Small Church Lighting: Big solutions for a small space
By Tom Brown, Rental Manager, Angstrom Lighting
Reprinted with permission from Church Production Magazine
Between space limitations, power limitations, and budget restrictions, an extensive, sophisticated lighting system might be out of the question [for small churches]. However, that doesn't mean they have to settle for household track lighting or ancient, dingy chandeliers.
La Crescenta Presbyterian Church, located in a suburb of Los Angeles, California, was built in the 1950s and faced many lighting challenges typical to small churches across the country. Over a period of three years, the 500-member church replaced its track lighting (which had left the chancel in shadows and the congregation in the dark) with a complete lighting system that brightens the church for regular services and adds extra effects for special services.
Small churches can face big problems when it comes to lighting. Between space limitations, power limitations, and budget restrictions, an extensive, sophisticated lighting system might be out of the question. However, that doesn't mean they have to settle for household track lighting or ancient, dingy chandeliers.
Many small churches are wired and lit similar to a large home. There is track lighting along the ceiling, along with household spot bulbs for alcoves and areas of note. While some small churches might have elaborate chandeliers, they may not be in top operating condition, leaving most of the church dimly lit.
Lighting is an important aspect of any church, but it is often underestimated—it can make a significant impact on how your congregation perceives the service. For example, if it is generally bright with cool, blue, and lavender lighting, it can make people feel energetic and optimistic. But when poorly designed, such lighting can affect a sterile, cold feeling. On the other end of the spectrum are the warmer colors which can create a friendly and intimate feeling. However, with fl awed design, these same colors can make your space appear drab and dingy. Experiment with different looks in your space to achieve the feeling you wish to create.
The Experience of One Small Church
La Crescenta Presbyterian determined which lighting system would work best for its needs and began planning its new lighting system. Like many small- to midsized churches, it was built with minimum power feed, most likely in order to save money at the time of construction. Future expansion to include air-conditioning and additional lighting equipment was just not considered.
To address this stumbling block, the church hired a licensed electrician to do a study on the availability of additional power, both within the building and coming in from outside the building. The electrician then checked with city offi cials to determine the costs associated with increasing power, and then advised the best solution.
Once the business of research and recommendations was settled, the church focused on the next challenge: its architecture. The interior architecture of small churches can allow for either simple or complex lighting positions. For example, many small churches feature exposed beams, making it easy to attach lighting rigs that are almost invisible to the congregation, while delivering a big impact. Churches without exposed beams become more creative in lighting design, making use of balcony rails or temporary pipe and base structures.
To achieve its goal, La Crescenta Presbyterian had to work in stages and budget the significant cost of installation. While it was planning for its lighting overhaul, the church brought in rented lights for special services, such as Christmas and Easter. As an example, for the Christmas choir concert, it was essential to add spotlights to the dim chancel or else the singers would not be visible. And additional spotlights and fixtures with festive red and green color filters were added to create special effects throughout.
After a few years of careful planning, La Crescenta Presbyterian completed its project for about $25,000, including installation. Now it is fully set up with the latest fixtures, lamps, consoles, and a dimming rack. The electrician also installed additional outlets to ensure that the lighting system could change and move if necessary.
Maintenance is Paramount
The single most important thing you can do to keep your lighting system from failing is to perform regular maintenance and cleaning. Many of the problems that lighting systems encounter are due to dust and grime buildup, so it is a good idea to always keep the lighting console protected with a clean cover when not in use. Once a month, check the dimmer input connectors. You are looking for anomalies and connectors that look black or corroded. Replace the individual connectors immediately and check the stage extension cables to ensure there isn't a larger problem. Twice a year, clean the dimmer modules and fans using an air compressor. Once a year, wipe off the lenses and reflectors.