The house of worship market can be divided into two basic styles, traditional and contemporary. These are very broad terms, and I am not going to break them down by specific denomination, because within a denomination, you will find each style depending on the specific location and demographic of the congregation. The traditional style is based on "white" lighting, with only gentle color washes on walls. The contemporary style allows for more color and control over the mood through cueing.

In addition to the two defined styles, you also have drama presentations added into the mix. These can be a weekly event or a once yearly, large presentation. The drama presentations, in conjunction with a traditional style design, require an additional layer of lighting for weekly events and a better lighting console. The annual large drama presentations can be handled with rental equipment and not impact the lighting rig in place for regular services.

Right now, a system designer has a broader list of fixtures from which to choose than ever before. I have been following the lighting industry since the Strand Century Leko was changing from off-axis lamps to the inline lamp housing. As more fixtures are developed that do not use tungsten halogen lamps, can we abandon them completely? At this time, the answer is no and probably not even for a number of years to come. While there have been great advances in the development of new light sources, nothing can produce the pure output of a tungsten halogen, which is required for certain lighting looks. In order to achieve certain colors, you have to start with a source that actually produces that color. The newer sources that are being offered in fixtures do not produce every color in the spectrum like a tungsten lamp, so you cannot produce something that isn’t there.

In order to fully explore the trends, we need to divide this subject up by general lighting washes. Let’s start with the fixtures we spend the least amount of time on: houselights. The trend now is to use LED fixtures over tungsten halogen or metal halide. The technology has matured enough to have fixtures that can provide the 32-footcandles at 3' off the floor for reading in high-ceiling applications. You can get fixtures that come in three different color temperatures, 3,000K, 4,000K, and 5,000K. All of them are at or above a 90 color rendering index (CRI.) If you have a lower ceiling space, then you can look at theatrical-style fixtures that provide color temperature adjustability within the fixture. They will have a set of amber LEDs and a set of cool white LEDs for the widest range of colors.

The initial cost for the installation is still higher than traditional dimming and tungsten halogen, but the cost savings in electricity and maintenance far outweigh the difference. The argument for LEDs makes even more sense in the traditional spaces that have sloped floors and fixed pews. Lamp replacement in those spaces is always a headache and requires special lifts or straddle kits for single-person lifts.

Wall wash and accent lighting applies to all spaces. At this time, the availability of good LED fixtures that have RGB plus A (amber), and W (white), or even more colors, abound. These fixtures are going to dominate the market for years to come. They provide better color selection than just RGB fixtures, and you can achieve wonderful pastels that are not available in the straight RGB fixture. Also available for long-throw situations are fixtures with HMI, plasma, or HID lamps. These fixtures can be used with fixed dichroic filters or color-changing modules.

The next fixtures are backlights. Here, you have even more choices. In the traditional design, you may want some color-changing ability for very subtle pastels or even bold colors for drama presentations. Contemporary spaces will look for fixtures that can produce bold colors, as well as pastels, and change colors rapidly.

Ceiling height plays a big factor in the choice of fixtures for backlights; a low ceiling will allow for the use of LEDs, while a high ceiling will lead to a choice of fixture with more throw and tighter beam spread. In order to achieve the color mixing, you can look at the available dichroic color mixing fixtures. Now you can get a fixture with a long lamp life and pure color mixing for subtle pastels. The high ceilings again make it hard to change lamps, so the trend will be to find sources that have a long life for those fixtures that are hard to reach. The same criteria would apply to the side lighting in these situations.

One client of mine has come back after using a system for several years that consists of PARs, looking for a solution to a heat problem. This is a very traditional Methodist church with a vaulted ceiling, a stone floor, and beautiful wood finishes. The air conditioning system was not installed to provide a separate zone for the platform area where everyone is wearing robes, and the PARs generate a fair amount of heat. When the job was designed, there wasn’t an LED fixture that had the output required, but now they are looking at a retrofit for the fixtures over the platform. Fortunately, I had installed a distributed DMX system for future needs.

No matter the style of worship, there will always be a need for "white" front lighting. In the more traditional spaces, the move to employ videotaping is influencing choice of lamp source. The use of mixed color temperatures makes life harder when you add in cameras. Now we have to color-correct one source to match the other. In low ceiling spaces, such as the reclaimed strip mall, the new adjustable white LED fixtures provide a great choice. They have built in color temperature matching, and they blend easily for even coverage. In spaces with higher ceilings, the choice is for a tighter beam fixture, which leads most people to use ellipsoidal reflector spotlights. If you don’t have a need for sharp edges and clearly defined control, then PARs or Fresnels are a better choice to achieve even coverage. The typical lamp source is the tungsten halogen. This is the lighting position that will take the longest to change, and until a full-spectrum lamp source is designed that is as cost-effective as the tungsten lamp, change will have to wait.

The last fixtures to discuss are automated. Traditional-style spaces are most likely to need these for the large drama productions, while the contemporary spaces use them routinely. Use of automated fixtures results in better lighting consoles making their way into this market. As the line between traditional and contemporary begins to blur, more automated fixtures are finding their way into the lighting rig. This is where having a good understanding of color temperature control is going to become important. Generally, as venues add multiple color temperature sources, they are also adding videotaping to productions, and it’s important to stay with one color temperature for cameras.

As the trend moves toward more automated fixtures, the need for good data distribution is a must, not an option. In my previous example, I had installed a DMX data distribution system based on the older design, which made use of an opto-isolator and DMX output jacks located around the room. This would limit the venue to a single universe, which would not work for most churches in the future. At this time, the trend is to install CAT5 or CAT6 cabling, even if you are still installing an opto-isolator for cost-savings at the installation phase. By using the network cable, you can always upgrade to a network system by changing the equipment at the end of the wire.

Another trend that I have heard is developing is to run two CAT5 wires to each location so that you can have a DMX output jack on the network and a network jack also. The reasoning is that, in the future, while some older fixtures will still require DMX connections, others will plug directly into the network.

Stephen Ellison has been working with lighting since he became hooked in junior high. He has worked for a variety of companies in the industry, from manufacturers, to rental and production, to systems design. He is currently the product specialist for SeaChanger.