As mentioned earlier, removing the need for expensive and power-thirsty dimming racks brought an attractive money-saving advantage to LED fixtures. The inherent difficulty though has been with the way non-incandescent fixtures behave with their dimming curves. Incandescent bulbs do not follow a linear curve base on percentage of input power. So the lower 50% of output will be much more gradual in increasing or decreasing lumens, and the actual color of the output changes, as well. LEDs on the other hand are extremely linear, meaning even small changes in intensity levels, even at lower lumen output levels, will be quite noticeable. While this dimming curve has been slowly improved, especially in higher-end fixtures, this has provided challenges in many applications for designers.

The COB Advantage

One of the more recent advancements in LED fixtures—and one that many manufacturers are taking advantage of—is chip-on-board (COB) technology. In a nutshell, manufacturers began installing lenses over LEDs in order to improve coherence and reduce uncomfortable glare. With that, though, came loss of lumen output. COB technology uses an exponentially higher density of LED sources, mounted directly onto a conductor. This in turn offers higher output ratio and uniformity.

Temperature AND Broadcast Advancements

Gather a group of lighting designers and they will quickly agree on one troublesome aspect of early LED usage: color temperature. Especially when considering broadcast applications, where temperature is vital to camera white balance and exposure, aligning traditional and LED light sources has been tricky in years past. With the standard 3,200K indoor incandescent and 5,500K outdoor lighting temperatures, manufacturers are continually adding temperature correction to their products to meet these needs. In addition, recent offerings feature fixtures that are solely aimed at providing both indoor and outdoor temperature standards. While some are specific to a certain temperature, others play a hybrid role. Commonly referred to as VW (variable white), these fixtures allow for mixed combinations along the temperature spectrum, giving users maximum flexibility within a single light.

In addition to the advancements in color temperature and broadcast-centric fixtures, ETC recently introduced its Source 4WRD. Aimed at venues with existing ETC SourceFour ellipsoidals, it is a quick, backend LED retrofit offering 575W output and performance features. With a 70% reduction in power, not to mention eliminating the need to re-lamp on a regular basis, this is sure to become a popular option with many houses of worship, theaters, and other applications looking to reduce operating costs.

As both the component and fixture advancement continues to mature, LED technology is sure to hold an important and expansive mark within houses of worship all around the world. Now more than ever, the level of professional solutions has caught up with the high level of artistic and performance demands—and this will surely continue to expand for years to come.

As with any emerging technology, it pays to do your homework. Finding the right fit for your application while planning for the future is essential. What works for one venue when it comes to LED technology may not work for another. But with the rapidly changing marketplace, solving even the most complex problems is affordable and possible now more than ever.

While there are some similarities between lighting for video and theatrical lighting, there are a lot of differences as well. Although we tend to use the same fixture types to light for video and drama, the techniques and primary objectives of each style of lighting are different. Here are a few of the primary differences between theatrical lighting for a drama and lighting for video.

In theatrical lighting your primary objective is lighting for the audience and, as such, everything that you do is geared toward what the audience will see and how they will experience it. When you light for video you light for what the camera will see and how the camera will experience it.

When lighting for drama we tend to use a lot of color; color on faces and strong color for backlight and sidelight. This color tends to change the natural flesh tone colorings of the actors’ skin. In a live audience situation the coloring adds to the overall experience of the drama, however, if you were to shoot video of the drama, the color would make the actors look strange or sickly on camera.

Because of this, when we light for video we try to keep white light on people’s faces and color for backlight or scenic lighting. In video we use the camera to focus the people’s attention by shooting what we want people to pay attention to. Generally, when we light for video we light the full stage as evenly as possible, and then let the cameras provide the selective visibility. In drama, we use the lighting to focus people’s attention on the areas that we want them to look at, so only small areas of the stage are lit at any one time.

In conclusion here are some great ideas and suggestions for light setups in small to large churches that I hope will benefit you and your congregation. There is alot more that we can go into from here but, I will keep posting other articles about the different options that I talked about here. I will go into detail about some of the different setups and so forth, so Thank You for reading this article and be on the lookout for more to come.


Thanks For Reading



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