Lighting (the Worship Place)


is quickly becoming [or HAS ALREADY BECOME] part of the “wars” of the church. (It is unfortunate, but it is apparently true for many churches.) To me, I would rather be writing about stopping all the “wars” of the church, but it would probably become a 300 page dissertation, because we are all sinners, saved by grace–and because of that there will be times where we are selfish and want our way: much like a toddler in the candy aisle of a grocery store, we will want our way NOW!! So we can not end the “wars” of the church over lighting, but hopefully, after reading until the end, you will be able to discuss more intelligently in the next conversation about lighting in the church, and please do not use this as a discourse for contention.


Unrecognized by many Christians of today we have lost an understanding of lighting in the church for worship services.  You see, it is actually a relatively new phenomenon to be able to light up an entire large room with as much light as is humanly possible. Thomas Edison didn’t apply for a patent for the light bulb until 1879–that is nearly 1900 years after the death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus–AND, the beginning of the New Testament church.  Nearly 1900 years and people gathered for worship under trees, in homes, during the day by sun light and at night by oil lamps and wax candles. For the vast majority of the age of the Christian church, believers have worshipped in dim light if they were gathered in a church “building.” (It is easy to see how that great Advent tradition of Christmas Eve candlelight service became so popular–except most people in the early years probably did not extinguish the candles at the end of the services, they used them to journey home.)

It wasn’t until the later part of the 20th century that churches began to pursue and use lighting options for worship services.  AND NOW, you can light any area with a specific beam, specific color, specific shape, and move them to any contortion that is seemingly needed at any moment of a service. The questions to answer about lighting is how and why–not where and when…we will begin with the latter:


Bad Reasons for lights:

  • Setting a worship environment
  • Displaying a certain “mood” for worship
  • To allow worshipers to not see those around them

We are not called to create a “mood” for worship.  The Holy Spirit is the one determining factor for creating a “mood” for worship.  Bob Kauflin speaking on worship lighting suggested that many times We’ve slipped from viewing worship as a Spirit-enabled response to God’s self-revelation in the gospel to seeing it as an emotional experience that can be humanly produced and manipulatedYou see, our act of worship serves as a response to a revelation from God, not as a response to an environment of worship, or an act of “mood” setting.

Good Reasons for lights:

  • Dimming lights allows the words or media on screens to be more easily seen
  • Lights can be used to direct people’s attention
  • Proper lighting can help to keep people from being distracted
  • People can feel more comfortable (especially guests) when the light is not on them
  • The “art” of lighting can serve as a reminder that as we create, we are a reflection of the image of our great Creator


There are limitless articles, books, and resources about lighting, most of which fall into the realm of “theatrical” lighting.  However, we are not intending to create a “theatre” in our worship centers, unless it is to tell the greatest story ever told–each and every week–proclaiming the gospel of Jesus!!  Sounds like a good reason to do it correctly, if you ask me…Jesus is more deserving of excellence than any man-made broadway or off-broadway show.  So for time being, I am simply going to focus on 4 areas of lighting (up-light, downlight, proper stage light, and “environmental” lighting for illustration purposes) for a worship center–four areas that we tried to recently implement in our renovation project over the last 2 years.



Up-lights are the “beauty” of lights and can simply transform a place with only a few minor additions.  The are par can lights (large, thin, medium) or lighting bars that do exactly what they say they are doing, they are shooting light from the floor, and going upward.  The reason I say they provide the beauty is because they look astonishingly simple yet beautiful all at the same time. This is the featured lights at many wedding receptions, and it seems that even the king of beauty, Disney and his cohorts (Sleeping Beauty and her friends: Cinderella, Jasmine, and Belle) all seem to agree: uprights can dramatically change the visual beauty of a place.  So if “art” can serve as a reminder of the reflection of a Creator, then uprights can serve as a simple weekly reminder that beauty can be found in God and a relationship with HIM is the most beautiful thing ever.


Disney Castle Comparison: natural daylight versus the use of uplight


Down-lights (“house” lights) are the “workhorse” lights of your worship center!

Installing new down-lights

They are the lights that allow the members and guests to enter into the Worship Center without tripping and falling.  They allow people to actually read from their Bible during the sermon.  They allow the congregation to interact with each other (before, during, and in our case,  mostly after the service). They are also the lights that allow the “work” to take place during the week in preparation for the weekend experience (cleaning, stage design, restocking envelopes, vacuuming, running cables, attaching microphones, et cetera).

If these lights are zoned correctly, then they will never reflect light onto the platform of the worship center they will stay “in the house.” That is why you will often hear someone refer to these lights as the “house” lights as in: Can you please bring up the house lights for a moment so we can recognize father time and his faithfulness to our 90 year old deacon, Mr. Smith? BAD downlightsHowever, many older facilities will have lights from a certain era which do nothing to enhance the down-light for the congregation (i.e. our older fixtures that we replaced had 95% of the light directed upward toward our 45 foot ceiling which in return created a “reflective light” back down to the seats and walkways). What this meant was that the light travelled approximately 15-20 feet upward, bounced off the ceiling and spread unevenly as it reflected back down 45 feet to people trying to walk, read their Bible, or connect with each other–the light was simply, NOT GOOD. Now the lighting is more even and directed down for specific purposes.


Stage lights allow worshippers to connect with the pastor, speaker, worship leaders, or anyone communicating from the main platform of the worship center.  And one of the most important aspects to proper stage lighting is to have it set up in zones.

Zoning lights for a typical worship platform stage

Too often all of the lights are “spread” in such a way that all of the light is coming from the front (most often is the case) or all of the light is coming from the top (also common), but unless it is intentional in its design, rarely does the light come from the three points of contact that it needs (2 front and one back), and therefore consideration is never given to the zones of lights (which is of upmost importance). These important zones should be determined before wiring, before install, and in fact-EVEN BEFORE PURCHASE (why purchase lights for 10 zones when all you need is enough lights for 6 zones).

Setting the stage lights is equally important to the zone placement.  Front_ViewOnce the zones are determined, use the “45 degree rule” to help you in placement of the lights (this can not be a hard and fast rule, unless you have a flat ceiling–our worship center did not so we have to have some “give and take” in the light placement scenario).  There should be 2 front lights pointing at each zone at a 45 degree angle and the should also be on a 45 degree slope from ceiling to stage floor…and then the one back light should also be on a 45 degree slope from the ceiling to the floor. The great thing about using this set-up for lighting is that it works great for the weekend services on campus as well as lighting for online broadcast or streaming.  It seems that one of the greatest technology advances in the church in recent years is the ability to use Vimeo, SIDE_VIEWYouTube, Facebook LIVE, or a variety of other services that allow for online video. This is great for the church as many who are homebound, or out of town, or in a closed country where worship can not happen, now have access to the gospel each and every week.




Environmental lights (not for the purpose of creating an environment for worship) can be used to drive home a sermon illustration or a sermon series. This is different from creating an “environment” of worship–this is the concept of creating an environment that evokes connection to a particular topic or sermon point for the sake of having a memory recalled at a later point. [for example: the featured picture of this post is a recent example of how we used an “environmental” lighting to instill the idea of our pastor’s sermon series: “SURROUNDED.”  You can see the “brokeness” of the light gobos and the menacing colors of the lighting scheme.  All of this is to display visually the main ideas of the sermon series: we are believers we are in the midst of spiritual warfare, and these are biblical ways for countering that.  The lights should never be the main point of what we are doing in worship, they should always serve to enhance.  If they distract, then they are being used wrongly–remember to always keep the main thing the main thing: Jesus!

In the words of John Piper:

We will try to sing and play and pray and preach in such a way that people’s attention will not be diverted from the substance by shoddy ministry nor by excessive finesse, elegance, or refinement. Natural, undistracting excellence will let the truth and beauty of God shine through. We will invest in equipment good enough to be undistracting in transmitting heartfelt truth.

Always keep the Gospel at the forefront of what we do in worship!

If you need resources or contact information about lighting, please feel free to contact us at Worship Revitalize.


One thought on “Lighting (the Worship Place)

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  1. Great info here! At Brookside Baptist Church in Kanata, we are hoping to build a new worship centre which means we get to design a new stage and lighting environment! Doing lots of research and I came across this post. Thanks! 🙂


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