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Tips for Successful Church Lighting

Selecting the proper lighting for your place of worship is one of the most important decisions of any building or remodeling project. Your lighting should not only provide adequate illumination, it should also complement the architecture, be energy efficient, and be easy to maintain. For more of an overview of lighting for worship spaces and some excellent tips, see this article in Church Executive Magazine by Robert Shook and Michael White of the firm Shuler Shook, a leading lighting design firm. Get started with a lighting upgrade or new installation by understanding some basics.

Download Church Lighting Guide

Location, Location, Location

Two important things to keep in mind:

  • Position fixtures over seating areas to make reading easier.
  • Space fixtures based on light coverage and the spacing of windows, beams, and any other architectural elements.

Different Manning hangers and ceiling canopies are available to accommodate sloped ceilings as well as cover both recessed and exposed outlet boxes for best appearance.

Mounting Height

Suspend pendants so that the distance from floor to bottom of fixture is about 1.2 times the distance between fixtures (i.e. fixtures 10 feet apart should be 12 feet above floor). Generally, the higher a fixture is mounted, the more even the light distribution will be below.

Focus Attention

Since the altar or chancel is the focal point of most churches, light levels here should be two to three times greater than above the seating area. Manning adjustable spot and flood lighting units mounted behind an arch or beam can be used to light the altar, pulpit, or other areas. Lighting the pulpit or lectern is best accomplished by at least two units to minimize shadows.

Manning Spatialites mounted behind a beam are a great way to draw attention to areas, artwork, or people.

Direct vs. Indirect

There are two basic ways to light your church: Direct fixtures use sophisticated reflector systems to light the seating areas from above. Indirect fixtures bounce light up off the ceiling to light the area. Direct fixtures are better suited for churches with dark interiors and high ceilings. Indirect fixtures work best for white or light wood interiors and lower ceilings. Many Manning fixtures combine both indirect and direct lighting for the advantages of both.

Bowl pendants direct light upwards for soft, comfortable illumination.

Light Levels

Light levels are measured in units called “footcandles,” with a level of 20 to 30 footcandles generally recommended for comfortable reading. Manning Lighting will work with you to ensure these levels are achieved by creating a detailed photometric report and computer rendering of the new fixtures in your space. As important as the overall light levels, is the distribution of light in the space.

A uniform amount of light, without bright spots under fixtures or shadows between them, is the goal.

Another goal is the ability to control light levels in different parts of the church at different times to highlight a speaker, a choir, or a ceremony. That’s why Manning fixtures are compatible with a wide variety of dimming controls, from sophisticated theatrical systems to simple wall dimmers.

Replacing older fixtures (first image) with new ones (second image) led to dramatically higher light levels and energy efficiency at St. Columbanus Church in Blooming Prairie, MN.

Be Efficient

Can church lighting be effective and energy efficient? Yes! But not all types of lighting sources are appropriate for ecclesiastical spaces.

  • Fixtures designed with incandescent lamps in mind may still be a viable option because they are inexpensive, can be dimmed easily, and need little in the way of special equipment to operate and maintain. However, because they are inefficient and have relatively short lamp life (generally 2000 hours or less), they aren’t a good choice for many types of spaces. Screw-in LED bulbs are now widely available as incandescent replacements, and provide benefits in terms of energy savings and life. However, their overall quality, color, and performance when being dimmed varies.
  • Purpose-built LED light engines offer much better efficiency and longer life than screw-in LED bulbs. They also are designed to provide better, more even illumination and be compatible with a variety of dimming systems. Manning Lighting has many of these dedicated LED solutions available across its product line. See the “LED FAQ” in this Guide for more information on LED.

New or Retrofit?

Churches considering a lighting upgrade often have a difficult decision to make: Should exisitng fixtures stay or are new ones a better choice? Start by answering a few questions:

  • How attached is the congregation to the existing fixture design?
  • What is the condition of the items?
  • What is your budget? (Refurbishing old or badly damaged fixtures is often more expensive than purchasing new ones.)
  • Is more light a priority, or is simply renewing the fixture appearance sufficient?

From there, we can give you ideas and estimates on both new and retrofit options. And sometimes a combination of retrofitted fixtures and new lighting types is the right answer. Either way, Manning Lighting can do everything from a simple cleaning and rewiring, to a full-blown refurbishment with a state-of-the-art LED system.

New to LED Lighting?

Visit our LED Lighting Guide to find frequently asked questions and answers as well as more information about LED technology and its benefits.

About LED Lighting

Church Lighting

Manning Lighting's Standard Product Line offers dozens of fixture styles, each available in several sizes and illumination options. To see all Manning products, including new items and the latest LED technology browse our fixture options.

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Consult a Professional

No matter what size your building or remodeling project, we recommend consulting with a local Electrical Engineer, Lighting Designer or Architect. Chances are they have provided solutions for churches just like yours in the past, and are sources of invaluable information. Manning Lighting is also staffed by professionals who are eager to help you. Just give us a call or email to get started.

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