stage design

Since February of 2011, my wife has been the worship pastor at Kalamazoo First Assembly of God Church… whew that’s a long name… how about, “Kfirst” for short. :)  Aside from being the technical director, and overseeing the audio/visual team, I ended up stumbling into stage design.  Partly out of disgust for cream white walls, partly on behalf of all the ADHD brains out there (like me) who find that distracting to look at, but mostly because I wanted to bring the messages that pastor Dave has in his heart for our congregation to a new level of illustration and imagination.

Here’s what stage looked like prior to…

pre-stage series

Yikes… I would show you the older ones with the fake plants, but that’s just going too far!

In November of 2011, we painted the cream white walls to black, somewhat to the dismay of some parishioners, but a black wall is a palette on which to paint, when it comes to stage design.  In December of 2011, we launched the first installment of stage design and haven’t looked back since.

The first thing I needed to situate is semi-permanent stage fixtures that will work well with any number of future designs.  I gathered some ideas from  and went to work synthesizing those ideas into an original design.  I decided to go with a modified stained glass look, and we went to work building for the Christmas series.

Building panels 1

Building panels 2

I built 7ft X 22ft panels with 2X6s, 1X3s, spandex fabric, and some other junk.  In December of 2011, we did the “Wonder” Christmas series.

Wonder 1 Wonder 2 Wonder 3

Windows from a local antique shop.  3/4 inch silver insulation board for “Wonder”  Silver spray-painted saplings set in concrete in buckets.

This series set the tone for future series.  I had to keep this up!  For the January series “Tabernacle”, I got a little over my head…
Tabernacle CS

I ended building replicas of the Tabernacle of Moses.  I don’t envy those ancient Israelites, but I imagine their budget was a little bigger after plundering the riches of Egypt.  (That’s a to-scale replica of the ark of covenant on the far right)  Never mind how I did all that.  You don’t want to know!

One of pastor Dave’s favorite series is the marriage series.  We called this one “Sticky: building marriages that stick” Sticky
Yes, those right, left and center panels are composed of over 6,000 sticky notes!  Remind me not do that again!

Next up, “DNA”  We did a series on the unique calling of our local church.  That’s my wife leading worship in the first shot.  You can’t hear it in the picture, but she’s amazing. :)


I attempted to construct a giant double helix on both sides of stage for the DNA series, but I failed to use the right kind of tape on my pool noodles. Oh well!

For Easter, churches usually go beyond what they normally do for the “Chreaster” (Christmas + Easter) guests, but I decided we would go ‘par-for-the-course’ in terms of stage.  This sermon was called “Ransomed” (AND!… this is when we got our new projectors)  At center is rolls of drawing paper from IKEA.  Stencil and reverse stencil.
Ransomed 1 Ransomed 2

Then “Fighters”… a series on conflict and stuff…

Fighters 1

Those are printed banners left, right and center.

If you had a pulse in the 80’s, you would’ve like this stage design.  Yes, “Eye of the Tiger” was played a lot that month.

Then a series on small groups “Small Minded”

Small Minded

Then “Parables” a series on the teachings of Jesus.  All stage props borrowed.
Parables 1 Parables 2

“Dust” a series on following Jesus.  Yes, we got a car on stage.  And after the first week I realized that my “traffic sign” effect looked more like a Bob Marley t-shirt, so I changed that!  Our associate pastor an extraordinary license plate collection.  Took advantage of that.


Then one of my personal favorites… The “V” series, vampires: dealing with people who suck the life out of you.

V 1 V 2

I repositioned all my intels to really make that “V” shine!  That’s cut styrofoam, spray-painted orange and lit with red/orange light.

I have to step it up a level… I built and put in a custom-fit center screen for “Greater Than” and future series…

Greater Than 1 Greater Than 2

I needed a break from the stained glass look so for the “Circles” series on prayer I (temporarily) refaced the panels.
Circles 1 Circles 2 Circles 3 Circles 4

The suspended and hanging circles are hula-hoops with glued fabric over.  The panels are stapled one-side white cardboard from a local company with 3″ half circles of styrofoam glued with adhesive spray.

This past Easter we kicked off a series on Easter called “Snapshots.”  We went with a polaroid-ish theme.  Also one of my favorites.  These shots are from the balcony.  The best look was from the floor.

Snapshots 1 Snapshots 2 Snapshots 3

White cardboard with glued paper posters of letters simulating a polaroid hung with 15″ oversize closed pins, suspended on white rope, carabiners, and hardware for the bulkhead.

Finally, the lastest marriage series “Highlight Reel”

Highlight Reel 1 Highlight Reel 2

It’s hard to tell there, but I made a football field for pastor Dave to preach from the fifty yard line.

Stage design is not just an artistic expression, for me, it’s a way to bring expression and elements that provoke our imaginations in our gatherings.  I spend the time and energy to do it, not because “it’s my job,” and not just because we’re trying to reach an “Mtv generation” but because I want to tap into something I think the church has known, at times and places throughout history.  Aesthetics matter, beauty matters, and this is our attempt.

About kurtkjohnson

Husband to Abbey Johnson, proud father, irregular blogger and occasionally creative. View all posts by kurtkjohnson

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