The latest worship war (actually I’d call it a skirmish) is about whether a church should dim their lights during the worship music. I’ve heard this coming up quite a bit recently, especially since everyone’s talking about the hot topic of “performancism.”
Jamie Brown, in his popular article “Are We Headed For A Crash?” admonishes worship leaders to “keep the lights up” to avoid a concert-like atmosphere. In my radio interview, a caller asserts that “darkness is of the Devil” in regards to a darkened sanctuary.
This debate is pretty easy to solve: it’s simply a matter of preference. And from the many churches I’ve visited, the lines of that preference seem to be cleanly drawn between two age groups: Baby Boomers and Gen Xers / Millennials.
I started my career as a church music director over a decade ago during the heyday of Baby Boomer Churches (i.e. Willow Creek). The dimmed lights issue was a debate among the Baby Boomers who ran the church where I worked and the Gen Xers who were on staff and attended. Evidently there was some fabled Baby Boomer Handbook on how to start a Saddleback-type church which, among other directives, instructed new church plants to have brightly lit rooms with big windows to let the sunshine in.
We Gen Xers didn’t care for that, and instead wanted the more intimate feel of a darkened room. Finally, the Boomers concluded that since they were trying to reach the younger generation they’d give in a bit and let the room be dimmed during worship. Boomer worship was known to be “happy and clappy” so perhaps that mind set went hand-in-hand with lights and windows.
Now that Gen Xers are assuming the reigns of Evangelicalism, I can’t remember the last time I was in a church that didn’t dim their lights. I can think of one contemporary ministry who meets in an old, historic church sanctuary where it would be impossible for them to dim the lights if it wasn’t for the motorized shades that lower to cover the stained glass windows during the music.
I love to worship in a dimmed room! And a recent example got me thinking about why I feel that way.
A church I once attended dims their lights during worship as most contemporary churches do. Then one Sunday, the lights were up during the music. I immediately noticed and felt… weird. I felt oddly exposed and unfocused. I realized the effect the dimmed lights had on me and how it enhanced my worship time – I somehow felt more comfortable to worship and could better concentrate on the songs. The dimmed lights took away distractions.
Later I asked the worship pastor about it and he said the dimmed lights had been a discussion among the staff. The pastor (a Boomer) wanted to try having the lights up during the music. Enough people must have complained since they’re now dimming the lights again.
Of course, churches can take anything to ridiculous extremes. I recently visited a famous cutting-edge megachurch that did not have dimmed lights – the lights were completely off. Their room was pitch black except for the stage. As I entered their auditorium from a bright sunny day, I was literally blind as I entered the dark room. I was afraid I’d fall and break a hip if it weren’t for a helpful usher who guided me to my seat with a flashlight. It took a good ten minutes before my eyes adjusted to the darkness.
Most contemporary churches dim their lights during the music, then bring them up again during the sermon. I’d suggest dimming your lights 50%-70%, which would be a good compromise – people can still see where they’re going and still feel the effect of the lower light levels.
So should you dim your lights? It all depends on your ministry – who’s attending and who you want to reach.