Gone are the days when changing the church stage design meant bringing in Easter lilies in April and a musty, oversized fake Christmas tree in December.
Now churches are designing elaborate stage environments, sometimes designing them to coincide with a sermon series, resetting the stage every month or so. While others are designing less themed, focusing on a generic look that is visual but looks great in multiple contexts. Coroplast, dismantled pallets, corrugated metal, stretched spandex, triple-wide screens, vintage lightbulbs, and wooden slate walls have transformed church stages.
There is a myth that stage design is expensive and difficult. It does take some thought and energy, but there are some things churches can do to improve their stage aesthetics, regardless of budget.
Some of the most common mistakes churches make are trying to do too much, or not considering space restrictions. Constraints such as lighting design, stage size, and rigging capabilities all impact your design’s quality.
So how can you improve stage environments if you don’t have the budget or a professional team?
Here are three prop tips for better church stage design:
1. Use black fabric
Also known as masking fabric, black fabric can help define your stage space. Black fabric “disappears,” so it directs the eye to what you want people to see—whether that’s a band, design elements, projection screens, or something else. Masking fabric can hide outdated church architecture, greatly improve stage acoustics, provide a clean backdrop, and help create a dramatic effect in any space.
Though any black fabric might work, thicker fabric is best. Rosebrand Theatrical Supply sells duvetyn cloth that is both affordable and thick enough to absorb light and sound.
Something important to consider when choosing fabric is making sure that it’s flame retardant. It’s dangerous (and goes against fire code) to hang any fabric around stage lighting knowing it’s a fire hazard.
2. Control your lighting
Though every church might not have this option, one way to greatly improve the look and feel of your space is to blackout windows. This removes ambient light, and gives you the ability to control what you want to light. It also helps you get the most out of your projection system.
Blacking out windows means you need stage lighting. Stage lighting ranges from hundreds of dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Even if professional stage lighting isn’t an option, I have seen some amazingly creative spaces where everything was purchased in hardware stores or on Amazon.
LED lighting is one of the most affordable options. Try consumer-grade LED color-changing bulbs to create cool effects. Some of them can connect to a Wi-Fi network, which you control through an iOS or Android app—bypassing a complicated DMX-controlled lighting configuration.
The main thing is being able to light what you want to focus on with color temperatures that make people feel comfortable and relaxed. The least effective stage lighting choice is daylight temperate lighting (LED or fluorescent). Warmer color temperatures are always best.
3. Think outside the pallet
There was once a time where putting pallets on stage was innovative and creative. Now, pallets are popular, but they’re a visual cliché. Churches everywhere use them because they’re cheap, they’re available, and it’s easy to make them look good on stage. However, if you take a stroll through a big hardware store and look at the materials from a stage-design perspective, you’ll see all kinds of interesting and creative possibilities. With a couple hundred dollars and some time, you have limitless creative potential. The problem is that most folks can’t see beyond what the unfinished material looks like in the store under bad lighting.
When you pick up material, whether it be wood, metal, plastic, stone, or something else, you have to think about it from a creative angle. What can you do with it? Can you paint it? Stain it? Distress it? Break it up into smaller pieces? Can you hang it in the air, or use it as a texture on a wall? Can you burn it? Visualize how you can transform these materials into something new.
Take that same material, and see what happens when you light it up. Some objects change dramatically under colored lights. When you take that material and paint it white, the white absorbs whatever color you shine on it. Black paint on the other hand, makes things disappear. Black paint is a stage designer’s best friend.
The most important thing is to keep it simple, yet thoughtful—that’s why pallets became popular. Don’t just stick anything onstage, but consider the creative potential of everything you see.
Think about stage design from a first-time visitor’s perspective. Think about how it looks on camera, on the web, the back of the room, or the front row. Make sure that it doesn’t impede the band and above all make sure the set is built securely and safely. The last thing you want is something falling apart mid-service due to the low-end vibrations.
A clean stage design is always better than a cluttered or cheesy stage design. You aren’t designing for a grade-school play—you’re designing for wide variety of people to enhance their worship experience.
Nothing has to be there, so everything that is there should serve a purpose. A stage set should never distract, but should always amplify a message, theme, or brand. The set isn’t the point, just as the videos, teaching, or music aren’t the point—the point is creating environments where people can connect with God and others.