How to Integrate Your Lighting Needs
For: Worship Facilities Magazine
By: David Martin Jacques
February 18, 2005

Copyright 2005 by David Martin Jacques

In my thirty years as a lighting consultant, I have worked on projects ranging from modest renovations to multi-million dollar worship centers. No matter what the scope of the project may be, when deciding on what type of lighting system to specify for a house of worship, clearly the most important consideration is what the ultimate use of the lighting system will be. Is it for general house-light illumination? How about decorative light that highlights the features of the architecture? How much theatrical lighting must there be? Will there be special events that require special lighting needs that a stand-alone system cannot provide?

The answers to these questions are crucial in designing a lighting system. It is my job to suggest systems that not only meet the technical and artistic needs of the church, but also the church’s budget and maintenance considerations. From these answers I can quickly evaluate the size and scope of the lighting systems.

Church lighting systems are usually divided between the house and architectural illumination, and the theatrical (stage) illumination. The reason for this is due more to tradition than practice. In the past, the architect would usually design the house and architectural lighting, and a theatrical lighting consultant would specify the stage lighting design. This has evolved over the years as architects and architectural lighting consultants have hired and trained theatrical lighting designers in the technical processes of the architectural design industry.

In addition, many theatrical lighting companies have expanded into architectural lighting. Strand, Electronic Theatre Controls, and even automated lighting companies High End Systems and Vari*Lite have introduced architectural control systems and fixtures. Systems have become integrated within product brands. In fact, much of the hardware within a brand’s product line would suit both architectural and theatrical lighting needs. It was only natural for church lighting consultants to begin specifying integrated lighting systems.

For many churches there may be a specific need to separate the house and stage lighting systems. These complex systems range in expense depending on the size of the church, and the church’s production requirements. I am presently designing a lighting renovation for the Hope Chapel in San Pedro, California. Since this church has weekly praise worship with live music that requires changing dramatic lighting moods, for its stage lighting I specified a half-dozen automated fixtures with integrated dimmers controlled by an inexpensive moving light console. I also included a separate house lighting system for its architectural and congregation illumination. However, even though these are separate lighting control systems, the house lighting control system is able to take control of the moving lights when simple set-ups are required for services, weddings, baptisms, and other events. Almost any lighting system can be integrated.

I have found that in many cases, especially when budgets are tight, a small, integrated lighting system is the right way to go. Many churches only have regular services and have little need for advanced lighting control systems. And for the few times during the year when a church may be presenting a theatrical event, it may make more sense to rent supplemental lighting for a few weeks instead of having it collect dust during the year.

For the churches with these limited lighting control needs, there are economical systems that will handle both the house and decorative lighting along with simple stage lighting needs. One of my favorites is the Electronics Theatre Controls Unison system. This system integrates seamlessly with ETC’s other dimming and control products. It will not only control the house and architectural lighting via separate “zones”, it will enable you to set up various lighting “cues” for your church’s different events and services. It even has a moving light module that allows simple moving light control. No need to call in your teenage computer whiz just to turn on the moving lights, one switch on the wall panel does it all.

The house lighting control system is more than a simple “on-off” switch. Most modern systems allow you to dim sections (“zones”) of the congregation and the architectural lighting, and set the intensity of the lighting for specific moods. You can also control much of the stage lighting from the remote wall stations allowing complete lighting control from one site. These systems also enable you to store several lighting intensities into memory, allowing you to press a button on the wall station and the lighting will quickly fade to that setting. This is useful for weddings, prayer services, baptisms, and of course, clean-up.

The lighting can also be controlled via an integrated astronomical time clock, so that no one has to be at the church to turn on and off the lights. Significant electrical utility savings are realized as the lighting will never be left on all night for no reason. In addition, for security considerations, motion detectors can also instantly trigger the lighting control.

Customized wall switches and faders can be designed to suit the needs of the particular church. All this allows for a simple and efficient way to control the house and stage lighting, without the need for advanced training in computer lighting consoles. There are many designs for these wall stations, from simple push buttons to LED panels. These stations can also have electronic “lockouts”, requiring passwords to override the lighting presets. Handheld remotes are also available (for a Pastor who likes to take personal control of their lighting).

The economics of these systems also make a great deal of sense. One dimmer rack can control both the house and stage lighting. In situations like the Hope Chapel in San Pedro, no dimmers are required for the stage lighting as the moving light fixtures have their own internal dimmers. Twelve Unison dimmers control all the architectural lighting in the main worship hall. This integrated design offers this church the enormous flexibility of automated lighting, along with quick and easy pre-recorded lighting setups from a wall switch, all for a cost that is quite affordable.

More modest systems can be designed with simple fixed theatrical stage lighting all controlled from a central dimmer rack through the architectural wall stations. These devices are extremely dependable and easy to operate. In addition, there are very few moving parts, making maintenance almost a non-factor. All you have to do is change light bulbs when they burn out.

So depending on the needs of your church, the choices in integrated house and theatrical lighting systems are almost endless. It just takes a wise lighting consultant to understand these needs, consider your budget and maintenance issues, and design the right integrated lighting system for you and your church.

David Martin Jacques is a worship lighting consultant in Los Angeles, CA. He heads the Graduate Stage Lighting program at California State University, Long Beach. He can be contacted at .