Who Turned the Lights Out?

A 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.

Some time in the late ’90s youth meetings started experimenting with dimly lit rooms. Leaders reasoned 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 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.

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Bob Kauflin currently has the privilege of serving as the Director of Worship Development for Sovereign Grace Ministries. © Sovereign Grace Ministries. WorshipMatters.com. Used by permission.