The front of the church sanctuary is where all eyes are focused. It’s the place where the pastor presents the Word of God. It’s the place where the congregation is lead to worship in song. It’s the place where people kneel at the cross. It’s the place of most importance.
I believe it’s important to note the use of the word “stage” before going on. The room is the sanctuary. The place the pastor speaks from is the pulpit. But what do we call the place where the pulpit and musicians and choir are located? Generically, it’s called the stage. In strictly church-specific terms, it’s called the chancel. I bring up the term chancel because I think it’s too easy to view the front of the sanctuary as “a stage where the musicians and pastor work” instead of how it should be viewed; “a place where God is worshiped.”
Working in a variety of churches over the last 23 years, I’ve done my share of stage preparation. Whether it’s been setting up the auditorium for a portable church or setting the stage at a large church, there are three key areas of importance; needs, safety, and esthetics. Let’s break these down a bit further;
- Needs; the stage should have all of the elements necessary to meet the needs of the church service. This includes microphones, cables, monitors, all of those audio needs typical thought of as important, as well as the elements the pastor needs such as objects for sermon illustrations. Everything on the stage has a purpose and there are a lot of needs to be met.
- Safety; I like the word chancel for its respectful tone. However, using the word stage is a great reminder that it’s an active area, like a theatrical stage, where people are moving around. Therefore, you have to consider the safety of anyone who steps foot on the stage. From environmental safety (loose wires) to electrical safety (faulty equipment), safety must be a consideration in preparing the stage.
- Esthetics; going back to the respectful tone of the word chancel, the front of the sanctuary is the place where all eyes are focused. It’s not a place for disorder. It’s a place of respect and therefore should be prepared as such.
Let’s break these areas down even further and look at practical application in stage setup.
- Meeting the needs of the musicians would be ensuring they have the necessary equipment available, and in working order, so they can fully engage in leading worship. This means giving them the right microphones and cables for connecting to the system. It also means placing monitors in the best location so they can get the proper volume level on the stage without creating too much stage volume. Often, your stage work focuses only on this area.
- Meeting the needs of the pastor and other people who speak on the stage would be ensuring they have the right equipment, know how to use the equipment, and know what to do if something goes wrong. For example, the pastor should have a wireless microphone which has been set and configured for their voice. It should have a fully charged battery in it. They should know how to turn it on and off if. They should know which stage microphone to grab in case their microphone goes out.
- Wait! How do I find out the needs of these people? This happens in several ways. Regarding the musicians, contact the worship leader mid-week and ask them for a song list and the names of the people who will be in the band (and what they play or if they sing). If you have the same band members each week, ask if the line-up is changing. Regarding the pastor and others, it all depends on your church structure. For example, in a small church, it’s likely best that you directly ask the pastor if there is anything extra required. In a larger church, that might be the responsibility of the Tech Director or Producer so you’d want to check with those people. The easiest way to remember all of this is to know that it’s your job to ask who, what, when, and where and then have the answers.
- Place equipment in non-traffic areas. The pastor should be able to walk around the pulpit without worrying about tripping on cables or bumping into equipment. Just the same, even though the musicians have their spots, they also need to safely walk to and from those spots.
- Only use equipment that works 100% of the time. This goes for cables, di boxes, amplifiers, and anything else on the stage that passes an audio or electrical signal. Not only can failure disrupt the service, but it could also cause physical harm or fire.
- Regarding small stages, plan for pathways. It’s easy to eat up floor space with monitors and music stands. I’ve seen stages that only gave the pastor about a four-foot diameter around the pulpit. When planning the stage layout remember that people need to get on and off stage safely while also getting to their area on the stage.
- Work with the worship team on eliminating extra equipment. There is very little extra equipment and it usually comes down to music stands and microphone stands. Find out if two singers are willing to share a music stand. Replace four single microphone music stands with a multi-mic stand like the Softpod Mic Holder.
- Tie up loose cables. Any time you have cables on microphones stands, such as boom stands, use the small Velcro ties to secure them to the stand. This way, instead of the congregation seeing a mic stand and a dangling cable, they only see the mic stand.
- The less you see the better. This goes along with the concept of safety. Use only the amount of cabling that’s required. This way, the congregation does see a lot of extra cabling coiled up on the stage. Look for what can be moved off-stage or to a less conspicuous area.
Take the Test
Look at the photo below. This is from a church service. Please note this photo was taken at a point in time so I don’t know what happened immediately before or after it was taken. However, this single point in time does make for the perfect image for asking you this question; related to needs, safety, and esthetics, what would you change on this church stage?
The Take Away
Stage preparation is an important part of your job. By meeting the needs of those involved with the church service, providing a safe area for leading the service, and providing a clean-looking area, you are presenting the front of the sanctuary as less of a stage and more of a chancel. During the service, you are lifting up your production work as an offering to God. During the stage preparation, you are showing respect to the area in which it all occurs.