Which Lighting Control System is BEST For My Church?

By Frank Schabell > Lead Lighting Designer at Pro Church Lights

4 Key Items To Think Through Before Deciding On A Lighting Control System For Your Church...

When it comes to choosing a lighting control system for your church, there are endless options… And, if you ask any church Lighting Designer, chances are they will share with you why they believe their chosen platform is the best. In my years in lighting design, I’ve had the opportunity and pleasure to work behind many lighting softwares and consoles. From GrandMA to Onyx, Chroma-Q to LightKey, Chamsys to Hog and many many many more… All control platforms come with advantages and disadvantages, but used properly all of them (well… mostly all) can help programmers achieve great lighting looks within a church worship service.

There are a few factors in determining which lighting software/console platform to adopt, but ultimately the quality of your lighting cues, looks and creativity all comes down to the level of training you have and receive in that software. Don’t miss that! TRAINING IS KEY! Write That Down!

I’ve seen far to many churches purchase a lighting control package that is “top-of-the-line” thinking that the “platform” or “software” will give them “amazing” and “pro level lighting looks”. I’ve also seen far too many so called “AVL integrators” recommend lighting consoles or lighting software to churches that should never be. And due to the fact that there are so many options out there – churches like yours get lost and end up usually making a bad decision out of pure frustration.

So before you pull the trigger on a new lighting control system, first and foremost talk with a true Lighting Expert. Also, plan on getting training for your volunteers. Training is one of the lowest cost investments you can make in taking your church lighting to a whole new level. You can check out some of our Lighting Programming Training Courses Here. With that all said… Let’s dig in!

#1 - Who's Running The Lights?

An important factor to consider is who will be behind the lighting desk for programming and operation. In 95% of churches, volunteers will be doing the weekend worship service programming as well as operation – with the occasional staff tech /  production director hopping in for some programming and playback sessions along the way to help out their team. The other 5% of churches would include a full time LD (lighting director) as a paid staff position which is a “luxury” most churches can’t even fathom.

So…since a full time lighting designer/director staff person is not a reality for most churches – we’ll assume that your churches lighting team of programmers and operators will be volunteer. So with that being the case – it’s of most importance to take into consideration the time that volunteers are able to dedicate to programming.

We’ve polled churches across the country and 86% answered programming takes 2hrs+ per week to program lights – with the average being 3 to 4 hours. This all comes down to bad choice in control system, no training and poorly set up controller. 

No volunteer should be spending 2+ hours programming lighting for a weekend service. If this is YOU – stop now and fill out the form to the left. We’ll send you info on private and online training courses built for volunteer teams. These courses are designed to get your volunteers programming efficiently, more creatively and in less time than ever before (with less mistakes too).

Just because your lighting team is volunteer led, does not mean that excellence cannot be achieved in lighting. It simply means you must set your lighting volunteers up for success. And this comes down to choosing the right system and getting your volunteers trained (and No… YouTube training tutorials don’t count!).

#2 - Lighting Package Size

Another aspect (and an obvious one) that is far too often missed is choosing a lighting control system that best fits the application. Based on your lighting package/rig size and weekend service style, some systems and console choices may lend themselves to be more effective than others. 

 

If your lighting rig only consists of a handful of front stage wash fixtures and a few kick/back lights, then a simple, small console or lighting software is the solution. Computer based control should be opted for if possible as it allows you the most flexibility for future expansion.

And even though convenient, a console with physical faders and encoders for a small lighting package is not a necessity. It would be more important to invest your extra budget into more lighting fixtures than into a physical lighting console or surface.

Now, if your lighting rig is more complex with stage wash, kick light, movers, led bars, blinders, media server etc, then a more complex system to allow for more options in setup and control would be advisable. The more lights you have, the more DMX channels you will need and the more “pieces” you’ll need to communicate with.

#3 - Worship Service Style

Now consider what style your church services flow is: is it strictly programmed, free flow or somewhere in-between? In a highlyprogrammed service style, you may be able to operate lighting with a software solution and simply use the mouse and keyboard to pull up looks or cues. A console may help in 

programming but it is not a necessity… In these style services, preprogramming an entire service makes sense. The intentionality of preprogramming will set up your church well for the weekend service. Your lighting cues would simply be activated with a click of the mouse or keyboard. Your cues could include Walk-in, Welcome, Song 1, Song 2, Video, Sermon… etc.. etc..

Perhaps your church is more free flow, in this scenario having your software and/or console set up to be able to follow suite is recommended. We would advise for these lighting setups to have faders and presets ready for spontaneity. Being able to follow at a moment’s notice to where the service goes is an essential skill of the lighting designer in this style service. But with the right system and setup – accomplishing big lighting looks on the fly is easily possible.

Maybe your church is in-between strictly programmed and free flow. In this set up, being both intentional in the preprogramming and also in tune with the worship atmosphere is essential. You must both plan accordingly in your programming but also have faders and presets prepared for spontaneity.

When it comes to helping create a worshipful environment, the last thing we want to do as lighting designers is to not support our pastors and worship leaders. Being open and supportive to leadership separates mediocre lighting programmers from great lighting programmers.

#4 - Which Features Do I Actually Need?

The toughest thing to take in consideration is which software provides the features that your church needs. When I was getting started in lighting, one of the areas that I had to submit to the Lord was this selfish desire to get X console for my church because it’s what Bethel or Hillsong is using. The reason why I wanted this specific console was a want based on my own pride versus what my church volunteers needed. Being in tune with what your church needs versus what you want is a skill that is needed in any production role at church.

Based on the service style, do you need a console? Do you and the volunteers have the bandwidth to preprogram? Do you need a system that is robust enough to make chances on the fly? Do you need to visualize to program because your church is a portable church? Will this system grow with my church? Ask yourself hard questions when determining what is needed versus wanted in terms of softwares.

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#5 - Formal Training (No, YouTube Tutorials Don't Count)

Perhaps the most important factor to consider when choosing a control setup is whether there is training readily available. It’s not uncommon for a church to purchase a piece of gear solely because it’s top of line. You can have the most versatile, powerful lighting software with the top of the line console, but be completely underutilizing it. We, (Pro Church Lights) care deeply about helping churches grasp fully the power of their chosen platform. An issue for most churches comes down to the level of education sought out and received for the chosen platform.

Once you have determined the best option for your church in lighting control, be a student of it. Constantly seek out training for it so you can harness the full potential of what all it can offer. Feel free to experiment and seek out training. Oftentimes, a solution to a problem can be discovered by seeking out wise counsel in the matter. We at Pro Church Lights pride ourselves in being a resource for the local church. When it comes to training, we believe that it is paramount to the success of the lighting programmer. When the local church wins, we all win.

If you’d like to schedule a remote training session – please contact Pro Church Lights. Training sessions are available weekly for Vista Chroma-Q, LightKey, GrandMA, Onyx and Chamsys MagicQ. Lean more about our Church Lighting Training Now.

Frank Schabell is Manager of Install Support and Lighting Design at Pro Church Lights. He is passionate about using art and technology to communicate the greatest story ever told. Check out his work on ProChurchLights.com or follow him on Instagram @frankschabell.