Stage Lighting for Houses of Worship

Stage Lighting for Houses of Worship

Modern houses of worship long ago embraced creativity in their weekly worship services and theatrical productions. Now this upward march to ever-higher production values, along with price leveling and a rise in end-user capabilities, is helping complete the shift to LED stage lighting in houses of worship.

“The standards in houses of worship all over the world are no longer ‘second tier,’” said Jason Osterman, global specifications manager at theater and stage lighting provider Altman Lighting. “Many have more stringent technical requirements than professional theaters.”

LED lights are favored for providing highly consistent color reproduction and output, with very low heat and a long lifespan compared to traditional lighting sources. Those and a number of other practical considerations are helping push this change forward. “The prices of viable LED-based alternatives to tungsten or discharge sources hit a point where houses of worship could realistically consider those options about five to six years ago,” noted Osterman.

“Houses of worship are really starting to think out of the box about the future of the lighting in their facilities,” he added. “Designs are adopting more theatrical and broadcast lighting techniques akin to a modern sound stage with a live audience.”

Chauvet Professional, which creates lighting products for stage productions as well as installations, has seen how the flexibility and set-and-forget convenience of LEDs have grown in popularity in the market for worship venues of all sizes. “Most people are looking for brighter, faster, and better colors; lighter weight; and lower fan noise,” said Mike Graham, education, engagement and product manager at Chauvet Professional. “The overall conversion into LED has solved a lot of [those] issues.”

LED lights, like these ones from Chauvet Professional, are often used in houses of worship because of the brighter colors.

By removing the costs of replacing bulbs and the heat problems associated with conventional lighting—which alone avoids a host of problematic situations, from melted gobos to volunteers accidentally burning themselves on can-light blades—LED-based lighting makes an attractive alternative for churches.

But worship venues are not only working to shed the expense and maintenance of traditional lighting. They’re also considering how LEDs can aid them as their services evolve. While the trend for theatrical lighting designs continues, a shift toward broadcast requirements has emerged. LEDs are helping technical directors meet that need for creating professional video and broadcast feeds.

“If you're doing a service that's going to be on video, LEDs are consistent,” said Graham. “All your color temperatures are going to be exactly the same across the board, so you have a nice, flat output.”

The differences in lighting from conventional to LED in video and broadcast can be vast, especially considering the fluctuations in color and output when a conventional light begins to fail. “If one picture has a lamp that's dying, and the picture right next to it has a brand-new lamp, the color temperatures are different and the intensity is different,” Graham added. “With LEDs, everything is consistent, [which] makes it a lot easier.”

LEDs are enabling houses of worship to enhance the overall experience in more subtle ways, as well. Low-profile stage lighting enhancements create textural changes in the visual display, making for a richer worship environment. Rather than focusing solely on an individual worship leader, choir, or performers, creative spots on interior elements add depth that draws congregants into the service.

“LED technology and strips that are low profile and [other] lighting instruments can fit in tight areas,” said Daryl Sutton, global business development and solutions manager—house of worship, Harman. “Even when it's a traditional facility, or a more modern facility, the attention to detail of lighting the area around the individual has been a trend. It changes the environment from watching worship to being involved in worship from a congregant's perspective.”

Other creative elements, such as dimming, can be difficult to replicate after the switch from incandescent to LED lighting. Altman Lighting’s Pegasus LED is designed to produce soft theatrical light with mains, or line voltage, dimming capability.

“Mains dimming of LEDs requires a lot of clever software code to get a good, smooth dim, but it removes the requirement to change out dimmers for motorized breakers or relays and the need for additional signal cable,” Osterman said.

Get on My Level

Manufacturers are meeting customers at their comfort level for technology. As end users become more adept at using tech, the companies making lighting and AV control products are taking user-experience cues in order to provide intuitive systems for users.

George Masek, vice president—automated lighting, ACT Lighting, a distributor of lighting solutions, works with a broad spectrum of customers, from specifiers to end users who have varying degrees of experience with lighting systems. He’s discovering, though, that a sizeable chunk of his customers are getting more comfortable with technology.

“I think high technology has become so prevalent in folks' everyday lives that there's much more of an acceptance and interest in high-level technology,” noted Masek. “Years ago, I'd have a church say, ‘That console's too much for me,’ or, ‘I don't need moving lights.’ I hear that almost never now.”

By contrast, volunteers today are more comfortable using technology on par with professionals than in the past. “There are 17-year-old kids at these churches who can easily run consoles and moving lights,” he said.

This shift toward meeting customers at their skill levels informs products ACT Lighting sells for houses of worship. Masek cited the dot2 line of small- and mid-size lighting consoles from manufacturer MA Lighting, which deploys a simple graphical interface with integrated user help and 3D visualization software.

“It's like we're both moving in the direction of each other—the churches are becoming more adept [with technology], and the manufacturers are becoming more adept at providing a wider array of solutions.”

Chauvet Professional is also building ease of use into its portfolio of lighting control products. The company is targeting young and mobile-savvy end users with solutions that allow them to be comfortable with the system as soon as the installation is complete.

“We're trying to make things easier so that anybody can do it,” said Graham. “We're developing control solutions that are definitely more app based, so what you're used to doing with a gaming app isn't far from what you're doing on a lighting app.

“That mindset is already there. If you're used to doing certain things online, this is going to come into your head pretty easily. It all translates.”

Jim Beaugez is a freelance writer and content creator for the AV, professional audio, and music industries. His work has been published by Systems Contractor News, Pro Sound News, Mix, Radio World, and The Recording Academy, as well as Rolling Stone, Smithsonian, Guitar World, Guitar Player, and other consumer publications. He previously worked in communications for the pro audio and musical instruments industries.