Christmas Eve Dome

For our Christmas Eve services, we used a design from Willow Creek’s God With Us program and adapted it for our stage.

Willow has a huge stage, so our challenge was trying to figure out what to include on our smaller stage and how to make things work. One of the primary reasons we chose to go with the original design was that during the open song in Willow’s program, they actually raised up all the paper chains and added pieces in place in front of everyone’s eyes. It was a really dramatic opening.

So we proceeded as planned, until the week before our ropes all fell out of the pulleys and got stuck, and we realized that trying to move anything on stage during the program would be a total disaster.

So that was the end of that idea.

But since everything was already in motion, we continued with our adapted version of the stage design.

This design was kind of tricky because we had to figure out the engineering in 3D. Up until now, I had used Adobe Illustrator to draw sets and now I needed to work in 3D space.

So I downloaded Google SketchUp, a free 3D program, learned it on the spot, and drew a dome. It was actually easier than I thought because I use Illustrator regularly and there are some similar functions. From beginning to end (downloading, installing, learning and drawing), the whole process took about an hour and a half.

First I imported a floor plan of the stage and built the stage. Then I randomly tried different arcs to see if I could draw arcs for the dome. I don’t know what I did but somehow figured out how to do it. Just don’t ask me to replicate the process.


Google SketchUp also has models of people that I used to show scale. They all looked alike and all looked like girls, but, hey, you can get the idea.


I love how SketchUp lets you rotate around 3D so you can see all the angles. This was extremely helpful as we tried to figure out where to put the instruments and paper chains.


Glen did all the math and engineering planning. He figured out how many feet of PVC pipe to buy. They were sprayed black and set out on chairs to dry.


Peter, Glen and Duy got to work, referring to the SketchUp diagram.


The used T-thingies to join the pipes. I’m sure there is a more technical term than “T-thingies” but I forget the exact term right now. They glued the pipes in. (Note: if you do something like this, make sure the pipes are pushed all the way in. One was only partly pushed in. Right after the Christmas Eve services it went “sproing” and suddenly the arch was broken. Good thing it didn’t happen during the services!)


Because the pipe we got ended up being really floppy, Peter had to tie up fishing line from the ceiling to get it to stay up correctly.


Then he zip-tied Christmas lights around the pipe.


Volunteers took hundreds of paper strips home and made paper chains. Daniel helped drag out all the chains they had made.


He laid them out on the ground in strips so we could compare lengths.


Here’s a view of some of them. There were a lot of paper chains. We gathered them and laid them out in swoops on the ground and tied the ends together with black rope, which were then hung on pulleys and drawn to the ceiling.


Up to this time we had no idea how it would look. It was a total risk. I had visions of failure and underwhelment. (I am in a making-up-words kick right now.)

I still remember the moment when Peter turned on all the lights. It was such an amazing moment and I shouted, “WOW!” It worked! It was such a happy moment. (This picture doesn’t really capture the effect when you are there live because the lights glow much brighter than is shown on this picture.)


The paper chains were lit from above with Fresnel lights, with different colors.


I like how the dome looks different depending on where you sit.


Peter also added coroplast rectangles with colored Christmas lights hidden in fake snow. They get a bit washed out when the other lights are on, but this is how they look when the lights are dimmed.


The guys did a fantastic job putting everything together!

We originally were going to change out everything in January for a new stage set, but because this set was so much work and the paper chains don’t look terribly Christmas-seasonish, we’ve decided to keep it up until Easter. We’ve taken down the colored Christmas lights and other Christmas decorations and will make a small adjustment in the future, but this is it for now!

A Yee

Angela Yee is a professional designer (graphic design, stage design, interior design — and teaches leadership skills at

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