The Cross

Death Let Go. Jesus Won’t.

The cross. This is the single point in history upon which our faith rests. The fact that Jesus sacrificed Himself and conquered death is what gives us hope and purpose.

This year at Riv, Easter was a standalone service, so there was no need for our set design to fit into a larger series. As such, we decided to construct a single cross to stand prominently in the center of the stage.

The body of the cross is built out of raw wood in which we drilled holes to wire marquee style lights. For our Holt, REO Town, and MSU Venues, we built crosses at 12, 8, and 6 feet respectively. They were held together with pocket screws and mounted on plates of either MDF or metal. The lights are dim-able via DMX controller. On the whole we kept the lights fairly soft, but introduced a few soft pulses and swells intensionally during the service.

For our Westside Venue, we repurposed the cross that was hanging in the sanctuary of the church that previously owned the building. When remodeling the auditorium in the summer of 2015, we intentionally saved the cross so as to reuse it for this purpose, nodding back to the history and legacy of the previous church.

For the full photo set click here.
























Joy Happens

Philippians. It’s a book full of contradiction. Paul is in prison yet is writing of joy, contentment, and gladness over and over again. For this set we wanted to have this contradiction play out on stage in a visual way.

The main contrast in this design comes from an order and chaos juxtaposition. We took more of the leftover 2x4s from our Credo set, painted them gray, and used them as our component element for the build. (These 2x4s will have a total of 28 weeks of use after this series wraps – a key feature of making our set design budget stretch further over the course of a year.)

For the full photo set click here.








The chaos in the center of the stage was a unique challenge to tackle. It needed to look organic and fragile, yet able to hold itself up without visible supports. One of our builders happened to have 4″ construction screws with him at the time which proved most helpful in solving this challenge.






Holt Venue


REO Town Venue


Westside Venue


The projection motif for this set is very vibrant and bold, a representation of Paul’s joy and a stark contrast to the struggles he’s going through. We have the text “Joy Happens” in bold letters on the back walls of all our venues as a constant reminder that in all of life’s circumstances, we ought to choose a life of joy.









For our Christmas series this year, we decided to go with a wintry/Christmasy set rather than literal set tying to the topics being taught.

We wanted to maintain the Christmas feel with this set while also pushing the visual concept of a Christmas tree. On the stage we have two variations of a geometric tree. The first is a freestanding tree made from two flat plains intersecting to give it dimensionality. The second is simply the outline of half a tree on the back wall.

From the Credo set we had many, many extra 2x4s backstage so we repurposed them as the bases for the freestanding trees. Each piece had a trough cut down the middle as well as a cutout for the second 2×4 for fit into. The wooden sheets then slid into each 2×4 and were stapled together along the seam.

For the full photo set click here.

Emmanuel Set Build 01

Emmanuel Set Build 07

Emmanuel Set Build 09

Emmanuel Set Build 13

Emmanuel Set Build 16

Emmanuel Set Build 18

Emmanuel Set Build 24

Emmanuel Set Build 26

Emmanuel Set Build 33

For variety on the stage we made three sizes of the trees. Each template was traced with a projector and then used as the pattern for cutting the rest. All-in-all we build seven large trees, five mediums, and 18 smalls.

The outline on the wall is made from sheets of plywood sliced into eight inch boards and stapled to the wall. It was hit with a soft yellow wash with the projection to highlight the wood grain in contrast to the background imagery.

Holt Venue

Emmanuel Set Build 35

Emmanuel Set Build 37

Emmanuel Set Build 38

MSU Venue

Emmanuel Set Build 39

REO Town Venue

Emmanuel Set Build 42

Westside Venue

Emmanuel Set Build 43

Emmanuel Set Build 46

Emmanuel Set Build 53

Emmanuel Set Build 57

Emmanuel Set Build 63


What we believe matters. What we believe about God matters most.

With the launch of Riv’s fourth venue, we decided it was high time to build up our Set Design Team to include more than just the usual three guys. We put out an ask for volunteers to join the team and the response was great!

With this series being our big fall launch, we wanted to really up our game in the scale of this set. The series is titled Credo and looks at Riv’s mission statement, vision statement, and core beliefs. A number of our recent sets have been very metallic in structure and organic in form, so we decided to push this in the opposite direction – wooden and geometric. This provided the opportunity to go with a very architectural motif which ties to the fact that this series’ content is foundational to the Christian faith.

The decision to go with triangles versus squares was for a few reasons. First is the shape being a reference to the triune nature of God, as He forms the basis for all our beliefs. Secondly the triangle is the strongest of shapes, and the statements expressed in our mission are what we really stand upon as a church. The Gospel is both simple and incredibly complex. A triangle is a simple shape, yet we’ve layered it and replicated it in a complex structure. From any angle that you look at the stage you’ll see different nuances of the set.

Below you’ll see photos of the full process of planning, building, and assembling this set across our venues.

For the full photo set click here.




Roughly 350 2x4s were used for this set. And 3000 individual cuts were made. Each 2×4 was cut in half and then cut into a point at 60º angles to meet together in a perfect hexagon.




Ten people contributed to the building of this set totaling 160 hours of work.


For the assembly of all four sets we used 1000 staples and 3/4 gallon of wood glue.




The table was custom built for this series to be on stage at the Holt Venue. It matches the 60º cuts that are used across the entire set,  just on a smaller scale. To prevent the table from tipping, the whole piece is mounted to a 40 pound baseplate (can’t have Noel’s coffee spilling during the service).


Each set has LED strip lights mounted to the backside of the first and third layers of the structure. This allows us to illuminate both the internal structure and the back wall to correspond with the stage lights that change throughout the service.


Holt Venue


REO Town Venue


MSU Venue


Westside Venue



One piece of set design that provides an added challenge is building each set so that it matches nicely with the image that is projected on the screen at our video venues. Below is the Westside Venue’s screen raised during the message.


In The Beginning

Trying something new out, we made a video for our set build for Fall 2013:

Genesis Set Sneak Peek

A little sneak peek of what our set design guys are working on for the Genesis series starting September 7th.

Genesis Sneak Peek

(thanks to Captain J for the photo)

No Other Gods

No Other Gods, a series at Riverview June, 2011.

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The detail on the left for this set is a structure with 1×4 lumber verticals and ripped 3/4in plywood horizontals ripped into 2in strips. Coarse thread screws into the back of the structure hold the plywood on and finishing nails attach the three assembled sections to the wall.

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The horizontals were carefully placed to be level and to, at the same time, attain a level of randomness in horizontal placement. Before anything was assembled, the front sections of the plywood was painted reddish-brown and all other surfaces were painted gray.

Red Letter Ending

Red Letter Ending, a series at Riverview April, 2011.

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This is the set for our Easter series in 2011. The structure against the wall is an assembled product from MIO called the Nomad System.

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The Two smaller crosses on the floor are built with a combination of steel framing track and wood 2×4. The larger cross at an angle from floor to ceiling has a box truss vertical structure and a wood/steel horizontal structure. All three crosses are covered with white fabric which is stapled on the back side.

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The Joy Paradox

The Joy Paradox, a series at Riverview March, 2011.

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Our Creative Director, Kristie, designed a custom image for the background projection, we did not do a physical build. I must note, as I have previously, that she creates the projection which integrates with the sets for each series that we do.

The Main Thing

The Main Thing, a series at Riverview February, 2011.

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Playing on the series title “The Main Thing” we decided to build a theater marquee. The prop is a 15ft x 10ft construction using steel stud framing with a recessed channel of 1/2in MDF and the primary screen area is hardboard. The top detail is 1/2in MDF with white duct tape for the lines.

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The lights in the outside recessed channel are screwed into basic lamp sockets which are pushed through drilled holes in the MDF. The lights are wired as four circuits and run to a DMX Dimmer so we could do a chase and generally control intensity. Power and control cables are run alongside the support cable to reach the outlets in the truss.

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