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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Losey

The Role of Lighting in Christian Worship Services | How-to #8

Updated: May 2, 2023


Then God said, “Let there be light”

Lighting plays an integral role in Christian worship services. Beyond merely providing visibility, engaging lighting has become a form of worship, just as singing, painting, dancing, writing and other artistic expressions of praise. When done well, lighting can draw the attention of the audience and congregation to the most important aspects of the service, such as the worship, sermon or message, or ministerial potions of the service. It can also also assist in encouraging certain moods or emotions that complement the tone of the service, such as warmth, spiritual and physical healing, and repentance. By creating an immersive environment, lighting helps to engage the congregation in the worship experience by including the audience in whatever is happening on stage.

In addition to its spiritual significance, lighting also has practical implications. For attendees who are new to church or have limited knowledge of Christianity, it is important to remain relevant and engaging in order to make the worship experience more accessible and enjoyable. By incorporating creative lighting techniques, churches can reach attendees and encourage them to come back. Not that people should come because of the lighting, it just shouldn’t be so bad that it distracts from the message. While lighting is practical, it does more than simply aid in safety by providing well-lit and navigable spaces.

In short, lighting is important and it is there to support the Gospel, not replace it. It is a form of worship that complements the worship experience, helps the service remain relevant, and serves practical purposes such as visibility and comfort.

Types of Lighting Used in Christian Worship Services

Churches utilize many different types of lighting in worship services. Key lighting, for example, is a type of lighting that is used to highlight a specific area or subject, such as the stage, pulpit, or altar. This type of lighting is generally directly in front of the subject. It can help direct the focus of the worshipers to the thing you want them to see. If you want to highlight the worship leader, key light the worship leader the brightest, if you want them to pay attention to the guitarist, light up the guitarist and darken everyone else. Even more simply, if you light it up, people will look at it. If you don’t want it seen, don’t light it up.

Wash lighting, on the other hand, is used to create a soft, even glow across a large area, such as a stage or band/choir. In a more subtle manner, it is generally agreed that people and subjects should be well-lit. Since we can’t put the sun inside, we need to evenly distribute wash lights across the stage that doesn’t create artificial bags under their eyes or make them appear “less than human colors” using cheap lighting. This gives a unified even look of light for camera functionality and does not create distractions for those in the audience.

Beams and gobos are another type of lighting used in modern worship services. These create patterns and shapes of light that can be used to add “flair” and create a more dynamic atmosphere. You could attempt to spiritualize it, but it’s really just less functional eye candy. It is occasionally a more functional form of lighting, and can be adjusted to light subjects, but at the end of the day, those beams just look great. It should also be noted that unless your church is very, very dusty, you are going to need some sort of haze machine in order to see the light beams. This is where many churches draw the line. I don’t blame them, churches usually don’t want the look of large plumes of smoke and distracting thick clouds that look like you are attending a Cheech and Chong event.

House lighting is the most practical of the lighting applications. House lighting refers to the general lighting in the worship space, including the overhead lights and any lighting fixtures on the walls. This type of auditorium or house lighting is important to allow attendees to navigate the space safely, but can also contribute to the overall ambiance of the worship experience. There are many LED RGBW-colored lighting options now that have more true colors. This opens up a pandora's box of possibilities for moods the lighting designer can choose for sermons, worship songs, or even announcements that extends the experience on stage to the audience.

Finally, more focused color-accurate lighting for cameras and video is important for churches that live-stream their services or record them for later viewing. This type of lighting ensures that the on-camera image is clear and visually appealing, allowing remote worshipers to feel more engaged and connected to the service. It may seem expensive or excessive, but I can personally promise you, if you don’t do it well, your pastor and worship team will look straight-up sick, and not the cool kind of sick.

Each type of lighting serves a specific purpose and has its own unique benefits in creating an immersive worship experience. By utilizing these various types of lighting, churches can create an environment that is both visually stunning and spiritually uplifting, providing a space for worshipers to connect with God in meaningful ways.

Applying these Lighting Techniques in a Practical Way

When it comes to using lighting to enhance the worship experience, there are several best practices that can be followed. One of the most important considerations is to ensure that the lighting complements but doesn't overshadow the message. This means that lighting should be used in a way that draws attention to the message rather than distracting from it. To achieve this, lighting designers should carefully consider the placement and intensity of the lights they use.

Another important factor to consider when programming lighting for worship services is the overall mood or atmosphere that you want to create. For example, if you're going to create a more intimate and reflective environment, use softer and warmer lighting. On the other hand, if you want to create a more energetic and dynamic environment, use brighter and more colorful lighting.

It's also essential to think about how the lighting will look on camera if the service is being recorded or live-streamed. This may require different lighting techniques than those used in a live setting. For example, lighting for cameras and video may need to be brighter and more even in order to look good on camera. Additionally, it's important to consider how the lighting will look from different angles, such as from the perspective of people sitting in the back of the room or from the balcony.

One practical tip for using lighting to enhance the worship experience is to use color and movement to help tell a story or create a visual journey. For example, during a song about creation, you may want to use blue and green lighting to represent water and trees, and then transition to warm colors like orange and red to represent fire and sunsets.

Ultimately, the goal of using lighting in worship services is to create an immersive and engaging experience that helps people connect with God. By following these best practices and thinking creatively about how to use lighting to support the message, worship leaders and pastors can be more equipped to create a truly memorable and transformative experience for their congregations.

Conclusion (TLDR)

  • Lighting must complement the message not overshadow it.

  • Lighting remains relevant to the community and audience.

  • Types of lighting: key, wash, beams, house, video.

  • Consider lighting for cameras and the different perspectives, of in-service, online, and recorded.

  • Use color and movement to create visual interest.

  • It doesn’t all come down to you.

The one last thing I want to emphasize is that lighting is not the only aspect of the service. There are many different parts of the production that each contribute to the message. You have the musical arrangements, the audio mix, the engagement of the worship leaders, and the pastor preaching the sermon. Audience and congregational engagement are dependent on many factors during the service, most importantly, their willingness to be transformed by His Holy Spirit.


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