Wading through all your options when doing a church lighting project can be a daunting task as anyone who’s ever walked through an LDI or WFX show will readily agree. Setting aside brand preferences and some of the more conspicuous performance features, how to you evaluate your lighting choices?
We could think of no better person to help us answer this question than Daniel Connell, the lighting designer at Church on the Move in Tulsa, OK. Widely regarded as one of the leaders in worship technology, Church on the Move has been featured in industry publications like PLSN and Lighting and Sound America. Much of the ink in these stories has been devoted to Daniel’s standout lighting designs.
Prior to joining Church on the Move, Daniel was the LD for a number of major recording stars. His work combines a soaring creative vision with a down to earth sense of fitting his design to specific needs of every event or worship service. We talked to Daniel about some of the things that are often overlooked when churches evaluate lighting products.
Many, if not most, churches rely on volunteers to run their lighting systems. Should this be a factor in which fixtures you choose fixtures for your church? Are there fixtures that you might select if you had professionals running your rig that you’d avoid if you had all volunteers?
“We are lucky at Church On The Move to have an incredible staff AND an extremely dedicated team of volunteers. This allows us to design systems based on the needs of the room and then staff it accordingly. However, when I’m asked to consult with other churches, my first questions are always about their production team. What levels of experience? If volunteer, how much time do they have outside of running events to dedicate to maintenance? My next questions are about infrastructure. Do they have fly battens? Motorized truss? Lift access onstage? All of these factors should be consider when selecting equipment. I’m a firm believer in equipping volunteers with the tools and training they need to do the job rather than dumbing down a design to fit a lower level of experience.”
Are there any “tricks” to accomplishing the same (or almost the same) results with those “volunteer” fixtures as you can with the ones you’d select for pros?
“We put a great deal of emphasis on proper setup and layout of all of our lighting consoles. A phrase I hear commonly from other churches is “I like console brand “XYZ” because it’s volunteer friendly.” I tend to disagree with this mindset. Although there are definitely consoles that are poorly designed to begin with, I think whether or not a console is “volunteer friendly” depends on how it is setup. When we add a new fixture into any room we spend a lot of time on proper creation or palettes, macros, and effects to support this fixture. Keeping the console well organized makes programming easier for our volunteers AND paid staff.”
How can you judge how easy or difficult it would be for a volunteer to master a given fixture?
“I worry less about a specific fixture and focus more on the tools we give a volunteer to interact with that fixture. This is another area where console selection and layout is so important. I’ve been a lighting professional for over 20 years but I will occasionally come across a console so confusing that makes me feel like it’s my first day. Picking the right console is important, but getting that console laid out in a clear and organized fashion is even more important.”
Maintenance is another hidden factor. How much attention do you think churches should devote to things like lamp replacement and power consumption when evaluating fixtures?
“Unfortunately at many churches, especially churches new to using production in their services, this is an area that is all to commonly overlooked. Luckily the advancements in LED technology over the past few years have made this much less of an issue. LED isn’t a magic bullet that negates the need for maintenance, but it does decrease the frequency and cost involved. We still use a lot of non-LED fixtures, but on new project designs we always look for an LED option first.”
How about the multi-functionality of fixtures? Should a church try to look for fixtures that can do double duty in a house of worship – for example acting as a house light during services and a color wash during events?
“Getting a wider range of usage out of a fixture can be a really good thing, as long as it does all of the intended functions well. I’ve seen the mistake made of getting a fixture that does a lot of things ok, but doesn’t do any of them GREAT. Sometimes the best choice is to get the fixture that only does one thing for you but is the exact right fixture for your need.”
Any advice on what to look for when evaluating the flexibility of a fixture?
“It’s a two way street. Sometimes a very “flexible” fixture does a lot of stuff but none of it very well. You have to decide in each situation if you need a multi-use fixture or one that only serves one purpose but does it incredibly well.”
Everyone wants to stretch their budget, but how do you distinguish between a fixture that offers a good value and one that just has a low price that you’ll pay for later?
“Ha ha, that’s getting tougher and tougher. I usually insist on a hands on demo at my facility before I purchase or rent. Beyond that I stick with established manufacturers who have a brand name they want to protect.”
Looking at specific types of fixtures like LED video panels and moving heads, how can a church determine if those types are right for its facility?
“This is a real personal decision for each church. The word “church” can describe so many different types of facilities and organizations now. First, you have to decide if it’s going to help serve your mission as an organization. Second, don’t be afraid to rely on outside expertise to help make those decisions if you don’t have the experience on your team.”
Going back to the volunteer issue do you have any advice for churches on training volunteers?
“Always choose heart and character over experience when building your team. My right hand guy started volunteering when when he was 12 because if the doors to the church were open he would be there. He didn’t amount to much at the time, but now he could easily be the head lighting director at almost any church. Once you have your core team, expose them to outside training. There are great opportunities at conferences like LDI, USIITT, and Infocomm. Also, visit other churches that are doing what you want to do. Learn from those that are already where you want to be.”
Looking at training are there one or two – or three – things that a volunteer should learn to help stretch its lighting budget and get more impact out of its system?
“Simple system upkeep. I’m amazed at how many places don’t know to lamp off arc fixtures, replace lamps at rated hours, or clean air filters.”
Setting product features aside what are the things that churches most often mistakenly overlook when evaluating fixtures?
“Longevity. Will this purchase still be serving us well in two years? Five years? Ten years? Any purchase we make at Church On The Move is expected to last 10 years. Otherwise we look at alternative options.”
Any other advice?
“Don’t be afraid to rent for a period of time before you buy. You may spend more money but it gives you the opportunity to make sure the purchase is the right decision before you commit your churches resources to it.”