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Church Lighting Guide

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. Manning Lighting has been helping churches meet these special needs since 1948. Contemporary as well as traditional designs, thousands of size, lamp and finish options, hand-crafted fixtures built to your specifications, and a staff of experienced lighting professionals make Manning Lighting your church lighting experts. This guide will walk you through the basic steps of selecting the appropriate lighting for your project, whether you’re planning a new building or considering a lighting upgrade. 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.


Figure A2 Figure AProper location of each fixture and electrical box is important not only to ensure a uniform level of illumination, but also to fit into the architectural design and seating layout of your space. No matter how seating is arranged, fixtures should be positioned over these areas, as well as the main aisle if possible, to ensure enough light for comfortable reading. Spacing between fixtures should be based not only on the light coverage desired, but also on the spacing of windows, ceiling beams and other architectural elements (Fig. A). 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

Figure BThe mounting height of each fixture should be based on the lighting level desired, the appearance of the fixtures in relation to architectural elements, and uniform distribution of light. Manning pendants should be suspended so that the distance from floor to bottom of fixture is approximately 1.2 times the distance between fixtures longitudinally (Fig. B). Deduct this amount from the total ceiling height to get the overall length of fixture including stem or chain. Generally, the higher a fixture is mounted, the more even the light distribution will be below. However, the higher a fixture is mounted the more the wattage of the downlight must be increased to compensate for the higher mounting height. Care must also be taken to not place indirect lighting fixtures too close to the ceiling to avoid “hot spots” above the fixture.


Lighting other areas


Figure GFigure FSince the altar or chancel is the focal point of most churches, it is recommended that the light levels be two to three times greater than above the pews. Lighting for this area should be concealed from the congregation to avoid distractions and provide an unobstructed view. Manning adjustable spot and flood lighting units mounted behind an arch or beam can be used to light the general area and spotlight the altar, pulpit, or other areas (Figs. F & G). Lighting the pulpit or lectern is best accomplished by two units to minimize shadows. Light on the speaker should be directed from an angle of 30°to 45° forward from the speaker, and spaced so that the angle is 45°or more above where the speaker stands. Areas above and below balconies should be lit with smaller fixtures that match the units in the main area. Each Manning fixture is available in several sizes and styles, including ceiling mounted fixtures for under balconies. Foyer and hallway lighting should be selected by room proportions, using 11/2” fixture diameter to 1’of room width as a guide to proportions.

Fixture selection

Figure EFigure DManning offers 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. The proportion and size of the design selected will depend on the proportions of the interior, spacing between outlets, and the height at which fixtures will be suspended. In an interior where the height is greater than the width (Fig. D), fixtures of similar proportions are more compatible. A good rule of thumb to follow is to choose a unit about one-inch diameter to each foot of spacing between units longitudinally. In interiors where the width is greater than the height (Fig. E), two inches in fixture diameter for each foot of spacing should be figured. Care should be taken that the size selected has sufficient wattage capacity to produce desired lighting results.

Light Levels

The light level in your church depends largely on the architecture, the denomination, and the tastes of the congregation. Light levels are measured in units called “footcandles” with a level of 20 to 40 footcandles generally recommended for comfortable reading. This translates to less than one watt per square foot with LED solutions, to five or more watts per square foot with older incandescent sources (though this figure will vary depending on the fixture selected and the specifications of the light source chosen). Note that energy codes in many states restrict the wattage per square foot, typically to 1 w/sqft. or less. 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.

Most churches want the ability to control the lighting levels to suit different parts of the service or for special occasions or programs. A wide variety of dimming controls are available, from sophisticated theatrical systems to simple wall dimmers. Consider these needs when selecting a fixture and ask your Architect, Engineer or Electrician to make sure the fixtures you select will meet your needs.

Energy Efficiency

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 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 dramatic benefits in terms of energy savings and long life. However, their overall quality, color, and performance when being dimmed varies. We recommend trying these lamps in one fixture before deciding to replace all your lighting with LED.
  • Fluorescent lamps are efficient, have long life (up to 20,000 hours) and are available in a larger range of color temperatures. The initial cost of the fixtures is higher however, especially if dimming is required. And fluorescent lamps may be inadequate to illuminate large spaces with high mounting heights.
  • Metal halide lamps are also efficient and have longer life than incandescents. But they are prone to shifting in color over time, are more difficult to dim, and require several minutes to come up to full brightness.
  • 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. For many churches, the cost of an LED upgrade is paid back within a few years thanks to lower energy consumption and maintenance. Manning Lighting has adopted several LED solutions that are designed specifically for church lighting. Simply click the link below to see all the fixtures available with LED:
    Manning LED products.


Figure CWiring in existing churches should be checked for capacity with an architect or engineer. Manning pendant fixtures are available with downlights, interior lamps, and uplights, depending on the model and size selected (Fig. C).

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.