Andy Mueller is in charge of lighting (as well as a few other areas) at Champions Centre. He sees the lighting team as an extension of the worship team. He never wants to look at it as its own identity. The lights are solely there to usher people into worship. Not to be a distraction. Not to elicit “oohs” and “ahs”. Frankly, he doesn’t want people to notice that the lights are even there. Instead, he wants the lights to create an inviting setting where God can show up. He and Nathaniel Buck, their lead lighting designer, work to make that happen.
That means they don’t use strobes during worship. They don’t use a ton of lighting design elements. They don’t do that because it doesn’t fit who they are. Their lights are relatively simple, without a lot of movement happening during the worship. There also aren’t a lot of color changes.
The team is very specific on who they light. They use lighting to draw attention to some things/people and to take attention away from others. If it’s a solo, they use lighting to highlight the person singing. When the singer isn’t the main focus, they dim the lights on that person. Their goal in all of this is to help remove distractions and make it easy for the congregation to focus on what’s happening in the moment.
At Seeds Conference, a couple of years ago, the team heard Whitney George say that they try to go to the mountaintop together one time during their worship service – not scale multiple mountains multiple times. So the team at Champions Centre has adopted that philosophy. They try to find that one moment in worship where the musicians are hitting the peak of the mountain, and the lighting team tries to hit it with them. Those will be the brightest moments of the lighting setup. Whereas most of the time, they’ll use darker blues and whites to keep the visual energy lower.
They got the idea for a projection-mapped cross the previous year. The next year was spent exploring how they could make it happen. Would they build the visuals from the center out? Top down? What would the style look like?
They also had to figure out what technology to use to make it happen. Originally, they were wanting to make the cross an LED screen cross. After a couple of weeks of research, they realized it would be too cost prohibitive. So then they started thinking about projection.
What about front lit? As they explored that option, they realized their high ceilings would be an obstacle. Also, they didn’t want the spill over of the square projector to fall on their stage backdrop. They knew, even though the projection would be black, you’d still see the square box of the projector boundaries.
So they settled on rear projection. This meant they had to cut into their stage design to make space for the projectors. They also had to figure out how to build a cross that would be translucent enough to take rear projection.
The biggest challenge, though, came in figuring out how to get the projectors to span the area they needed. Since the projectors were only five feet away from the cross, they had to figure out how many to use and what arrangement to have them in.
They settled on two projectors, fixed together on their sides, right next to each other. It was certainly an odd arrangement for projectors, and it presented its own problems when it came to mapping and designing their visuals for the cross.
They went online and rented a couple of tiny projectors. They were cheap, short-throw, $200 rentals. Then they built a special housing for the projectors to hold them in place. Unfortunately, since they were such inexpensive projectors, they didn’t keep their settings when they were powered off. This either meant going back and re-setting all of their settings each time they turned them on, or leaving them on through the whole weekend. I’ll let you imagine which option they chose.
To make the moment when the cross came alive more impacting, they didn’t accent the cross much in the beginning of the service. They just used the projector to add some simple colors on the cross for the first three songs. Then, when “The Same Power” finished playing, they brought it to life with video projected onto the cross. Then they went crazy with video for the song “Alive”.
The subtle use of lighting and the way they paced themselves throughout the worship experience really created that mountaintop experience they were looking for. It turned the cross, a symbol of sadness and death, into a symbol of new life and excitement, which set the tone for the rest of the service.