Church Production

Clean sight lines from every angle are a vital concern for contemporary worship environments. Photo courtesy of Northland, A Church Distributed in Longwood, Florida.Temporary staging is always an option, regardless of the church's architectural design. Photo of Trinity Lutheran Church in Owatonna, Minnesota, courtesy of Wenger Corporation.Many traditional worship spaces are designed for acoustical support of music, not speech. Photo of Grace United Methodist Church in Wilmington, Delaware courtesy of Community Professional Loudspeakers.

Tutorial: Staging Experts Speak

How to Ensure Your Stage Works for Worship

By Mark Johnson
April 22, 2013 4:48 pm EST

Topics: Tech Tutorial, Rigging/Staging-based,
Tags: design, education, production, rigging, safety, staging, training,

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On the surface, there’s physically not a lot of difference between many contemporary churches and a performing arts center. Sure, the purposes of the facilities are different, but the functionality is basically the same.

So while there are similarities, the differences are important enough that oftentimes hiring someone with skill and experience in designing and building houses for worship can make the difference between having a facility that helps to encourage the worship experience vs. a place that is merely a performance space where people “do church.”

CPM’s sister publication, Designer magazine, spoke with a diverse group of people on the topic of stage design and how to ensure that stages work best for AVL-heavy contemporary worship. Here, a remix of that article that speaks to the staging concerns of church technical directors.

Our group of contributors to this discussion includes: Janet Bartlett, business administrator with 20+ years of production service at Hilltop Community Church, Richmond, Calif., and Pastor Nehemiah Rogers, newly appointed creative communications director of Hilltop Community Church—both are creative arts team leaders at Hilltop Community Church; Gregg Nelson is a senior market manager with the Wenger Corp. of Owatonna, Minn.; John Loufik, senior applications engineer with Community Professional Loudspeakers; John Storyk, founding partner, Walters-Storyk Design Group, Highland, N.Y.; Tim Tracey, executive director of worship, Northland, A Church Distributed, Longwood, Fla.

CPM: How is a church's worship space or auditorium stage similar to a performing arts venue? How is it different?

Bartlett/Rogers: Aesthetically, very much the same. We have individual seats instead of pews. We have sectioned seating vs. the typical center aisle church layout. This disappoints many wedding planners but is better for church service settings. No one likes to preach to an aisle-way. Our stage provides an extension of about 12 feet beyond our grand curtain when it is closed. For community events where a smaller stage area is needed, this is a perfect fix. A way that it is different: It serves us well when we are in set construction. We pull the curtain and move our band and even choir to the front of the stage area. Set construction can continue without interruption or the need to tidy up for church services each weekend.

We also allowed room on both sides of the stage apron and main floor altar areas to accommodate more people. This space has served us well in varied settings. We once had a very popular group come do a concert. To [our] surprise, the minute someone hit a drum, people rushed the main floor stage area. This space has proved essential on all settings, for those who may need special prayer in a service setting, in theatrical settings we have offered special lighting for various vignettes to be presented, and in a concert setting, a chance to rush the stage.

Loufik: What is the same: From the perspective of an audio designer, acoustic imaging is always near the forefront of my mind when considering loudspeaker system placement. I am always considering how the audience will perceive the sound generated by the PA. Will they hear all of the sound as emanating from the performer, pastor, choir? Or, will the speaker placement detract from the perception of sound localization?

What is different: Theater seating and staging are usually optimized for audience viewing and hearing. In theatrical settings, the platform (stage) is the main focal point. All supporting equipment (lighting, curtains, sets, and PA) function only to support the creative presentation on-stage.

Conversely, church floor plans are based primarily on theological notions and traditions. Some are very symbolic in nature, such as a cruciform floor plan and high arching buttressed ceilings. Some are not symbolic, but seek to serve a sense of community such as ‘fan shaped’ floor plans, which are sort of like a big campfire setting or amphitheater setting that helps instill a sense of community and connectedness. Next page