Lighting the Way

Does modern stage lighting in churches go too far? Are worship groups just “putting on a show” nowadays with concert-like effects?

Going Dark?

I recently came across an article that began with this quote:

“I honestly don’t understand why churches are choosing to have dark sanctuaries.”

GodVine article on
“Why Is the Church Going Dark?”

What they are referring to is how many modern churches sometimes use darker lighting in the main sanctuary and alternate lighting to illuminate the stage. And in the comment section of that post, there were a LOT of strong opinions about the topic. Genuinely, there are plenty of people who just don’t get it.

Among the varying points of view, several folks seemed to feel that it was “just a lot of theatrics.” Others added, “It’s like they’re putting on a show.” Similar comments seemed to exhibit a harsh judgmental attitude. Some even went as far as to suggest that it was “evil,” taking the term darkness much too literally.

Naturally, there were those who had a much more practical opinion of the topic. But the gist of the article itself seemed more negative than positive. Upon reading this, I felt the need to shine some much needed light on the subject – pun intended.

Unnecessary Theatrics?

I have spent all my life in church, and more than 35 years in audio-visual. Over the years, I have seen a lot of changes take place in church services – the way things are done, and how the gospel is presented. What I have learned during this time is that there is a single ever-present prevailing truth: While the message of Christ does not change, the methods for presenting that message are constantly changing.

Some people simply don’t like change. Personal preferences are going to vary, and that’s okay. But we need to be careful that we aren’t so stuck in our ways that we close ourselves off the possibility that there are indeed different ways to do things that are every bit as worthy. Is it really “unnecessary theatrics,” or simply a new way of enhancing the presentation of the gospel?

If you truly want to follow the logic that suggests all that lighting stuff is just not necessary, fine. Let’s go down that road for a moment. Do we NEED a sound system? Do we really NEED instruments? Do we even NEED to have a building? No. We don’t have to have any of those things in order to meet together, worship God, and listen to the preaching of the Word. So, why don’t we just get rid of ALL that unnecessary stuff?

Using Gifts and Tools

Perhaps the better question is, why do we USE those things? Well, having a building is helpful because it gets people out of the elements and weather, and we can control the temperature in a building. Okay, that’s obviously a comfort thing. Nothing wrong with being comfortable while we worship, right?

Instruments add to the worship. The Bible says to play skillfully on the harp and the lyre, and to make a joyful noise to the Lord. Playing all kinds of instruments is also how some people who might not be able to sing can offer up beautiful worship to God. Musical talent, as well as vocal talent, is a gift from our Creator. No reason why we ought not USE these talents in our praise to Him, right?

Now that we have a building and instruments, another tool we might naturally come to use would be a sound system. The acoustics vary in different kinds of rooms, and a sanctuary pretty much begs to have a good sound system in order to evenly distribute a discernible mix of the voices and the instruments. No problems with that, right?

Most people would agree that these are legitimate reasons for using all these things. They enhance the experience in many ways. The building offers a controllable atmosphere and comfort. The instruments provide music which is used to make the worship better. And the audio system helps everyone hear clearly the lyrics and message being delivered. So, what about that lighting?

What Lighting Adds

As my church’s AV Director, I have trained many people. One of the first things I make clear to them is a very simple concept: Our job is to enhance the service by striving to excel at eliminating distractions and help keep people’s focus where it should be. We never want to BE a distraction, and I explain to trainees how to avoid that.

I tell them that what we do in that AV booth is very important. We have a unique ability to make everyone’s church experience either better or worse. From sound, to lighting, to visual presentations on screen, everything has a purpose. If we do our jobs well, no one should really notice. But if we mess up, everyone will notice.

So, how do we enhance the church service with strategic lighting? I’m glad you asked. Among other things, one reason to darken the main sanctuary lights and illuminate a certain part of the stage is to help eliminate distractions and focus people’s attention on the person speaking. This is similar to why a theater will darken the lights over the audience to keep people from being distracted by those around them and focus their attention on the movie screen.

Now I hear some in the peanut gallery yelling, “Aha! See? Theatrics! We don’t need that in church!” If that’s you, I think you missed the point. I DID say it’s similar to what’s done in a theater, so let’s go ahead and call it theatrics for the moment. My point was the WHY. And WHY it works for a theater is the same reason it works for church. I just went through a laundry list of reasons why things that might not be necessary certainly do enhance a church service. No, we might not NEED the lighting aspect, but that doesn’t make it unusable. It’s a valuable tool, and I’m of the opinion that we ought to be using every available tool at our disposal for God’s purposes.

Opinions or Judgments?

I understand that there are going to be plenty of people who disagree with me about this. Some just hold the opinion that using lighting in this way is man’s attempt at manipulating the Spirit, and the Holy Spirit doesn’t need man’s help. But I maintain that every gift, talent, or ability we have is from God. That includes the knowledge we possess and the technology we’ve developed. These things are not inherently evil. When utilized for God’s purposes, we can accomplish great things for the Kingdom. It’s not about the Spirit needing our help, but about offering all we have to be used for Him. And while God doesn’t NEED man, He chooses to USE man for His glory.

It’s fine for people to have opinions that differ. But let’s make sure our opinions aren’t being treated as a standard of right and wrong. If you have scoffed at a church for using “concert lighting” or for seemingly “putting on a show,” I would challenge you to back up and take a 30,000 foot view. See if it’s being used as a positive to enhance the service, much like a sound system. What’s the motivation behind it, really? And don’t just assume you know. That’s not just an opinion anymore – that’s a judgment.

While there may indeed be some out there who are just trying to “be like the world” to attract people to the church, I seriously doubt that’s the intention of most. As an AV Director and one who has served as such in church for decades, I can honestly tell you that putting on a show is furthest from my mind. I want everything I do at church to direct people’s attention AWAY from ME and onto Jesus! The last thing I want is people looking at me as the example to follow. I’m not at all worthy of that, but Jesus definitely is.

Let’s stop being so critical of each other in the church that it chases people away. We’re supposed to be witnesses, not judges. So use all your gifts and tools for Christ, and let’s keep lighting the way for others.

Author: stacemassengill

I am a blood-bought saint of God, saved by His amazing Grace! God called me to start Great Commission Ministries online in June of 2011, and that began as a video series called "The GC." After 7 seasons of that web-series, I felt led to expand the ministry to blogs as well as a new video series I called "67 seconds of Encouragement." Eventually, the blogs became a podcast. And the ministry continues to grow from that, currently in the form of The Kingdom Hero Show. My prayer is that this ministry brings hope and encouragement to everyone who finds it. Please share it with others and help spread the Good News of Christ!

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