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Grace Lutheran Church

 La Grange, IL  Indoor Lighting

As part of a major facility upgrade, Grace Lutheran Church had initial plans to update their antiquated lighting with incandescent and T12 fluorescent fixtures. But the building committee heard about another option, and now the congregation is a convert to the benefits of LED lighting from Cree.


Grace Lutheran Church in La Grange, Illinois, can trace its roots back to 1887, when a group of dedicated people met at a private home to start what would become their large, thriving faith community. While the original sanctuary, completed in 1897, was built by those founding members, the current sanctuary was constructed in the 1920s, with additions completed in the '50s and ‘60s.

Recognizing a need to move fully into the 21st century and attract new members, the congregation agreed to renovate their sanctuary and fellowship hall and committed $1.9 million to fund the project. Because the fundraising didn’t include monies to maintain the building, the building committee understood they had one shot to get the project right — the selections they made on critical items like lighting needed to be choices they could live with for years to come.

A primary focus of the renovation was the lighting for the public gathering areas. According to Brett Polich, congregant and church building project committee member, “The current buildings had every conceivable tough lighting condition you could imagine, including no plenum, poor light distribution, bad switching and tremendously difficult lamps to replace because everything was so old.” Added to that list of challenges was Illinois’ aggressive energy code with expensive switching requirements and low wattage allowances.

The building committee had originally opted for a fluorescent lighting solution, but mid-way through construction, Polich became interested in Cree, an industry leader in LED lighting technology.


In talking with Cree about the benefits of LED lighting, Polich says the building committee learned they could get high-quality, low-maintenance fixtures; lower wattages; and great quality of light, lifetime and space — all at a great price. Another bonus: the team could get the fixtures quickly — an important fact given they were making the lighting selection mid-construction. As a result, Grace Lutheran has installed 324 Cree KR6™ LED architectural downlights and 20 Cree CR24™ LED troffers.

In the fellowship hall, Grace Lutheran moved from the original T12 fluorescent surface wraps to the Cree® KR Series LED downlights — a recessed solution that also provides a higher lumen package. Because there was no plenum to work with, the crew had to lower the ceiling. Polich says, “We went from surface-mounted 1x4 prismatic wraps — the things you would buy and put in your basement — to recessed can fixtures, which really increases the overall aesthetic of the space and makes it feel like a fellowship hall and not a big open office space.”

Cree’s CR Series LED troffers illuminate portions of the fellowship hall, while the KR6™ downlights are in entrance areas, hallways and the sanctuary underbalcony area. Polich elaborates: “The KR Series downlights in the back of the sanctuary — that was another fabulous solution. Our older members literally couldn’t read because there wasn’t enough light. Our previous solution of surface mount fixtures and incandescent A19 bases resulted in overlamping just to give people enough light. With the Cree solution, we were able to get a higher quantity of light with a great CRI that allows people to feel comfortable sitting back there now. It has really improved the entry to the sanctuary space.”


Polich, an architect by trade who knows the lighting industry well, states: “The rest of the market couldn't come close to what Cree offered. Lighting on every project is always a challenge. With other manufacturers, it’s up to ten weeks to receive fixtures. With Cree, it was stocked and shipped. We were able to get the product quickly — that’s a huge thing that not everybody does.” Sheila Reed, Facilities Administrator at Grace Lutheran, seconds the opinion: “When I learned what the turnaround times were for most lighting products, I was appalled. It seems to be an industry issue and one that Cree appears to have a superior position in. When I was placing orders or making minor changes, everyone from Cree was patient, helpful and very service-oriented.”

The Cree luminaires offer a 10-year limited warranty, providing significant maintenance savings over the installation’s lifetime. As Reed says, “Historically, replacing bulbs was a very time-consuming and never-ending process. In the fellowship hall, we had fluorescent lights with ballasts and bulbs that would fail. It was constantly one light or another going out. We don’t have a highly technical staff, so when it was a ballast, I would have to call someone in, which adds cost and time. The beauty of the new Cree® lighting is that we’re not doing any maintenance.”

According to Polich, “The previous lighting was non-functional in terms of being able to show a movie or presentation, host a dinner or even have the room appear appealing.” The new Cree LED fixtures operate with a dimming system that provides better control and allows the congregation to adjust the light levels as usage requires.

The building committee, facilities staff and congregants are all thrilled with the new lighting. As Reed notes, “We have many members who volunteer around the facilities. Once they tried the new lighting system, saw the results and the zone control we were able to have, and heard about the energy savings and the fact that we won’t have to change bulbs, they were ecstatic. They loved it. The new lighting is getting a lot of good vibes from the congregants.”

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