How to Creatively Add LED Fixtures to Your Church Lighting Rig

How to Creatively Add LED Fixtures to Your Church Lighting Rig


I remember a time when I was taught that the best accolade for a lighting designer was an audience not commenting on the lighting. My contribution as a lighting director was to support not stand out. Let me explain, lighting is a young art form as part of a performance. Churches are just now seeing ways to creatively add LED fixtures in ways to complement and enhance the church experience.

People have been performing forever, and they added costumes and scenic elements from the beginning. Controlled lighting is rather new. I say controlled because I am sure that firelight was used to enhance a scary tale long ago. For churches, the aim is somewhere in the middle: enhance the environment but not stand out too much.

As we gained control over light, we used it to extend when performances could be held indoors. As fixtures developed lighting improved and the ability to support the costumes and sets took off. In the world of plays, we play a supporting role, in musicals lighting always helps establish the bursting into song, and the fantasy that brings. Where lighting could stand out was in dance. Ballet required additional lighting angles to enhance the form, and modern dance allowed the light to become the scenery.

The concert world followed modern dance in the simplicity of the set, using light to define the space and highlight the performer. For churches, the stage has increased to include all kinds of new lighting technology to enhance the worship experience.

This photo below is from the NC State Fair in 1999. The lighting is made up of a double-hung box truss with 60 1000-watt Par Cans front and rear. With a little bit of haze, you can see the light beams.

How to Creatively Add LED Fixtures to Your Church Lighting Rig- Image provided with permission by Susan Rose

Photo Credit: Taken by Stephen Ellison at NC State Fair October 1999

Jump forward to 2023 and the concept is the same, the fixtures are just more powerful and fun. You can see the beams better and even see the breakup pattern in the beam.

This next photo is the same tour, a different venue.

How to Creatively Add LED Fixtures to Your Church Lighting Rig

Photo Credit: Image provided with permission by Susan Rose

This next photo is the same tour, a different venue.

Provided with permission by Susan Rose

Photo Credit: Image provided with permission by Susan Rose

What is fun here is the background being created by up light.

LED Fixtures for Your Church Lighting Rig

When you are lighting someone speaking at church, such as announcements or the sermon, the goal is to provide even lighting, without distractions. It is important to provide a good stage picture, that enhances the background and provides fill for all camera angles. Let’s break down your light plot for the speaking portion of the service.

I always start from the back to the front in creating lighting looks, so the back wall lighting is the first thing to turn on. LED lighting provides you with color mixing and smooth wash lights to provide the background color. You will want to coordinate with the graphics crew so that your color enhances the graphics on the screen(s) or video wall. It is also important to keep your light off of them.

In addition to wall washes, you can add fixtures to pattern the wall as in the photo. A set of moving lights on the floor upstage provides you with patterns that can be projected where you like, just remember to keep them from becoming a distraction, you can move them during worship.

The next system of fixtures to turn on are the backlights. LED fixtures have had a major impact on this lighting system, where in the past you would hang multiple fixtures to light an area on stage to get different colors, now one fixture handles it all. Speaking of color, now the range of colors you can achieve, and the saturation has increased exponentially. Another blessing is the intensity of the Blues you can achieve, incandescent lamps do not provide hardly any blue, so you were always losing transmission anytime you used a blue filter. The only fixtures that could produce intense blues use arc lamps with a much higher color temperature.

Don’t Neglect Side Lights, LED for Churches Can Offer Variation

Moving forward you add in the side lights, a very neglected lighting angle. Here LEDs provide fixtures with the ability to change the color temperature. This can be valuable when you want to vary the side light from the front light to accentuate the shadowing created by side light.

The front lights also benefit from color temperature tuning. You can pick the color temperature based on the color palette being used for the graphics and backlights. LED spotlight fixtures, what used to be called Ellipsoidal Reflector spotlights, are improved over the incandescent by filling in the spectrum with colors missing from the incandescent. The color rendering is now adjustable to help bring out colors being used on the platform for that service.

Moving LED Lighting for Churches Offer Subtle Enhancements

Now let’s look at times in the service you can have a little fun. As you can see in the pictures by adding haze to the space you can make the light beams visible, now the placement of the fixtures allows you to create a virtual set with the beams. Without a large number of fixtures, you can not only create static looks but also shifting backgrounds that move with the music.

In addition to moving lights, which can have added the ability to chase large COB LED, the shape of the fixture can also be linear and have rotation ability. The lighting design can now have the ability to pixel map by installing the linear fixtures with just 1 row or multiple rows of LED. If you keep the graphics simple you can create some interesting effects by hanging the fixtures in different shapes/ configurations. While they don’t have the resolution of a video wall they can be wonderful background images.

For the Church, LED lighting has opened up new areas for the lighting designer to focus the eye. One thing to keep in mind though, with the addition of all that they can do, comes longer programming time to create your vision.

Stephen Ellison is speaking at WAVE Fall on Understanding Color in this New Age of LEDs. Join us this September 12-14, 2023 in Louisville, KY. Learn with your peers, meet leading manufacturers, and connect with others with the same challenges you are facing. 

Why Attend WAVE? (What makes us different)

The WAVE conference focuses on audiovisual and lighting first and is a traditional conference and expo with the best church AVL exhibitors and vendors in the industry. At WAVE, you and your tech team will have the time to talk with exhibitors because our expo floor is less crowded and better organized than other AVL conferences. WAVE offers the opportunity to see what others are doing and even boasts and church tour local to the conference. Experience roundtable discussions during meals and after sessions. Visit the biggest manufacturers in your area. Maximize your team’s time for education, training on equipment, and industry connection and collaboration. Lastly, WAVE offers incredible value for the education, exhibit access, networking, worship, and amenities for the price of the ticket. Lastly, we at WAVE want to see your church grow, help others find God, and feel personal satisfaction with their jobs by being educated and connecting within the AVL church tech industry. Register for WAVE today!

Stephen Ellison has been working in the industry since receiving a BFA from NC School of the Arts in 1979. He has worked as a Rental Technician, Rental Manager, Service Manager, Fog Machine Designer, System Sales, Production Lighting Designer, Systems Designer, Technical Director, Technical Sales. He is ETCP Certified in Theater Rigging and Entertainment Electrician. He now works for The Light Source as the Technical Sales and Trade Show Manager. His favorite lighting is modern dance, or musicals, a designer has so much freedom to be creative in those art forms.