Who Turned the Lights Out?

shutterstock_219491914_FotorA while back Brad sent me this question:

We seem to be developing a debate at our church in regards to turning down the house lights to “set the mood” for better worship. What is your take on that?

Later I received this from Jeremy:

I was wondering if you could offer any commentary regarding the use of lights at any of the WorshipGod conferences. I have memories going back to the “Psalms” conference [in 2008]. In each of the conference settings, it has struck me that the lights in the house are left active during the music-worship time of gatherings. Is that intentional? Is that unintentional? Is it because no one is available to run a lights scheme? :-

Glad you asked. Yes, we do have someone available to run a lights scheme and yes, leaving the lights up is intentional.

A Very Brief History of Lighting

Churches have been meeting with little to no light for centuries. In pre-dawn and night services they depended on candles or torches, or met by moonlight. With the advent of electricity, churches that had once gathered in darkness could now meet to the glow of bulbs and lamps.

Even as far back as the early 20th century, progressive pastors were experimenting with the potential upsides (in their minds) of affecting people’s emotions with lighting. In the last few decades of the 1900s youth leaders were turning the lights down in their meetings, reasoning that near-darkness made teens feel less noticed and more comfortable. Low lights would give unbelievers an opportunity to hear the gospel.

Enter the world of rock concerts, seeker sensitive and emerging churches, and modern lighting. We can control lights in every possible way, including the percentage of light in the room. We can focus lights. We can flash lights. We can color lights. We can cause lights to move. We can widen and narrow lights. For the first time in history we can use all the light we’d ever want or need.

But we don’t.

More and more churches have chosen to turn down the house lights when the congregation sings. Search for “worship” in Google images and the majority are mostly dark or shadows.

For a number of years I’ve wondered why. This is my attempt to share some of my thoughts. To be clear, I’m not going to address production lighting in general. On that topic, we should pursue what John Piper terms undistracting excellence – doing what we do so skillfully that people aren’t even aware of it. In this post I want to focus on the level of lighting for a congregation.

The Good Stuff

I think I understand at least some of the reasons for turning the lights down.

  • it keeps people from being distracted
  • it focuses people on the front
  • people feel more comfortable and less conspicuous
  • screens and videos are easier to see when the room is dark
  • lights can be used to direct people’s focus
  • lights on the stage are less effective when the rest of the room is fully lit

These are legitimate reasons for lowering the house lights. But I want to ask whether we should still consider turning the lights up. Or even on.

I recognize this issue falls far down the scale when it comes to crucial topics for the church to consider. But perhaps low lights can have unintended consequences.

The Not So Good Stuff

Brad asked me what my take was on turning “the house lights down to set the mood for better worship.” His questions beg a few more questions.

Why does not seeing the congregation make for “better worship?”
What is the best “mood” for worship?
Should we be trying to set a mood through lighting?

When we start quantifying worship by the lighting and mood, we’re already in trouble. We’ve slipped from viewing worship as a Spirit-enabled response to God’s self-revelation in the gospel to seeing it as an emotional experience that can be humanly produced and manipulated. Worship is not simply a mood. Aesthetic elements should support and complement our response to God’s Word and the gospel, not overpower it, distract from it, or be the foundation for it.

God has given us means to motivate and affect people – the Word, prayer, the gospel. He’s given us the Lord’s Supper and baptism as visual and sensory ways to remember the gospel and its implications. Aesthetics are important, but secondary. Every time in history the church has overly emphasized aesthetic and artistic elements the gospel has suffered. So here are:

Four Reasons to Turn the Lights Up

1. We’re speaking to one another.
When I go to a movie with Julie, I don’t mind that the theater is completely dark. I have zero interest in what the people around me are doing. I just want to see what’s on the screen. But a movie theater is not the church. The church is Christians meeting with God and each other around the gospel.

We’re commanded twice in the New Testament to speak to or teach and admonish one another as we sing (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). That involves not only hearing others, but seeing them. When I’m not leading I’ll look around a few times just to take in the fact that I’m singing God’s praise with other saints Christ has redeemed. I’m encouraged by their participation and the reality that I’m not alone!

Focusing all the light up front can subtly communicate that the most significant activity of the meeting is taking place there. But we’re gathering as the church not going to a concert. We’re a body, a temple, a house. The most important sound of the gathering is the congregation, not the musicians. A lit auditorium can help reinforce that theological principle (see Ps. 34:3; Ps. 150; Col. 3:16; Rev. 7:9-10).

2. House lights enable a leader to see the congregation.

More than once I’ve been in a situation where I can’t see who I’m leading. If I catch it in rehearsal, I ask the tech people to turn up the house lights. I want to be able to see how people are responding and whether they’re engaged. That’s harder when I can’t see them.

I can hear someone saying, “But you don’t know my church. I’m trying to avoid looking at their unenthusiastic, bored, disengaged, discouraging faces!” True. It can be less than inspiring to the people you’re leading. But it’s better to know how they’re being affected than to close my eyes and ignore them all together.

3. We don’t want people to be ashamed.

When the church gathers to strengthen one another, we should do whatever we can to encourage boldness and engagement. Here’s David describing his attitude towards others listening in on his praise:

My heart is steadfast, O God! I will sing and make melody with all my being!
Awake, O harp and lyre! I will awake the dawn!
I will give thanks to you, O LORD, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations.
 (Ps. 108:1-3)

He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD. (Ps. 40:3)

David wants everyone around him to see and hear him praise God, who is worthy of our strongest affections. Why wouldn’t we want to encourage our people to have the same perspective? A dark room can lead people to progress from thinking their role isn’t that important to complete disengagement.

4. We want to make it possible for people to see their Bibles.
A dark room makes referencing a physical Bible during that time difficult, if not impossible. At times we turn lights down when we sing and turn them up for the preaching. Do we never want people to look at their Bibles when we sing? Or write down a thought they received during a song?

Of course, nothing I’ve said here forbids a candlelight service. And you can keep singing when the power goes out. And as I mentioned earlier, there are legitimate reasons to adjust the house lighting when we worship God in song. But God doesn’t put people next to me in the gathering so I can ignore them. We sing together to deepen the relationships we enjoy through the gospel.

So next time your church meets, try leaving the lights on or at least turning them up. It may be a little awkward at first. But if you take time to explain biblically what you’re doing, you might be surprised how people in your congregation start to realize the crucial role they play on Sunday mornings.

What makes congregational worship amazing is not the lighting or the architecture or the aesthetics. We’re in an ordinary room doing something extraordinary. We are God’s people joyfully and expectantly engaging together with the Creator of the universe and the Redeemer of our lives in the power of his Spirit.

And that’s something worth shedding some light on.

And night will be no more.
They will need no light of lamp or sun,
for the Lord God will be their light,
and they will reign forever and ever.  Rev. 22:5 ESV

(Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com)

 

 

 

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90 Responses to Who Turned the Lights Out?

  1. Ryan February 26, 2015 at 10:47 PM #

    Thanks for bringing some Biblical clarity and careful thought to this. I wholeheartedly agree. Did you mean to give a 5th reason to turn the lights up?

    • Bob Kauflin February 26, 2015 at 10:49 PM #

      Ryan, thanks for the heads up! I combined two points and will change the post.

  2. frankhamrick February 26, 2015 at 11:10 PM #

    Manipulation comes to mind. Using music to affect mood – same thing? I believe the key is to let the Spirit of God do the work through the preaching & teaching of the Word – not the machinations of man. Perhaps I’m oversimplifying; but I’ve seen these ‘methods’ tried since old YFC days in the ’50’s. This isn’t anything new. And it is as disturbing to me today as it was back then!

  3. Jack Vosteen February 27, 2015 at 6:56 AM #

    In the United States, the average age of Reform congregants is mightily increasing … more than reason enough to be “faithful” to old eyes, and let the Holy Spirit set any “necessary” mood as needed …
    Where the Holy Spirit is not to be found, Satan is still free to be as edgy as he needs to be.

  4. words February 27, 2015 at 7:54 AM #

    So glad you know there are some people who want to take notes during a song! I always feel a little strange bc I have to make a note on my phone so I see! I wonder if I distract others who may think I’m texting!

    • Abraham Im April 19, 2017 at 5:01 PM #

      I keep a little notebook in my bible for making notes throughout the service, I would recommend it because phones normally do distract people in general, even if they see what you’re doing.

  5. paschott February 27, 2015 at 8:03 AM #

    Thanks for the post, Bob. This trend just always feels like “we’re making this into a concert” to me. The band is amped so much that I can’t hear myself or anyone around me when they play, the lights are dimmed, and all attention is focused on the band. I don’t think any real thought is given to why the lights are dimmed on the congregation and full-on for the band – it’s just the way concerts work. The same as clapping after each song – it seems like that’s less about praising God and more about applauding a well-played set. I’m hoping to see some parts of this trend shrinking at some point so that we can hear and see each other, but saddened that with all of this tech we seem to be going back to the days when trained professionals do most of our singing for us. :(

    • Angela Hogan February 27, 2015 at 3:55 PM #

      I cannot say a stronger “Amen” to this. Of course, this is done to varying degrees in different churches, but to be honest, when done in the extreme (consciously focusing on the band or “leaders”, applauding (again to honor the on-stage singers), making the “worship service” effectively a show, this is actually sinful. Still, I realize it can be a matter of the heart and not sin for all involved (nor not only of those on stage, but also those who plan the service specifically to manufacture a contrived emotional high in order to keep people comin’. On the other end of the spectrum, I get terribly frustrated when the quality of the music team is distractingly bad–PPTs that don’t change until we’re supposed to be on the third or fourth word of the next slide, singers that don’t follow the words or the verse order that is on the ppt, changing the melody so that people have no idea how to sing along–again, all of these distract from focus on the Lord. I suppose all singing in worship should be geared to honor God from our hearts rather than honor man, as well as to emphasize the gathering of the saints–that we sing in worship together, not as islands unto ourselves. Surely such corporate focus is more reflective of heavenly worship.

  6. Jody Sneef February 27, 2015 at 8:21 AM #

    In the biopic Ray, the house lights are turned down to quiet a rowdy audience.
    That example has stayed with me as the ‘scripted’ worship took hold 10-15 years ago. I know because I quit being a sound man who also controlled lights (usually only dimmed for baptisms and dramatic presentations) when the script of many pages for an hour long service appeared.

    • Bob Kauflin February 27, 2015 at 8:33 AM #

      Jody, what is the “biopic Ray?”

      • DMJ February 28, 2015 at 3:02 PM #

        I believe she is referring to the movie “Ray” about the life of Ray Charles.

  7. Tom Kraeuter February 27, 2015 at 9:08 AM #

    Good article, Bob. I’ve been teaching the same thing for several years. In fact, my younger son made a great observation. Since there is no darkness in heaven, people who are accustomed to worshiping with the lights down may feel a bit uncomfortable there at first. Interesting thought.

    • Bob Kauflin February 27, 2015 at 9:53 AM #

      Tell your son that’s a great point!

    • Minie Q. August 25, 2015 at 12:01 AM #

      I like that! Yes, we should be practicing to worship in the light not in darkness, since we will be in God’s presence, in His radiance.

  8. Debby February 27, 2015 at 9:20 AM #

    I think he means the movie about Sugar Ray Leonard.

    • Bob Kauflin February 27, 2015 at 9:52 AM #

      Thanks for the explanation!

      • Synth February 27, 2015 at 11:50 AM #

        I think he means Ray Charles, I.e. music not boxing

  9. John February 27, 2015 at 9:57 AM #

    As a born introvert, God has brought out the extrovert in a number of ways. One is corporate worship. I am one of a small group who raises their hands and sings out with a grateful heart for what God has done for us. I am NOT saying people who don’t are wrong. People worship in many ways. I have gotten a number of comments from people I greatly respect for their love for God and their knowledge of scripture. One man, who had a stroke and can’t use parts of his body, told me “I love to watch you worship”. These people couldn’t see each other with the lights off.

    I believe we are called to worship “in the assembly”, as a group and publicly. For me, this is an opportunity to stand up and let everyone know that I am a believer in Christ and the words we are singing are real to me. It’s all about God alone and I am very thankful for all He has done. I want to make that public declaration every chance I can.

  10. mike ruel February 27, 2015 at 10:07 AM #

    Great thoughts and thank you for anchoring them in the word! Very helpful.

  11. Julie Forney February 27, 2015 at 10:37 AM #

    As someone who frequently references my Bible & receives insight re: issues I’m praying about during worship, I have resorted to bringing a small flashlight to services so I can read the Word & make notes. To me, the lights down scenario mimics a concert, transforming worship into a performance. Thank you for addressing this and couching it in a biblical foundation.

  12. Helk February 27, 2015 at 10:37 AM #

    I think it’s the Ray Charles movie

  13. Brian Roden (@BrianRoden) February 27, 2015 at 11:15 AM #

    There have been times when the lights get left too dim after the singing and into the sermon time. I sit on the front row, where I get pretty decent spill from the platform lights, and can sometimes have difficulty seeing my outline to fill in the blanks. I can only imagine how those sitting at the back struggle.

  14. Levi-Pierpont February 27, 2015 at 11:39 AM #

    This is so interesting, thank you for the biblical thoughts.

  15. Robin G Jordan February 27, 2015 at 11:46 AM #

    When the lights are turned out, you miss seeing the Holy Spirit moving in the congregation. Paul tells us that everything that we do in our worship gatherings should be to build up the Body of Christ. Witnessing the Holy Spirit touching the heart of a worshiper through a song, a prayer, or the message does just that. It is like watching a light bulb being switched on.

    Worshiping with the lights turned up is also a reminder of God’s expectation that we as followers of Jesus live in the light that He gives: “For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light…” (Ephesians 5:8).

    The early Christians worshiped in darkened rooms lit by oil lamps in the evening because they had no other choice. They wished to avoid the scrutiny of the Roman authorities. Many were slaves. One of the oldest Christian hymns, “O joyous light,” is associated with the ceremony of bringing in the lamps and blessing God for their light. To the early Christians the light of the evening lamps was a reminder of Christ the Light. When they could, they worshiped in the light of day, gathering in the atrium–the courtyard–of the house of a wealthier member of the church. A small table was brought into the court yard and the church gathered around this table to celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

  16. groovyman67 February 27, 2015 at 12:46 PM #

    good points and worth thinking about for sure, but probably primarily a preference and perspective polemic. I’d guess I prefer middle ground – dim a little but not too much – so as to try and capture benefits from both lists as much as possible. Wisdom or just dim witted?

    • Bob Kauflin February 27, 2015 at 1:24 PM #

      It definitely shouldn’t become a polemical issue, but I don’t think churches often think about the effects of their technology choices. I just don’t want a congregation to think they’re singing in darkness.

  17. Jeremy February 27, 2015 at 12:51 PM #

    Bob, part of our decision to raise the level of the lights on the rest of congregation was because those leading could not see the faces of the people they were supposedly leading (which is a direct tie to point #2). Thanks for putting this post together.
    Lord’s blessings be with you!

  18. Jim February 27, 2015 at 1:56 PM #

    “it focuses people on the front”

    Shouldn’t the focus be on God? Or is he especially present in the approximate location of the worship leader?

    • Bob Kauflin February 27, 2015 at 3:01 PM #

      Jim, great question. God uses means to accomplish his purposes. So when someone is leading from the front it can be appropriate to focus light on them. The question is to what degree the front is lit as compared to a congregation.

  19. Ash February 27, 2015 at 2:01 PM #

    Yes, yes, yes, to all your reasons. Thank you. And just to mention some unintended consequences, for some of us sitting in the dark with a brightly lit stage in front of us can trigger hyperesthesia symptoms like headaches and nausea, especially if there are added lighting effects or, God help me, moving video effects behind the words to the song on screen. I am not the only one in my church who has had to leave during praise and worship because of headache and/or nausea, and I have stayed home from church because sometimes I just can’t face the possibility of a triggering a migraine. I almost started crying when I visited a more traditional, denominational church recently and sat down in a relatively quiet, well but not too brightly lit sanctuary, and the light never changed. It was just so wonderful to be able to completely relax the whole service and focus on the worship and the word. I know I’m in the minority, that I am overly sensitive to light and sound, but I’m guessing there are a lot of people who don’t even realize how they are having to work to overcome the distraction and discomfort of being in an abnormally dark room with a bright blinking stage in front of them – kind of like you don’t realize how the sun is bothering you when you’re driving until you finally put on sunglasses and you’re whole face relaxes.

    • Jim Swindle February 27, 2015 at 7:55 PM #

      Ash, your church leaders should consider what can be done to help you worship…whether that’s toning down the visual stimulation a bit or providing an alternate worship service with less visual stimulation or warning you on those days when there will be more visuals than usual or helping you find a different church that can enable you to worship more easily.

      Church isn’t just about you, but you are a member of the flock that the Lord has placed under their care. They should not just brush off your concern. They should help you. If needed, print out my comment and remind them of Acts 20:28. Do it with grace and humility and love.

  20. jimpemberton February 27, 2015 at 3:02 PM #

    While we have nice lights in the Worship Center, we also have large windows. There’s no turning down the lights very dimly for dramatic effect during the day. We light the stage for the choir and orchestra during the time for singing and turn down all lights except for the podium during the sermon so that attention can be directed to the pastor. But there’s still plenty of light in the house for people to read along in their Bibles.

  21. Pastor Scott Ziegler February 27, 2015 at 3:33 PM #

    I appreciate your humility and making it clear that this is not an issue to be argued or cause division. I would caution you, but especially others who left comments, on judging the motives of those who elect to keep the lights low. Many of the reasons that you gave are good reasons. But to call it manipulation or showy or like a concert is far from true for many churches that prefer low lighting. I would also caution the use of Eph. 5:19 and Col. 3:16 as a an argument for “singing to one another.” Colossians 3:16 says the opposite, that we are singing to God (teaching one another but singing to God.. The “to” in Ephesians 5:19 is not in the Greek, and since the “one another” is dative, is better understood as referring to one another as in all are doing the singing…not really singing to each other. We are singing “with” each other, but my worship is to God, not other members of the congregation. Why would a sing a worship song to other people? I’d better not be doing that. On the other hand, in a day when so many are so quickly and easily distracted, I appreciate the focus being taken off the crowd, where I also like to look around too much. Bottom line is this, it’s ok to have preferences, and that’s why there is a variety of churches. If you don’t like the lights low, it’s easy to find a church where they are bright. But it’s not ok to pass judgement on and rip on a church that is of a different preference. This isn’t doctrine, it’s preference. Which I appreciate the author clarifying. I simply did not like the misuse of Scripture to back up a weak point.

    • Bob Kauflin February 27, 2015 at 5:09 PM #

      Scott, thanks for the great comment. Yes, this isn’t something to get on a high horse about, but I do think it’s helpful to bring theological and biblical categories to a practice that seems to be widely and unthinkingly applied. Regarding the question about my first point, I appreciate your clarification. As I understand the two passages in Colossians and Ephesians, we sing to God but we address one another (Eph. 5:19) and teach and admonish one another (Col. 3:16). Even if we understand the the text to mean “with” each other, the principle remains the same. I could have been clearer in my original post, and cleaned it up so there’s no confusion. Thanks again.

  22. Patrick February 27, 2015 at 3:49 PM #

    Lights have to be up. How else do you see the hymnals? :)

  23. Chen Lee February 27, 2015 at 11:32 PM #

    Making how a church uses lights a Biblical matter isn’t good or proper use of Holy Scripture. It’s frustrating to see Christians proof-text in this way. Hopefully this article won’t be used to beat up churches and pastors who choose to turn the lights down or off for worship, but I fear that it will be.

    • Bob Kauflin February 27, 2015 at 11:56 PM #

      Chen, thanks for your comment. I completely resonate with your hope that this article won’t be used to beat up churches and pastors who choose to turn the lights down or off. That would be totally out of sync with what I wrote. Everything we do, including eating and drinking, is a biblical matter according to 1 Cor. 10:31 and Col. 3:17. Secondary issues such as lighting should never be turned into primary issues, but that doesn’t mean we can’t process them in light of Scripture. Thanks again for your thoughts.

  24. Cory Zipperle February 27, 2015 at 11:57 PM #

    Am I reading too much into the last section? Is the author really trying to make keeping the lights on a matter of doctrine?

    • Bob Kauflin February 28, 2015 at 9:07 AM #

      Cory, thanks for commenting. I don’t know if you’re reading too much into the last section or not! Certainly you won’t find lighting on Sunday mornings covered in a book on systematic theology. That’s why I state in the article that when it comes to crucial issues, this one is far down the list. But everything we should be examined in light of Scriptures like 1 Cor. 10:31, Col. 3:17, and 1 Cor. 14:12. Is it for the glory of God? Is it a way of giving thanks to God through Jesus Christ? Does it build others up? My purpose in writing this post is to encourage people to think about potential implications and consequences of a practice (turning congregation lights off or almost off) that in places has been adopted uncritically or for simply pragmatic reasons.

  25. David Emme February 28, 2015 at 9:00 PM #

    A friend put tis on his facebook page and so this was my response.

    I would say it kind of reminds me when I was like in seventh grade going to a Jr. High school dance and the slow song comes on and they dim the lights to “set the mood”. Now maybe they should try this in congress and will help them fund DHS for the rest of the year!

    This is really Charismatic/Pentecostal worship type of service of being “in the spirit” or in the presence-feel the presence of God. Usually accompanied by slow emotional scores/music where you are more apt to see hands up, eyes closed, swaying hips back and forth with the music-one reason I probably wouldn’t do good in those kind of services-more apt to go find a good looking gal and ask her to dance with me!! Buahahahaha!

    It’s not wrong per se but I think if one must set the mood to worship the Lord-what have you been doing in your manner of living to worship the Lord with your life? Is there a scripture reference for this? Does it set a mood to hear the preaching/teaching of the word of God-what is given the preference in a service in a church using this? I have seen where the song service dominates the service but also seen a 45 minute song service and the preacher preached for an hour-but usually the song service given the preference because you are there to “worship” the Lord.

    The one question/thought is will it offend people who are there-is it bringing a lot of strife in a church and would it be offensive to other members of a church? Would it bring disunity in the church? Does it pass what I call a Philippians 2 test-is it done in a humbleness that will serve all members? Is there a willingness to compromise where it is not done for every service? What attitude does it bring out from those faithful members in the congregation? I could really go either way as long as the primacy is given to the preaching/teaching of the word of God! I have many more thoughts on this but will let it go at this right now.

  26. Truth Lover February 28, 2015 at 9:22 PM #

    Great thoughts to chew on Bob. In our fairly conservative church, we’ve had the lights dimmed in the past during an evening service. I wanted to encourage intimacy with God during the worship time. But there is a time for private worship and Church is the time for Corporate worship. There is a divide between the two! I have also tried to encourage our people to think corporately instead of individualistic. The Church is a corporate thing and what we do together effects one another. So now I am seeing how dimming the lights “can” possible continue to feed the “me-ism” I am trying to defeat. And yes, I agree, there is something silently spiritual that goes on when we can see our brothers and sisters worshiping together. It strengthens our inner core somehow and lets us know we march together with shared values. Thanks for the post.

  27. Reg Schofield March 1, 2015 at 12:36 AM #

    I really find it annoying when my home church has played around with the lights for 2 reasons. First off for my wife who has seizures , messing with the lighting can set off a seizure. Secondly, I’m there to worship , not at a spa or some new age guru mood altering session. Getting tired of the whole rock concert approach to worship that can be associated with modern contemporary worship.

  28. Danny March 1, 2015 at 2:58 PM #

    From the perspective of a professional lighting designer who works primarily in the live event world I think the artical makes some good points about lighting for worship, but let’s be careful that we don’t allow it to also dictate what your lighting technicians are and aren’t allowed to do during a service. A well designed lighting system should first illuminate, then draw attention (to the proper place, be it the speaker, band, or God) and third drive mood and emotion. This is not manipulation of emotions but rather a recognition that humans are greatly effected by their environment and colors and intensity of light (as well as sound) play a huge part in that. Why fight it? Embrace how we are designed and let us use the technology we have available to us to create environments which draw people closer to God! There are very appropriate times for the house lights to be up, AND there are also times where they distract. Let’s also point out that there are large safety concerns in play when you begin putting volumes of people in dark spaces. All I’m really trying to say is; theatrical lighting (which is what you are doing regardless of your opinions of the word “theatrical”.) is a subjective art form and is therefore open to interpretation. There are many, many, options these days and one idea is not always greater than the other, just a different interpretation. My only personal request is that house lighting is never changed during a prayer!

  29. Craig Giddens March 1, 2015 at 9:36 PM #

    … the sacraments? … you’re in worse trouble than you think …

    • Bob Kauflin March 1, 2015 at 11:03 PM #

      Craig, thanks for the comment. I need a little more info before I can respond, though.

  30. Katy March 2, 2015 at 9:21 AM #

    This issue never really hit me until my husband and I started serving at our current church. We have a large population of special needs students in our church. It’s amazing that something as simple as lighting can distract away from how they are able to worship.

    • Bob Kauflin March 2, 2015 at 9:44 AM #

      Katy, thanks for your comment. I think it comes down to how we define “worship.” If people are able to focus more clearly on a speaker because the house lights are dimmed, that’s a good use of lighting. But I’m addressing something broader here, and that is the idea that in order to engage with God I have to shut out everyone around me. If that were the goal, we would all do much better sitting at home and listening to music through our headphones.

  31. Kevin Cook March 2, 2015 at 11:15 AM #

    Great article! I think it is important for Christians to understand that worship is about gathering together in one spirit as one community of faith to give glory and honor to God. Bringing the lights down turns a communal group activity of praise and adoration into an individualized and personal experience. And trying to use lighting to manipulate moods and emotional responses is terrible; any emotional response should be brought by the Holy Spirit. This was one of the 7 tips I pointed out for increasing congregational participation in worship in a recent post on my website.

  32. Kathy Matychuk March 2, 2015 at 12:24 PM #

    YES! I agree wholeheartedly.

  33. Eric Graef March 4, 2015 at 12:32 PM #

    I haven’t read all the comments to see if someone has asked this already but in regards to your comment “Every time in history the church has overly emphasized aesthetic and artistic elements the gospel has suffered.” – are there some examples from earlier centuries where this has taken place and how specifically the gospel suffered? I personally think of the Reformation and how many of the ascetics were removed from the cathedrals and sanctuaries for a more simplified and common appearance, and that the pulpit (ministry of the Word) was centralized. But I still would like to see the connection with art specifically and impact (for good or bad) on the gospel.

    I love your very “regulative” approach to the means of motivation (Word, prayer, the gospel, and the sacraments) and agree with your thoughts and responses. Thank you for shedding “light” on the topic and for your grace and wisdom. Just seeking some clarification and examples.

    • Bob Kauflin March 4, 2015 at 1:45 PM #

      Eric, great question. It’s actually a topic I want to do more research on. I think of the time when the cathedrals were being built. The emphasis on aesthetics and architecture was high. The preaching and the power of the gospel, not so much. That doesn’t mean a congregation that meets in a beautiful building or cathedral won’t emphasize the gospel. The point I’m making is that when a church makes architecture and art the focus, the objective truths and power of the gospel tend to fall into the background.

  34. Kay Morgan-Gurr March 12, 2015 at 9:52 AM #

    Many thanks for this.
    I and many others, for lots of reasons (including poor vision) cannot read words from screens. We need large print words…. and (in the rare occurrence that worship teams choose the songs in time to allow the lyrics to be printed in large print) if the lights are turned down, we can’t read them!

  35. M. Ski March 12, 2015 at 10:10 AM #

    First let me say I don’t believe demons are in LEDs or the devil made robo-spots. And I am involved with a church with a seven figure stage (that is before the decimal point). I do attend each weekend the band rehearsal, service run through and service.

    I do believe lighting is super important in this fact, if you do have a web presence and you do produce a web service…it’s just as important as a decent sound system.

    However let me make these few comments. They are just “my” observations.

    First lowering the lights lends itself to allow the worship service to become more observant than participatory. It’s not the focus on the singers, it’s the other “stuff” that is happening from the huge integrated LED HD panels, to the guys running around stage to get the video, the animate spots, the color coordinated embedded lights, to the rotating animated stars on the back walls. With all that happening then the darken room, makes one focus on this “stuff”.

    Second I find the songs change. A church (not all) has to have songs that support this “stuff”. We are now singing songs that no one can sing. They are done well, excellent in execution but again it lends itself to have folks that just watch.

    Thirdly the mix changes. My pet peeve here. If you can’t understand and hear the enunciation of the words than what are we doing? The mix is now focused on a concert type presence and not something that supports a worship service. Again in lends itself to just watching.

    I will end with a short story.

    A while back, for whatever reason the typical worship set was cancelled and all it was a worship leader and an acoustic guitar. Personally I think something happened to some of the key folks and this is what they came up with. There were no funky lights, no cameras just a moderate overall lighting of the stage…and the lights were down. Simple modern songs that you could hear the words to and the closing of the eyes was made easy while you sang. To me that was one of the coolest times in worship we have had in a long time.

  36. Renee March 24, 2015 at 11:54 AM #

    we are not children of darkness but of the Light………

  37. Denny October 20, 2015 at 9:33 AM #

    Good insight, was wondering wether to invest in $5,000.00 of lights or upgrade our nursery. Even thought of just adjusting the lights for special occasions, dramas, anniversaries or special events.. But agreed worship should be lit up.

  38. Alan Myatt October 27, 2015 at 10:33 PM #

    Great article. I’ve been playing in worship bands for 30 years and have only noticed this trend in the last 10. I absolutely hate playing during worship and not being able to see the congregation. It feels like I might as well be playing in a club. Playing a show is fine, but not in church. Cutting the house lights sends an strong signal that this is a performance to be watched, not a corporate worship event to be participated in. I’ll go you one further. What I’d really like to see is the worship band be off stage, in an orchestra pit and invisible.

    I think one of the issues is that many, many churches have no theology of worship and tend to stick people in the position of worship leader whose main credentials are having played in rock bands. A worship leader needs formal theological and musical training, as well as experience gigging.

  39. Bill Brown November 15, 2015 at 9:40 PM #

    Bravo Bravo!! Finally, someone with some clarity on this issue. Every church we try to go to they turn down the lights. I appreciate your insight. I have just come to the conclusion that these churches like treating their people like mushrooms keep them in the dark and feed them fertilizer the whole time. No thanks, I’ll keep the lights up, thank you!!

    • Diana November 24, 2015 at 9:44 PM #

      If you walk in the light as he us in the light you have fellowship one with another. …kind of brings New light on this scripture. No pun intended.

  40. Diana November 24, 2015 at 9:40 PM #

    I’m not a blogger so I’ll be brief. Here is what has changed in worship and I think its sad. Ever wonder why no one is connecting? Back in the day the lights we’re on. We could actually see our brothers and sisters, the people we are to carry burdens for and pray for. This made us feel a string sense of community and family. We knew who was missing and we knew who was new so we could welcome strangers and check on the missing.
    The music was in an octive that we could all sing and the songs we’re simple about scripture and not so focused on how God made us feel. We grew in the word and this strengthened the hearts. This made us want to participate while singing. Smaller churches gave opportunity for anyone to share a song or testimony. This built our faith and encouraged confidence and trust.

    It is so so so sad to go to church and sit in the dark. I haven’t taken my Bible to church for years.I can’t see the words. This discourages actual Bible reading. It just seems more authentic that you can read the book. Very sad

    I wonder why anyone would even want to get up early, get dressed, go out and sit in the dark, feeling alone just like they do at home. Reflective prayer and worship is mainly done in you own heart in your prayer closet. If you give the former ways opportunity again.I think you’ll find people will be ready to do community and praise in public worship and truely connect again. We are in perilous times, we need to know And connect to our family again.

    • Diana November 24, 2015 at 9:47 PM #

      Ps the most family like churches I ever attended were over well lit.And some didn’t even have instruments during singing. Everone was excited to be there and it showed in there worship and participation.Awesome!

  41. JoyFounder December 27, 2015 at 11:57 PM #

    When I sit in my church and observe ‘worship’ time all I see is black. The walls have been painted black and the windows are covered with black. No exaggeration when I say it is like sitting in a tomb. Recently this passage in John keeps circling through my brain: ‘And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God. (John 3:19-21).
    It is my contention that contemporary lighting in churches is one more opportunity for Christians to blur the lines of the world vs. the set apart remnant. I’m not at the point to call everything a vast spiritual conspiracy, but when I attend our local evangelical church I feel spiritually oppressed. I am overwhelmed with the spirit of hopelessness and despair. I want nothing to do with what these people consider ‘worship’. The very last thing I am capable of there on Sunday mornings is worship. I want to run . . . for the light.
    What made my spiritual predicament a profound reality was when I visited a different church last week, due to the availability of a Christmas Eve service. As I sat listening to the worshipful piano prelude of Christmas carols such as Oh Holy Night and O Come All Ye Faithful, my eyes were filled with beauty. As I slowly moved my eyes around this setting I saw LIGHT. I saw the late afternoon sun streaming through the stained glass windows, the beautiful Christmas wreaths and bows, the hanging advent wreath and candles above the platform with exquisite royal blue ribbons intertwined throughout the advent circle, the smiling families finding their seats, greeting one another. I saw EVERYTHING. I saw the two pastors walk to the front of the church, kneel down and quietly pray with arms embracing one another. To my shock and awe, when the one pastor turned to lead the congregation in prayer and the first congregational carol, the lights stayed on, not only on but they were BRIGHT. These lights communicated life, the brightness of our Savior, the glory of God and the illumination of the gospel message. I was energized. I was excited to be there and participate in this corporate celebration of our salvation and life in Christ. For the first time in years I was being encouraged in church.
    At the end of the service the pastor unplugged the Christmas tree and dimmed the sanctuary lights to prepare for the lighting of our hand held candles. We sang Silent Night and read more passages from the book of Luke. It is now early evening and dark outside but I could see more clearly than I ever could in my home church. Now, instead of sunlight, the sidewalk lamps were glowing through the stained glass windows. A bit different than the sunlight but still bright. This church was designed to pull in the light. I can’t help but see the spiritual metaphors and apply them to my experience.

  42. Mark March 1, 2016 at 9:49 PM #

    I am a believer for 40 years in our wonderful savior Jesus. Raised in the mega concert era of the 1970’s—and went to many “dark” concerts of smoked-filled demonic rock music. As blood bought saints we no longer need to worship in the darkness; we are children of the Light, his marvelous light. We must worship Our God with knowledge, wisdom, and stop imitating the children of this age.

  43. Dwayne Conyers March 27, 2016 at 1:25 PM #

    They say dark lights “set the mood” for worship — to allow people to contact God. I contact Him when I wake up in the morning… when I lay to sleep… and throughout the time in between. Is the need for a “mood” a sign of, something… ?

  44. Andrew Bernhardt April 12, 2016 at 11:35 PM #

    Worship is not a mood, a feeling, or an experience. While those may be involved, worship is not for the benefit or enjoyment of man but for the glory of God. Just ask Job. I’m sure he wasn’t in the mood. His “worship experience” was not pleasant, but he worshipped anyway (Job 1:20-21).

  45. T.K. July 28, 2016 at 6:00 PM #

    1 John 1:5 This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.

    • Sylvia F August 15, 2016 at 1:04 AM #

      My husband is an evangelist and I occasionally teach also. I sing and play the piano/keyboard at most of the churches we visit around the United States. I have watched the trend in recent years toward dim and/or colored lights. Without exception, every church that uses lights that we have been to is lacking in authenticity. I sometimes wonder if the lights are used to make up for a lack of substantive true, sincere, heartfelt worship. I agree wholeheartedly with this article. There is a place for dim/colored lights on certain occasions but not routine worship services. The North American church needs a return to prayer and devotion. There is nothing more authentic than this. God responds to a sincere, humble heart, but I somehow think our attempts to “help” worship services do not impress Him. What message are we sending young people when we emphasize exterior trappings to supposedly enhance our worship? We must return to heartfelt, God-centered worship.

  46. Alan February 26, 2017 at 3:48 PM #

    I just came across this post, but I have been thinking about this for a long time. I’m a baby boomer, who has been in church all my life. I’ve played in worship bands on and off for over 30 years. I couldn’t agree more with what is said here. Being part of the worship team requires being in sync with the congregation and once the lights started going down, I found this more and more difficult. It began to feel like playing just another non-church gig. Having the house lights out, in my experience, creates a concert atmosphere of a performance on stage.

    One thing I would add that I think would be beneficial for all, but especially for churches that insist on turning down the lights during worship is this. Put the band in an orchestra pit, or off of the stage entirely. Let the main worship minister stay up front, but do everything possible to remove the appearance and feel of being at a show or a concert. The band should be heard (and at a volume that is no louder than the congregation), but it does not need to be seen. The focus is on Christ, and the congregation is the performer.

    I think a major problem is bringing people into the ministry of worship who have no theological training. I’d say a minister of worship should have both formal music and theological studies at a minimum. A former career playing in clubs does not qualify one to be a worship leader. The real underlying problem is too many well-intentioned people trying to lead worship without a theology of worship as a foundation.

    • Bob Kauflin February 26, 2017 at 6:34 PM #

      Thanks for your comments, Alan. The only thing I’d push back on is that I think seeing the band can be helpful for a number of reasons – modeling expression and interaction, and engaging with the congregation. But that can be done without giving the impression of a concert or show. Thanks for faithfully serving the church for three decades!

      • JoyFounder February 27, 2017 at 1:02 PM #

        Alan & Bob; Alan your comment reveals insightfullness and discernment. Thank you! And Bob, at least in my experience, I find worship ‘teams’ to be genuinely distracting. Rare is the church leadership willing to vet every individual participating up front. The reality is that the average church gets who they can and most leaders do not have the spiritual insight and maturity to understand the importance of how the worship team behaves, and yes, looks while performing on stage. So what little I can see during any given church service become distractions with musicians swilling water bottles or Starbuck’s in between songs (even DURING!), brief conversations with one another or inappropriate clothing accompanied by dead facial expressions and bored countenances I don’t know if these participants think because they can’t see us we can’t see them, or they simply lack maturity or understanding or it’s a combination of these. Not every musician participant has these issues but unfortunately from my viewpoint that is the exception.

        Perhaps part of the issue is a more distracted congregation > partly due to the fact that we don’t feel connected but partly, I think, we don’t recognize most of the music and after a while we give up and in our discouragement our eyes wander around. Because we can’t see very well in the building we’ll focus on what we can see . . . whoever is in the front.

        Fortunately I now attend a church that has genuine mature music guidance and seems to understand the importance of vetting its worship ‘team’.

        Until churches will excercise some tough love and only allow worship leaders who approach the stage with reverence and awe that they are participating in ushering the congregants into the presence and glory of God, I say put them in the pit! (Orchestra, that is)

  47. Kristina Cowan June 13, 2017 at 12:58 PM #

    I’ve been wondering about that myself and yes, there are good points like focus. I remember before all the band music and lighting effects, when I went to church with my family and we all worshipped as a whole with lights on. No bells and whistles, no PowerPoints and loud drums and electric guitars… I feel like those have their time and place, and I do like Christian rock, but I also like simplicity and connection, seeing the body of Christ worshipping together and when there’s that stillness, I can sense God’s presence a lot easier. It’s great if contemporary service can do that for a person, everyone is different, but I think we still need simplicity. Be still and know God… Just my thoughts 😊

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