Light needs to shine on something, and so stage design is as important to lighting as the lighting equipment itself. Here, veteran church techs share insights into making stages shine this season.

“Last Christmas, we went with an art deco look,” Rodecap says. “We used a company that has a CNC router (a router that’s controlled by computer and can cut out designs based on a CAD file) to create elaborate Christmas tree patterns in large foam-core panels. We lit it with RGB front wash and uplit a flat panel placed behind it differently to give the tree pattern some depth. Layers like this can add a lot to a stage design.”Rodecap continues, “Then, we had a similar art deco pattern printed onto Coroplast (a corrugated plastic sheet material) by another local company, and used that to cover the front and sides of the various stage risers. For additional Christmas trees, these were also cut from foam core purchased from a local home improvement store, and painted white. We then lined them with RGB Pixel tape and powered with the Enttec Pixelator. This created a really nice, modern Christmas look when paired with the traditional Christmas trees placed around the stage. And lastly, for a somewhat small detail that had a huge impact, we had our Christmas series branding printed on an 80-foot by 30-foot piece of vinyl that was placed and stencil cut on the stage floor. This gave the people in balconies something nicer to look at than a plain old black stage floor.”

Crafting Texture

Texture was an important part of Northview Church’s lighting looks, Rodecap notes. “While we utilize various Clay Paky, Martin and Vari-Lite moving lights to accomplish these looks, something as simple as an ETC SourceFour RGBA ellipsoidal outfitted with wide beam angles and utilizing breakup gobos would work, as well. You still get the aerial textures in the haze, and they add a lot to the floor and scenic elements.”

Another way to add texture is low-lying fog effects created with a dry-ice machine. “We utilized two of them one year, positioned upstage and shooting out towards center stage,” says Wray. “Fog like this should stay low and avoid triggering smoke detectors. However, we had to build barriers around guitar amps and floor pockets to avoid electrical issues. It was a lot more work in the end compared to the newer low-lying fog effects.”

Programming your lighting is also an important part of achieving good lighting effects. “I listen to each song and program for the song specifically,” says Brad Lyons, lighting designer for Tabernacle of Praise Church International in McDonough, Ga. “I look for the emotional and transitional parts of the music, and use lighting to accent those parts of the song. Lighting design is really about playing with one’s emotions.”Christmas is one of the best opportunities to connect with the unchurched visitors to your campus. Being intentional about lighting your service can have a big impact on how these visitors perceive the Christmas message.

Christmas is a time when many churches pull out all the stops, doing their very best to create a fun, welcoming environment for the many anticipated first-time visitors to their campuses. A big part of the visual experience in any church service is created through the lighting, so it’s no surprise that churches put extra effort and resources into lighting their stages well for Christmas events and services.Lighting, however, can’t be done in a vacuum. Light needs to shine on something, and therefore your stage design is as important to your lighting as the lighting equipment itself. And lighting, or stage design for that matter, is never the end in itself—its goal is to support what’s taking place on stage in a way that augments the action and message.“It’s all driven by our creative team,” comments Mark Wray, technical arts ministry leader for Red Rocks Church in Denver.

“The creative team makes the big decisions on the look and feel, and as techs … it’s our job to find ways to support the team’s vision.”Depending on precisely what your church’s vision for a Christmas service is, you don’t need the fanciest equipment to achieve compelling looks. “Color is important in a Christmas lighting design—or sometimes, a lack of color,” says Wray. “A moonlight look, utilizing dark blues, light blues, and white light can be very effective. We’ve gone with more of a candlelight lighting feel in the past, creating a more somber feeling. A star gobo look is great for Christmas. If you can do a little haze in the room, those look even better. If you’re using moving lights, the less movement you have, the better—Christmas Eve doesn’t usually lend itself to a lot of motion per se.”

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