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Ask The Pro - Church Lighting Equipment

When it's time to look at buying lighting equipment, first we have to look at what type of lighting you need. Sounds simple, right? Well, unfortunately, all too many lighting and sound companies look at churches as cookie-cutter projects and have set formulas in place to give themselves the maximum profit without necessarily giving you the best lighting. So, how do we decide what kind of lighting you need? We ask questions, that's how.

Here are some questions to know the answers to before you talk to a salesperson.

1. Do you plan on broadcasting your services, now or in the future?

This is a critical question, as lighting for broadcast is very different from lighting for drama or simply illuminating the service for the congregation. Lighting for broadcast requires much more light than any other style of church lighting, and it must be very even, with no dark spots. This means more lights, and more electrical power, than simply lighting for drama or for Sunday services. If you don't immediately plan to broadcast, but think it is likely to happen in the future, you must make sure there is adequate power before beginning the project. If you run out of electricity, you're done. Game Over.

When lighting for broadcast, make sure that the company you hire has experience in lighting for television. This is not something to trust to the local music store. Television lighting is very exact and can be very expensive. I generally use a rule of thumb of $100/seat to ensure adequate lighting for broadcast.

2. Do you have a contemporary or traditional service?

Typically, a non-broadcast, traditional church service is the least expensive type of church lighting system you can get. It provides general illumination, perhaps with some ability to highlight the pulpit area or a few spots for solo singers, but it's mostly a clean, even wash without too many bells and whistles. We're just lighting the platform area so that everybody can see everything that's going on.

A contemporary service can be as elaborate as any rock tour, with fog, changing colors, moving lights, patterns, and all sorts of whiz-bang toys. But the last thing you want is a contemporary system, with all its capabilities and associated expenses, in a traditional church. A contemporary service is likely to have trained operators and a dedicated (and occasionally paid) group of church lighting and sound programmers, while a traditional service is typically a "turn the lights on and leave it" kind of project. Contemporary services are also very involved and can exceed the $100/seat rule that I have set for broadcast. It all depends on the imagination of the folks involved.

3. What is your budget?

Don't go into the process without a clear budget, and it is okay to share that information with the salesperson, if you trust them. When I'm approached about a project, I ask the budget question for two reasons. First, to see if a project is worth my time financially or if I should refer it to someone else. Second, to see if I will be able to achieve my customer's objectives with the money they have on hand. We've certainly all known people with champagne tastes and a beer budget; well, the same thing happens in construction projects, too! Being upfront and clear about your budget lets everyone know the best way to compromise to meet your goals.

4. What is your timeline?

If you want a new church lighting system in time for your Easter pageant, April is a bad time to start talking to lighting companies. Ditto for Christmas and November. I typically spend anywhere from one to three years on a project before it's completed. That's on new buildings. On renovation work, a year to 18 months is pretty standard.

We're going to have to meet a couple of times before I get the design right, then it's going to have to get budgetary approval, then we have to deal with the money, and only then can I begin ordering equipment, which typically has at least an eight-week lead time for delivery. So, I tend to tell customers that it takes a minimum of 90 days from the time I get the contract to get their equipment installed, and that's if everything goes perfectly.

On new construction, if someone calls and wants me to work on the project, the first question I ask is, "Have you broken ground yet?" If the answer is "yes," then we're already running out of time. Getting everything settled early is critical to a successful project, and we all want to stay friends once the building is built, right?

These are a few things to think about when planning for a new church lighting system. Hopefully, they'll help you get moving in the right direction.

This article is courtesy of LightingForWorship.com.

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