Darwin and Christine reached their limit. Their church’s worship leader recently raised the band’s sound levels to the point that Darwin suffered ear pain and headaches.
The couple met with their pastors to request that volume levels be reduced to former levels. Instead of a lowering of decibels, the church offered the congregation free ear plugs to block the sound.
After 19 years of faithful membership in this church, Darwin and Christine reluctantly left. They’re looking for a new church where they feel they can participate in worship. It’s not the style of music that bothered them. They like contemporary worship music. It was the loudness that sent them out the door.
For this week’s Holy Soup podcast, I talked with Phil, the worship leader at that church. He defended the sound levels, which he said typically rise to 95 decibels (approximately the loudness of a jackhammer at 50 feet).
That’s loud. So loud that it hampers congregational singing. A new scientific study from Dr. David Gauger, music professor at Moody Bible Institute, found that such sound levels discourage congregational participation. “When you get above 90 decibels, it drops off dramatically,” Gauger said. “They do not feel they can worship. They cannot hear their own voice. They do not feel supported.”
Listen to my conversation with Gauger–and with Darwin and Christine and worship leader Phil–here on the Holy Soup podcast:
Gauger’s study determined that too-soft music also deterred congregational singing. When sound levels were kept below 70 decibels his subjects did not feel confident to sing along. The participants determined that the optimum sound level for singing was 81 decibels.
But many worship leaders today prefer to amplify the musicians much higher. I recently measured the levels at a large New York church. The sound regularly peaked above 100 decibels–in the middle of the room. I noticed few people were singing along. It was a loud concert atmosphere. What’s the goal here? Gauger said, “Concerts are great. But we can’t call it worship if we (the congregation) aren’t doing anything.”
So, why do musicians and sound technicians insist on elevating the sound levels beyond what many find bearable? They, like Phil, seem willing to lose people who can’t tolerate the noise. But, I’m curious, what are they afraid of if they’d reduce the volume just a bit? Do they fear that people would get up and bolt for the doors, screaming, “I can’t stand it in there! It’s not loud enough! Heck, my jackhammer is louder than that!”
When the surrounding sound is too loud–or too soft–worship participation suffers. “Singing in general is in decline,” Gauger said. “Nowadays we’ve relegated it to the professionals.”
If the goal is to put on a churchy spectator event, crank up the band–or the pipe organ–and don’t worry about the exodus of people like Darwin and Christine. But if the people’s participation is a priority, we now have some sound evidence to set reasonable audio levels.
When God’s people gather to worship, what should it sound like? Gauger concluded: “The real issue is, can the congregation hear itself?”
(Thom Schultz is the director of the film When God Left the Building.)
This was the reason I stopped going to Harvest Bible Chapel in Naperville, IL. Even though they put the drummer in a hamster cage, he was so loud and out of control, he was overpowering the other real musicians. You couldn’t understand what they were singing if it wasn’t for words on the screen and, yes I could not even hear myself. I could have screamed bloody murder and no one would hear me. I liked the pastors exegetic messages. He was really good but the so called worship part of service was so ‘painfully’ loud, I gave up on that church.
What you’ve described is not worship, it is entertainment and off the charts loud. Contemporary churches especially the music is not biblical. The bands in a contemporary church are “rock bands” and have no place in a worshipful setting. Find a traditional local church with a piano, organ, the preserved KJV and never drums & where Jesus is glorified and truly worshipped. More attribution to God with less fleshly feeling. A general idea, feeling is the work of the flesh and not spiritual, feeling is like a train where the caboose is feeling. Eph. 5:18 is a worship standard saying proper hymns stir the soul moves and motivated the heart. Never allow your heart to motivate because the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked who can know it? Jer. 17:9. Fall in love with the Lord by scriptural meditation, Deut. 6:5. This book of the law shall not depart from thy heart but shalt meditate therein day and night…
“Find a traditional local church with a piano, organ, the preserved KJV and never drums & where Jesus is glorified and truly worshipped.”
None of these things existed in Jesus’ day. Where do we draw the chronological timeline on which instruments are holy and approved, or what translation is holy and approved? Truly we can use all forms of instruments to worship Jesus, and read translations apart from KJV that are true to the Scripture (yet easy to understand).
Very insightful article. I am a church musician who has for many years been trying to deliver professional sounding music to a reserved Catholic congregation. In doing this I always try to balance my music volume with the ability to also hear them singing. The music (including percussion) must be loud enough to feel. Yet I also want to hear them singing right along with us, or the worship music is not really reaching its ultimate purpose. Thanks for the info!
Let us build the “City of God” [online video]
Music loud enough to “feel” often means boosting bass. This means the thud overpowers the music, and then you find an congregation not involved and not singing.
I want to hear myself and others too. I am uplifted by the voice of the church. Thanks for a great article.
Don’t know about the lower end at 70 db. Something else is going on. But the upper end is NOT just about the perceived volume.
85 db is the level of truck traffic on a busy road. There is some research to suggest that acute expose at levels above 80 to 85 db can trigger both endocrine and autonomic nervous system responses.
Tolerance to this probably varies with the person, but the drop in participation at 90 db seems likely due to the worship band dumping stress hormones into the congregation.
Church is not a rock concert and not everybody thrives on adrenaline.
And as a I think about it, talking about some sweet spot between 70 db and 90 db smacks of bare physiological manipulation. If we have to be ABOVE a particular threshold, then Gregorian Chant and practices involving silence fail as worship.
It wasn’t addressed as a validity of worship just that congregational participation in the actual music part of worship declines when the sound is below 70 decibels or above 90 decibels. Chanting and silence are awesome worship also. And the Church of Christ doesn’t even use instruments so they’re decibel level will always be determined by how many people are present and how loud they are willing to sing.
I used to go to charismatic churches. But, then the music became so loud that I switched over to the Church Of Christ where there are no musical instruments. Now I can hear myself sing and hear others sing. What a pleasure it is now to worship the Lord instead of having my hearing bombarded by blasts of bass and loud drums.
And congregation don’t be loud or jump up
shouting while preacher is preaching cause other people might lose out from hearing the preaching
Thom, I read this article years ago and it came to mind as I read your blog today. The author uses the volume standards set by Disney in their parks and shows as a benchmark. We’ve been setting our decibels at about this level for a few years and I think it’s spot on. I’d love to hear what you and some of your readers think.http://thomrainer.com/2013/04/how-loud-should-our-church-music-be/
Ive experienced loud drumming and lots of pounding recently and it actually effected my anxiety and act of worship. I almost had to leave. All i can feel in my brain was chaos. It did not put me in the right spirit of worship. Its amazing how music has an effect on you.
This “excess decibels” practice has pretty much swept the nation! Does such practice constitute “conformity with the world”??
~——————~ Spencer Bernard, Jr.
I HIGHLY recommend the book ‘A Royal “Waste” of Time’ by Marva J Dawn. A must read for anyone leading worship or part of a church with warship wars over music/sound levels/type of worship…etc.
Thank you for addressing this issue which is a huge one for me. It caused me to seek out another church to worship at, as well. Whether it’s to attract a certain age demographic or what have you, this elevated beyond reason sound level is not worship. Period. It’s entertainment. The worldliness in which we try to engage or entice “customers” to our churches is very, very sad.
So why do we need a ‘worship group’ anyway? It often results in worship by proxy, which is false really… Is it a bigger church or mega-church thing? We do sometimes complicate things for ourselves.
As ‘senior pastor’ for 30+ years, I experienced all the tensions (loud and soft, songs and hymns, etc), never mind the moral failures of the more ‘showy’ worship leaders and members which were devastating to church life.
So glad it’s over for many of us around the world who gather in smaller, simpler, organic fellowship groups.
Let’s turn up the volume on the Holy Spirit and turn down the volume on human performance.
Well said Steve. I am an organist trying to include a mixture of soft, loud, slow, fast. You know it is either too soft, too loud, too slow, too fast!! LOL. But I hopefully have a mix to make a few members of the congregation happy on Sunday mornings <3 "God Is Good All The Time, All The Time God Is Good", yes He is!!
After having to walk out of several Churches, because of the loudness, we have found a Church we can tolerate. The loud music is borderline, but if my husband leans forward with his hands on his ears, he can stand it.
I believe that the ‘rock concern” mentality of Churches is sad. Worship of Almighty God is not about the band.
Brett commented: “I have to wonder how volume affects those performing music. I’ve sung in several choirs–generally singing the tenor part, which can be difficult to find. Finding a part often requires hearing one’s own voice as well as the other parts. There’s a certain quality of sound that resonates when everyone hits a harmony.
At times, the tenor section can be pretty thin, so there isn’t always a strong tenor to follow. Or, there is, but that poor fellow is also struggling to find the part while learning the music. Sometimes the way I would find the tenor part was to listen to the other parts and sing the one that was missing. Certainly, I would look at the music and have a general idea of where the part was headed, but for music to sound right singers need to be right on. If someone is a little off things can sound quite wonky.
I found when volume levels were too high–particularly with the background tracks and/or instruments, I had a hard time finding my part. The ear is a huge part of the equation for singing properly, and too much volume takes the ear out of the equation.”
I got dragged to the Flatirons Church by my son while he was on leave, and did not take the offered ear plugs and had a massive headache afterwards…… Agape sick
I’m going to try to post this anonymously because my pastor might be reading these comments and I don’t want to cause further issues. We go to a small church with a big sound system. Thankfully, it isn’t as loud as it used to be, but it’s still painfully loud at times. I’ve asked several times about having the volume lowered. I was told to “sit somewhere else”. My husband was asked to monitor the sound board one Sunday. I asked him to turn it down a little, which he did. The song leader – not a young man – left the platform during the service and turned it back up himself.
There is a lot of deafness in churches, and it isn’t just in the physical ears of the congregation members. It’s also in the leadership and how they hear the body.
First, the church is (supposedly) concerned with the well-being of its members. Sustained loud sounds can cause hearing damage, regardless of the source. Second, IMO the reason for overly loud music is that the musicians/producers have ego problems. Third, in my experience, the source, range, and type of the music make a difference. I know this is personal, but for me, a loud acoustic sound is not uncomfortable but a loud electronic sound is. I also cannot stand the bass tones that don’t seem to have a pitch but vibrate so wide that it nearly bursts my ears, even when it is not loud. As for type–yes, this is very individual–but if it’s Beethoven, I can take it and if it’s the Stones, I can’t.
Interesting distinction. Last Friday, I sang in an ‘acapella choir’ of 900 people! It was glorious and I found no discomfort in the high volume. Out of curiosity, I checked the decibels and to my surprise, found it around 95-100! In electronic amplification, I find that level oppressive. The old hymns and the well-educated crowd who knew their musical parts, was so inspiring, I had no idea we had sung for 2 and a half hours!
There is a totally different angle to the decibel discussion. And it is serious.
1. “With extended exposure, noises that reach a decibel level of 85 can cause permanent damage to the hair cells in the inner ear, leading to hearing loss. Many common sounds may be louder than you think… A typical conversation occurs at 60 dB – not loud enough to cause damage.”
It is inconceivable to me that a pastor or elder board or parents would allow young children (or anyone for that matter) to have their hearing damaged at church!
I suspect the musicians have hearing loss already and don’t realize how loud it is.
One day a set or group of good parents will fire (or sue if they don’t know better) the person or church that damages their children’s hearing. All it takes is a small measuring device to see how much damage is being done.
Consider what Gods word says:
“Fearfully and wonderfully made” is how King David described God’s creation of human beings (Psalm 139:14). There are several references in the Bible where the body is described actually like a temple (John 2:21; 1 Corinthians 6:19).
Common sense and reason must prevail. I pray parents and leaders act before another generation of deaf people suffer for no reason.
I visited a large church in San Antonio where my ears hurt with the excessive volume. I have no idea what the message was as it was turned up so loud. I covered my ears. I sent a letter and called the pastors office the next day. The assistant said they get calls about the volume but “that’s the way Pastor likes it.” In my opinion what he has to say must not be very important since it has to be screamed out. I feel sorry for the uneducated people ruining their hearing in worship and the message.
Amen! There have been studies on hearing loss in young adults due to excessively loud music.
Sandy Smith, Sound engineer here. I ran sound as a contractor for a large church in San Antonio a few times. I’d be willing to bet a small pile of deblunes that it was the same church. The first large event I ran there, the pastor himself walked back to the board and asked me “Son, is something wrong with MY sound system?” (Yes, he said ‘my’) I replied “No sir” then he said “Then turn it up, or you’re fired.” I said “yes, sir”. Being a sound engineer, I am exposed to the same volumes you are multiple times a weekend, due to the multiple services and rehearsals. I don’t know of any engineer that would intentionally risk his hearing(career) for a gig. Unless they are already half deaf, this is normally a concern. Needless to say, I didn’t want to return and do more gigs there and risk my hearing. One time I mixed a service there with specialized audio engineer’s ear plugs… Anyway, I understand your plight, but I do feel that there is a lot of misconceptions about when hearing damage actually occurs. The typical loud church services can only begin to cause permanent damage after 5-8 hours. The only one in danger is the audio engineer and maybe other production staff, who were there from 5am to 9:30pm most Sundays.
What I’m saying is I completely respect your opinion and preference for a quieter service and wish I had the flexibility to choose another church as easily as you can. I just don’t like the claim that they are putting people in physical danger. The only real danger is robbing people of the ability to connect to the message and the holy spirit, which is admittedly a huge deal.
Anyway, I completely sympathize I hope you find the place that is right for you. God bless!
Thanks for your reply sound engineer. I can picture what you described happening in that church (you wouldn’t lose those deblunes). The pastor has chosen to be subjected to hours upon hours of deafening sound so I truly believe he has no idea of how painful it is.
When I sing I prefer to close my eyes and picture myself bowing before a holy and awesome God, praising his name, and within myself thanking him for loving me, who in no way deserves his mercy.
I really don’t mind seeing the few worship leaders or choir, but if they were behind a curtain or in the back I would be just as able or more to focus on worship.
I love music! I go to a small to medium church in Sugar Land. Our sound engineer is Great!! I can hear myself and those around me sing! 4 or 5 people up front with 2 guitars, drums, trombone, trumpet, piano. We do hymns and contemporary mixed. We all sing with ‘gusto’ and I really think the Lord is pleased with our adoration. Pleasing Him is the point! Your ministry as a sound engineer is so important. God bless and keep you.
Ear damaged in 2 minutes at church.
Three days ago Sunday, during that last song, the volume was pushed up. Hit hurt my left ear. It lasted for maybe a couple of minutes After it was over, I immediately realized I wasn’t hearing right out of my left ear, I lost the highs and it makes it seem like my ear is partially plugged.
Its three days later and the damage remains, I have a sight ache at times, when I chew it’s uncomfortable in my left ear – I can feel something not right in it, maybe also feel a slight pressure.
Your statement is wrong.
What people aren’t taking into account is that ear nerve wear is gradual. The ears in the congregation have already had hours years of varying degrees of exposure which has worn the nerve hairs in the ears. These already have been exposed and hitting them with high dB can push them over the edge very quickly. Others receive more abuse and this puts the person closer to hearing loss.
I empathize with you and others who have been assaulted by a clinically uninformed approach to sound amplification. I have both vestibular and cochlear Meniere’s disease due to my years of service with a military band, for which I now receive disability. Exposure to sounds that are capable of damaging our ears is more prevalent today. In a church setting I remember the years when the comment was, “I like a crisp sound.” Then with the influence of one nationally known church leader it was, “I want to feel it.” In our culture we’ve gone from aiding speaking voices that may need help to be heard, to unwarranted higher decibels, and to compressed audio frequencies that cut like daggers, and can make “the dead hear.” Regarding earplugs, what we’re not being told is that low bass frequencies that are high intensity do vibrate the larger bones in our bodies, and transfer those vibrations to the hammer, anvil, and stirrup bones of our ears. And what I’ve just described does not include drums, and an entire array of musical instruments, all competing to be heard! It all is utterly absurd, and as I’m now saying, “It’s the Devil who is running most soundboards in 2019.” The only answer to this whole debacle is for congregations and their leaders to wake up to the ongoing assault, admit the palpable abuse, repent, and take a fresh and charitable approach to the entire matter. I see it as a complex issue that partially stems from an inadequate interpretation regarding worship.
Sylvia has a device that measures decibels. ~ C.
At our church we limit the music to 95 decibels, slightly less at early service. OSHA seems to say that at 95 decibels you should limit exposure to 4 hours per day. A lot of the push for more volume ( and other things like younger worship team members ) is driven by the fear that the church will die out. I get that, but think it’s overemphasized when you think that a 50-year-old today could very well attend the church for another 40 years. And, the older group generally pays the bulk of the bills. From my perspective, two separate services with different music and volume makes sense.
Unless your church only has 50 people, this doesn’t split the church because you don’t know everybody anyway. Small home groups are where the real fellowship occurs.
Lastly, one big step in keeping the volume down is making sure the sound team controls everything. If you allow a guitarist to bring his own amplifier, or a drummer to play acoustic drums without a full cage ( plastic shields just bounce the sound around ), you’ve removed the ability of the sound techs to blend things at minimum volume. Pipe organs were loud at times, so much of this is more about music choices than volume, but volume can be limited.
TABLE G-16 – PERMISSIBLE NOISE EXPOSURES (1)
Duration per day, hours | Sound level dBA slow response
1 1/2 ………………….| 102
1/2 ……………………| 110
1/4 or less…………….| 115
Whenever I find a softly-playing percussionist, I thank him or her. Getting all sweaty beating up the drums has little to do with worship, and a lot to do with the world. ~ The church is dying because the sound is supposed to be the driving factor for health! The Holy Spirit is forgotten in this mad desire to generate excitement by volume. Sure, db levels above 90 can cause physical changes, but that’s not evidence of the Holy Spirit! Wake up, church! Sounding like a rock band isn’t going to help people who need to get back to reading their Bibles and singing in adoration!
The Church is dying because the average church member thinks that Church is just for him and not for his neighbor. If he does think it is for his neighbor – he isn’t doing much about it. The average Joe on the street doesn’t want to come to church because he feels it is full of hypocritical people who spend more time critiquing each other than inviting the world to come to church. Most (not all) of the db problems are the result of bad and/or mismanaged sound systems and not the people on stage. We should be careful about vilifying people trying to lead people into worship utilizing their gifts/calling while we are sitting in the congregation throwing darts.
NIOSH states that they expect 1 in 4 people to experience hearing loss when keeping the OSHA standard of 90 dBA and 1 in 12 in keeping the NIOSH standard of 85 dBA. They state that to preserve hearing for all the standard of 75 dBA should be kept. The EPA recommends 75 dBA for preserve hearing.
Kerry commented on Facebook: “The noise is awful….the local SBC Church has a praise group that performs before church. It is so loud, we 55+ folks stand in the foyer until they are done….”
It happens a lot. Everywhere. And not just 55+. Many simply avoid church altogether, than to suffer discomfort.
Thanks for posting this. It’s not pleasant to go to a worship service, and be unable to stand the noise. Maybe I’ve got “old ears,” but 100 decibels? Really?? That is just wrong.
What if singing in church is not “singing with the worship team” but “singing to one another?”
Then the point is not:
* hearing damage
* personal preference
* age of the congregant
* excess decibels
* control at the sound board
* worship style, etc.
…but instead is whether you can hear the person next to you as they “speak to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs?” (Col. 3:16 and Eph. 5:19-20)
A quote on J.S. Bach’s playing, “If he continues to play in this way, the organ will be ruined in two years, or most of the congregation will be deaf.” – a local councillor on Bach
How about no instruments at all? Too primitive? Well, that was the way of the first, apostolic, Christ-centered church, the same one that became the foundation of what has become today entertainment business, instead of church. When the Son of man comes, will He find faith on the earth?
Churches of Christ still do not allow instruments in their worship services, only vocal music. The chapel at Pepperdine does not have a piano, let alone an organ.
And they know how to sing! Friday, May 27, I was privileged to be among 900 of them, singing our hearts out for joy and worship, with no musical accompaniment. Only the loveliness of hundreds of voices who knew their parts and knew how to sing!
David commented on Facebook: “We’ll never agree on this till we realize worship isn’t about us…”
Jared replied to David on Facebook: “…and when we agree that worship isn’t about us, this won’t be an issue anymore because…we’re all used to dangerously high sound levels? Not sure what your point is! The issue being discussed here is the spiritual merits of using sound amplification in a way that’s potentially damaging people’s hearing, driving people away, and tearing down bonds of fellowship between fellow congregants due to the fact they have no way to hear each other in all the excess noise. (And, FWIW, I’m no old fuddy-duddy…I’m in my 30’s and love loud-ish electronic dance music.)”
“When in our music God is glorified, and adoration leaves no room for pride, it is as though the whole creation cried: ‘Alleluiah! Alleluiah!'” [Hymn 29 in Nazarene Hymnal, which I like to sing to Finlandia, returning to the alleluiahs of 29 for the end.]
As a sound tech, I can actually answer the question of why louder is desired by muso’s, leadership, and even sound techs.
It is a simple law of sound mixing that a louder sound hides a multitude of issues in the mixing, since sound levels out at higher volumes. Therefore, the louder sound is percieved to sound better, even though it more often highlights a lack of skill on the part of the tech that this has become the ‘goto’ fix for church sound
Jared commented on Facebook: “I don’t have a problem with loud music. I’ve been to rock concerts. My complaint in the later case is often if the sound level is incredibly high, the actual quality of the instrumentation greatly suffers because your ears are distorting so much. But what is being discussed here in this podcast is really a separate issue — what are the spiritual ramifications of loud music in a church worship setting? Does a band playing super-loud music in a church service do the attendees any favors? I (and the main participants in the discussion here) think absolutely not! We should be gathering to worship in a way where we are encouraging and uplifting each other as believers in mutual fellowship. The worship “band” (if there even is any) is simply a support for that main activity. Anything less is falling short of what is actually in the Bible about singing hymns and spiritual songs for the benefit of one another. Unfortunately many churches operate more like purveyors of mass entertainment than nurturers of genuine community…I’ll save that conversation for another day.”
There is another issue to consider which I found out when I moved to my present community. One of its foundation is praise so it has the full works. However, I have a pacemaker and I noticed that when we were not in a room that could absorb the volume, i.e. one with a low ceiling, my pacemaker started going haywire. It seems that the vibrations caused by the bass guitar are in sync with the operation of my pacemaker. This means that my pacemaker cannot operate properly as a result.
It’s sad this is even a discussion. Sunday morning (or Saturday night) is a performance. The room is dimmed and the ‘stage’ is bright. Is there any concern about participation anyway? If you think you’re leading and no one is following…then your just out for a walk.
If you think it’s not about the ‘praise band’ then put them behind a curtain.
I know of a large church that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the best sound equipment money could buy. If they needed something that didn’t exist, they had it made. Custom mix ear buds for each member of the band. All the bells and whistles for audio (and video).
They apostles would be sick at how far off the mark we are!
Steve replied on Facebook: “Why have we made Christianity a spectator sport? Perhaps it is because we want to draw a crowd and we know that if we allow people to actively interact with one another that will be outside many people’s comfort zone and may drastically reduce our crowd and offerings.”
Libby replied on Facebook: “We have created an atmosphere of more “chosen ones.”
The congregations know for sure they’ll never measure up, not to Jesus, not to the beautiful singers, not to the minister, to the famous, to the rich, to the political class…”
Really the focus of worship is to bring us into an atmosphere of communion with God and corporately speaking there is a wide range of tastes musically. Excessive volyme means lack of Holy Spirit guidance. I’ve been in services where the kids were looking around in wonderment as the elders went all out. That’s phoney if it becomes a pattern. I’ve sat in services where the precense of the Holy Spirit was so powerful that no-one moved . The worship leader(s) need to spend at least double the time praying ,seeking God that they do practising. This will prevent two worship related illnesses. The sound of snoring ; and the inability of the ushers to hear the Paramedics arriving to remove the ear -damaged deaf seniors . Let’s seek the elevated position of seeking the blessing of all.
Maybe it’s the spoiled child syndrome, the louder they scream the more attention they think they will get. Not sure if God works the same way.
I love how this guy keeps stating that it’s the worship leaders decision to run the band this loud. Theres so many technical reasons it ends up at this volume and it has nothing to do with the worship leader.
I hear your heart on this matter. However, I think you’re adrift on a few points.
You reference 95 db. You left out the scale, metering speed and averaging. It is a number without context. 80 kph is different from 80 mph.
Secondly, no discussion was presented about OSHA guidelines. Why do we wear hearing protection? When do we need it?
Nothing was mentioned about EQ. Candidly, that is what I find people objecting to rather than the pure volume levels. I run active scans during my services lest an instrument or voice begin to put an edge on the overall mix.
Also not covered was the culture of the church. I am involved with a number of churches. Some are liturgical in nature. Others have a blend of Jamaican and African. You can bet the two services have radically different volume levels. Church cultures also evolve with time … and that often doesn’t set well with those that have resided with the body for long periods of time.
As a sound person, it can be a thankless job trying to find the balance point. Put a plan together and slowly test for the edges of the box. It can be fun being outside the box but it can also bring the rain …
I think this was a reply to my comment. I didn’t mention more about the 95 decibels since this isn’t a sound tech forum. We use our meter in A-weighted/slow mode. Even professional sound people would be hard-pressed if you have uncontrolled sound sources like the drums I mentioned.
81 decibles? to be blunt… thats a joke. thats not much louder than average conversational noise. People need to feel the music actually move them. loud is better IF its mixed well. Its not even possible to mix a concert at 81 decibels and hear all the individual elements. . And people DO worship at worship concerts in arenas with chest pounding volume levels. Go to a worship conference or hillsong, chris tomlin, matt redman etc etc concert and try and tell me people dont worship when its loud. People are missing the mark when they think the volume needs to be lower, when in fact it just needs to be mixed better. hire a professional sound engineer and dont let “volunteers” anywhere near the console.
You are probably right about having professionals on the sound board. Most churches under 500 people either can’t afford it, or just find other places to spend the money. I’m trying to get a pro in for consulting and training for volunteers. But again, if you allow uncontrolled sound sources on stage like acoustic drums ( not caged ) or guitar amps, even a pro would have trouble. Sometimes things like on stage lighting even trumps making the best decisions for sound.
It’s a real question of who they are worshipping. Those popular concerts are full of joyful people, there is no doubt; the doubt is whether they are joyful over God or feeling cult-figure worship.
I am a professional touring audio mixer. I have worked with artists ranging from Steven Curtis Chapman to Kelly Clarkson. I have mixed audio in everything from the courtyard at Moody Bible College in Chicago with Mark Schultz to Gillete Stadium where the Patriots play with a Giant Country Artist. Many of you are casting arbitrary assumptions without any actual technical knowledge. This is a very dangerous and slippery slope.
These are some things you may want to consider. I spent 12 years working for artists in the CCM market. I have been in most of the larger churches in this country and abroad. I have seen a massive discrepancy from church to church in everything from what they think is important, arrogant self indulgent and very often judgmental pastors. (the same type with the starbucks in the lobby and the S series mercedes parked outside)
1. Just saying something is “X” amount of decibels doesn’t mean anything. Is it “A” weighted? Is it “C” weighted? Do you even know the difference or what that means?
Sound Pressure Level (SPL) is a sliding scale. This is not a stereo system that you just turn up or down. There is actual acoustical physics involved in the creation of a mix. It is mathematical and scientific. One of the greatest issues churches make is allowing an architecture firm to design their system,. They better choice is to use a professional touring audio company such as CLAIR GLOBAL or SOUND IMAGE. Yes they are more expensive. Like anything in life you get what you pay for. Going to Guitar Center and buying a DJ PA for $1000 will not give you the same end product as a line array or Spherical array that each speaker may cost up to $4000 per speaker. Its the equivalent wanting to have a fine steak but instead you are served Steakum. Both will feed you but they are not remotely the same.
2. Stop having your church congregation run audio. Hire someone from a sound company. Stop using young Billy that has a predilection to the AV club at 15 years old. He is not a professional audio mixer. He like your church congregation do not understand gain structure, compressors, noise gates, or the inverse square law. Put as much thought about budget into the person that is providing you the means to hear the message as you do the idea of adding a coffee bar or the over the top theatrical giant sized holy jacuzzi. Its about priorities. I understand the layman doesn’t realize that audio is a science. It isn’t just turning the level up or down.
3. The average audience or congregation that is overly excited and applauding loudly or cheering can reach 110db A weighted. If you have a very loud and talented singing congregation, that also can reach over 100db A weighted. If your mix is 85-90db A weighted you will not be able to follow along. I realize this is not the case in some of what you have explained. YES there are TERRIBLE audio mixers.. .BUT
Is that person an Audio Mixer or a volunteer? They may not even have the knowledge base to mix the music properly. They are basically winging it.
4. Seat yourself strategically. If you put a nice old blue hair lady and her husband 3 feet in front of the subwoofers…IT JUST WONT EVER WORK. at ANY volume.the wave length of the low frequency information coming from those speakers is so wide it will never go anywhere if it is at a very low level. I always brought our own touring PA into churches. ! because it was better quality then anything i have seen in a church. A lot of you pastors were really sold a bill of goods.. 2 most are poorly maintained. I literally went into a giant church that just a 4 million dollar production package put in. We were the first concert there. The entire PA was buzzing with a 60 cycle buzz. The Church tech said its been like that since they put it in. UNACCEPTABLE.. you are using the wrong people. We not only fixed their PA but then brought our own in and our lighting.
5. USE PROFESSIONALS
6. USE PROFESSIONALS
7. Find a good regional audio company as well as a lighting company for that matter and make a service agreement with them. Ask them them to create a training program once a week with people at your church that ARE interested in audio or production. It may cost the time of the person teaching but it will pay off long term.
8. USE PROFESSIONALS
9. USE PROFESSIONALS
thank you for your time.
All I know from 40 years of pastoring is that ‘professionals’ can often be the problem – e.g. having an accountant as your church treasurer and he doesn’t understand how the kingdom works… In my last congregation we had a ‘professional’ sound engineer and he cost us a fortune in equipment which other ‘professionals’ said we didn’t need to have good sound!
But God bless you, I’m sure you’re doing an outstanding job in your current milieu – I really mean that! It’s just that the ecclesiological ladder may be propped up against the wrong wall.
you miss my overall point completely. The ecclesiological ladder has nothing to do with it. The laymen think that audio is just turning knobs until it sounds good when in reality there is an enormous amount of science involved. I am sure some churches can’t afford A level audio mixers. I bet they can figure out a way to have a sound company train some of their volunteers though. The larger churches i don’t buy for a minute they can’t afford it. If the message is important it should take priority over things like coffee cafe’s that rival Starbucks or in some instances “private jets” for the pastor. I have seen dozens of churches that the Senior Pastor is driving a luxury car. I have heard from many of them that they make in excess of $150k per year. Yes< i know this may be the top 1% of large churches but fundamentally its wrong if you are approaching delivering the message with untrained volunteers or inadequate sound reinforcement. The churches I have seen that have done it best ironically are in Nashville which tends to have a lot of people from the concert industry. They don't want to be on tour with professionals then come to church and not be able to hear. Its about priorities and that people think its not very complicated to turn something up or turn it down.. its not as simple as reaching for the overall level control (master fader)
I think the average church not only can’t afford the super XXX + sound system but can just pay the pastor and maybe and accountant and part time worship or youth leader. Most churches run on volunteers. They have no choice. I was a volunteer and on the sound system. My church did invest in better surrounding speaker system and it did help from the 2 giant ones hanging from the ceiling in the front.
It was enough to balance the singers with the instruments which I was more trying to have the praise team come out clear with the instruments and not having voices or instruments overpowering each other. We were lucky that when we did add a drummer (even with the large complaints of older folks) he played them lightly with the other instruments and singers and not overpowered them resulting in a 15 minute drum solo like these big, big concert style churches. I couldn’t and didn’t have the ability to control drum volume.
You work with what and who you got. I don’t know about all the weighted stuff. I would just try to make our Sunday morning “production” sound as good as I could. Now and then some would mention the volume being a little too high (nothing compared to these ‘concert’ church worship services) but would use that to judge volume level and try to remember each week to keep the sound level where everyone could enjoy it.
There were three of us at the time who would take turns on the sound system so we could have one or two weeks a month we could just come in and enjoy church. But I was doing other volunteer things around church so it was a real part time unpaid job. I was also alternately on the computer doing the words on the screen and powerpoints for the pastors message. I would set up songs during the week, helped the (paid) youth leader, was a cadet leader, was on the worship committee, ran an adult Sunday school class and was in a mens group. Burn myself out.
If you were truly Christ’s church, there would be NO paid staff of any kind (and no building for that matter). Christ’s church is his bride and anything else is distraction.
I remember a friend’s comment as we studied Acts chapter 2. He said “I want what they had.” I replied, “Then you will have to do what they did.”
This one hour a week show will never lead to maturity. Pick any study and you will read that Christians are no different than the rest of the world (divorces etc,). Why do you think that is? Would a parent spend one hour a week raising their children and expect any good to come from it.
Keep your show if you must but let’s get busy BEING the body of Christ! When we begin living the ‘one anothers’ I think this whole discussion will fade away.
I absolutely agree with everything you say here. I’ve mixed probably over a thousand gigs all over the world, produced and mixed hundreds of records and still deal with church sound most Sunday’s… This would of been my exact response if I had the time.. Hope someone listens to this!! Paul Burton.
So when did God begin to lose his hearing? Anybody know?
Could you please share a link to Gauger’s research study? I’m assuming it’s published in a journal or as a dissertation. Not being critical, would just very much like to see the primary source for my own research.
Dr. Gauger says he will make the report available soon. In the meantime you may listen to the Holy Soup podcast, which includes many more research details.
Todd, here’s a link to Dr. Gauger’s research: https://gauger.tonidoid.com/urlfkjody
Thank you. As a 35 year veteran of ministry sound profession. I could have written this!
Dave commented: “In the last, well, almost a year, now, I have attended many smaller churches in search of one that I can call home. Most of these are without the big stage, big flat screen and fully outfitted “band” with every expensive musical device available, and what I have found is this:, when parishioners in the pews know that the volume needs to come from them, they will sing and at some point, really start to enloy themselves. It is when the service becomes a concert/show, (which I am tired of by the way), where the people on stage become more interested in showing their talents instead of worshipping, thus jumping around, dressing down, and cranking it up, which, by the way is why I stopped singing. The human voice is Gods instrument, for our ears and his too. A real leader will encourage the pews to sing and worship, not drown them out with amplifiers and drums.”
As someone who is “hard of hearing,” I would like to add a couple thoughts/observations. I admit it is not hearing loss due to aging but a condition present from birth. In my opinion, it may be that the current worship style, while lovely to listen to, is not condusive to singing along. The songs, beautiful as they are, can be difficult to follow. There is no book with words printed. Most people can’t read music so, even if they have the sheets provided, they can’t follow the tune. Words on the screen are nice but the songs often drift from them, using additional phrases or repeating the same words over and over. This makes it easy to get lost when trying to sing along. I notice that, in contemporary worship, very few people attempt to sing along. Again, it is beautiful to listen to but not great for singing.
There is a reason, in my opinion, that singing is declining in general. There is a reason singing laong stil occurs during a traditional worship song. These songs, while “boring” to some, are easy to sing. The notes are easier to follow if you are limited in musical reading and the tune is predictable. All very good for singing.
I fnd that, if the tune doesn’t repeat or isn’t predictable, or if there are too many insturments vying for attention, I am lost and cannot sing. This separates me from the worship. I am now a listener rather than a participant. It isn’t as meaningful. There is a time to listen to great Chrisitian music but weekly church service isn’t that time. It’s a time to participate and invite the Holy Spirit in to the worship. In my opinion, it’s not easily accomplished at the volume and style of music in many churches. A mix of music might achieve the desired results.
David commented on Facebook: “We’ve had this issue raised about a “new” congregation in Frisco. People have told me how they tried to worship there, but it sounds too much like a rock concert and they leave. They referred to the ministry at Easter and Christmas Eve as a performance at the Cathedral. I do not know when it became known as the Cathedral. But, let’s just say their self value is elevated about what happens inside, but I’ve yet to see what they do outside. I only know a few people who have gone and still remain, but one family says they wait ’til the music is over before they go in. Our small congregation, I think, does it’s best to make sure everyone can participate in the singing. Almost to the point the opposite is true, they will not sing afraid of being heard by others. But, at this point it seems most do participate.”
I learned to sing in Church. When in High School, I belonged to Youth For Christ in Peoria, IL. We had a choir of over 200. We sat in voice sections to rehearse. Although a baritone, I wanted to sing bass. That experience was a gift that never left me. Then came ‘entertainment evangelism’ and ‘part-singing’ in Church faded almost to oblivion. So too did our involvement in worship. Little or no involvement affected not only our hearing but our vision as well. Those crowded, clapping, shouting, waving episodes of ‘7-11 Hymns’ (Seven words sung eleven times) mean that we can’t see nor hear the man lying beaten on the Jericho Road. And so, of course we walk by on the other side.
Many here should read “Who Stole My Church: What to Do When the Church You Love Tries to Enter the 21st Century” There are some solutions like having an early/traditional service. Or you can wear the offered ear plugs. Or find a church more to your liking. But the leadership, including elders/deacons, in many churches today are worried about the church dying out if they don’t attract younger people.
What is it that attracts younger people? Well you might ask 100 and get 20 different answers.
I know it’s hard to go look for another church when you feel that you built this one with your own blood, sweat and money.
I think many times the power desired in the music can be achieved without causing ear pain by bringing in a professional sound consultant for advice and training ( even if your church can’t afford to hire someone like that permanently). We often find funds for those things we make a priority. Our church has fought to get good sound despite overly loud drums and when it finally made it to the elder board, they voted to spend $3,000 on a quieter, better drum kit without even batting an eye.
Angus commented on Facebook: “I have walked out of more than one service where the sound was giving me a headache. That’s not worship. And for me, it’s not entertainment, but maybe for other. Y’all can have it.”
What comes to mind with talk of the high volume is 1 Kings 19:11-12,
 And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake:
 And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
If the worship band is actually leading the congregation, then they should be able to hear the congregation, right? How can you lead if you cannot hear what the congregation is doing? (Maybe the congregation is singing a totally different song?) No, the answer is not to shame the congregation into singing louder. (Please spare me the tired speech about “yelling at football games, but not being loud enough at church”.)
Worship leaders – instead of cranking the volume louder, lower the volume, so you can hear the congregation. Try to discern where the congregation is at. Have some empathy. You might learn a lot about what the congregation can and cannot sing; you might learn what they actually respond to, what moves them.
Also, not all declarations of love and honor and respect are made at high volume. Do you bellow at your earthly father each and every time you tell him “thanks”? No. sometimes it’s just a whisper.
Listen to the congregation. In order to lead, you must know where they are.
Doug commented: “If the worship band is actually leading the congregation, then they should be able to hear the congregation, right? How can you lead if you cannot hear what the congregation is doing?
An idea for worship leaders, bands and sound techs: lower the volume, so you can hear the congregation. Don’t worry if it sounds “empty” (maybe that’s how the congregation is feeling.) Try to discern where the congregation is at. Have some empathy. You might learn a lot about what the congregation can and cannot sing; you might learn what they actually respond to, what moves them.
Have a bunch of songs ready, and be prepared to NOT do all of them. Maybe you’ll only sing the quiet tunes; maybe only the loud ones. It all depends on how the church is doing that particular day. Don’t worry about “the list of songs we’ve prepared, and we’re doing them in this order.”
Also, not all declarations of love and honor and respect are made at high volume. Do you bellow at your earthly father each and every time you tell him “thanks”? No. sometimes it’s just a whisper.
Listen to the congregation. In order to lead, you must know where they are and what they are doing.”
95 dB? That’s OK. In one not named europe local curch i measured with sound meter that during worship service it was 100-105dB. And during sermon, when pastor shout to microphone, it was sometime 110dB. That’s real. Even in last position near back wall it was 100dB during 1 hour of worship service. Sermon tooks 90 minutes. I just don’t understand why then they pray for healing, when then damage human ears by that heavy metal sound level. Maybe they think that loud voice can cast out demons out of the hall like pagans in Asia believes. Sorry for the irony. It was very painful experience. Literally. Sometimes i hear whistling in my ears 3 dayys after service. Like after some heavy metal live act. I used ear protectors, but babies in front of me not … What to say more. I said that to pastor, but they just don’t care. Maybe all was already deaf – all in front positions. We need to be normal in some cases as christians not as fools if we want to bring people to Christ. I think that nobody can come to church if he hears 105dB of prayer in tongues in distance of 500m of church building. People in the world need to know that we are normal, they need to TURN AWAY from rocknroll style of live, and found peace of God even in loudness of worship poprock services.
[…] The Sound that Kills Worship […]
I noticed this comment. It appears to me that there is a huge misunderstanding about our worship. Check the documents of the New Testament for a directive (law, rule, regulation or even an example) that worship was to be within an organized assembly of followers. There is no evidence that the first century church believed that concept. The scripture does state that followers were to assemble together to (build up and edify each other) nothing about coming together to serve or worship God. The Old Testament did contain specific instructions for that purpose. But God said he was making all tings new with a new covenant which would release man from the bondage of the Law and rituals. Simply put today we are to live a life of worship 24/7, never ceasing, and therefore never need to assemble for worship. The church as we see it is not the Christ’s Church at all (it is man’s creation) the church which Christ established is within each individual member. Only one in the world and all his family members are in it.
May 25, 2016 at 4:26 pm — Reply
David commented on Facebook: “We’ll never agree on this till we realize worship isn’t about us…”
What we have been taught was worship to God is man defying God’s directions. Man teaching that worship is not a continuous ongoing event.
I’m thinking about changing denominations.I recently went to the California Baptist Youth Convention and it was so loud the first three days we couldn’t participate in the service, we left early. Even the young people were complaining. Finally on the last day for half of the service they turned down the volume.
I moved from the Midwest to Florida almost 3 years ago. I am STILL looking for a church that doesn’t leave me with ringing ears or a headache after the concert-volume “worship.” I’ve been told to find the earplugs, sit in different areas of the building to find a spot that doesn’t cause me pain, or to come in after the music. I even went respectfully to one senior pastor and told him that parents are putting earplugs in infant’s ears because of the volume of the music. He blew me off with some vague comment about the decibel level being less than 95.
I want to hear others when I worship. I love, love, love to harmonize and to hear others do the same. With the current volume levels and lack of the ability to hear even myself singing, it’s nearly impossible to listen to others and harmonize with what they’re singing.
I come to worship, not be entertained. I can go to a concert or listen to a CD/DVD at home if I want entertainment. Wanna know why the Spirit isn’t speaking at your church? Maybe it’s because the music is so loud if He did speak nobody would hear!!!
We have many worship teams that can mimic Hillsongs, IHOP, CFNI, Gateway, and other “famous” worship bands, but they have NO IDEA how to step over into real, honest, soul-changing worship because it’s all about the performance instead of what I was taught back in the dark ages…..Bring them in with upbeat music to shake off the world and concerns of life, do a transition song or two, and then move into the songs that will draw them into the presence of God, still their spirits, and bring them to the feet of Jesus.
It’s been several years if not longer since I’ve been in a service that utilizes that concept any more. It seems we’ve become congregations full of folks who want their ears tickled but don’t look for real intimacy with God in the corporate setting. How can you call it corporate worship if you aren’t worshipping corporately, but instead trying to keep up with the folks hopping around on stage, competing to see who can sing loudest, play most intensely, or sweat the hardest during the “worship set”? There isn’t room for the Holy Ghost to move when we dictate every step we’re taking.
It’s discouraging when someone who has led worship or been actively involved in it for over 40 years is driven from church because of migraines caused by the massive volume people seem to feel is necessary. God’s not deaf, but certainly cumulative hearing loss is in the future for more than a few if churches keep this up.
As it stands, I’m currently taking a break from church-searching. My head can only take so much, and my ears less. I’m discouraged because I long for fellowship as well as corporate worship and the passion that comes from worshipping God with other like-minded people.
been to any sporting events lately?
I have been in youth ministry for a long time and have in the past couple years led a shift in our group toward lowering volume to get people to sing more. After years of average volume for youth ministry (which was a bit louder than typical contemporary style adult worship) I began to notice for the first time a generation of teens that seemed to be disengaging. I pondered this and felt it was possible that the teens were not singing because it felt plastic and too much like a concert. What do people often do at a concert. They feel free to simply watch.
We tried an unplugged set the next week and the teens sang out a lot more. We began to experiment and what we found is that through concert style worship experience we have inadvertently killed congregational singing in some places. I am to the point that I am convinced the loud concert form of worship is passe. (in church… i do not mean the HUGE stadium events. Those are what they are, but even there they try to get the masses to sing out and try to make room for the people sometimes with great effect. And honestly, I quit taking my teens to one event that was yearly too loud. In the youth leader break out sessions youth leaders would mention the volume was too loud, but they did not respond to their comments.)
Ironically, while our adult service has finally caught up with teens and turned up the volume even louder than we used to have it… We in the youth ministry have begun to search for something more beautiful and are finding it in lowering the volume of the stage so that the voices of the people can be heard. IT IS AWESOME! It takes a bit of work to do this. We had been doing it loud for so many years that we found it took some real effort to find the right balance tweaked lower. Even though we were all on the same page and working together we found old habits die hard. Not only did we constantly have to FOCUS on the goal and keep dropping it in purposeful ways as sound techs and band members… at the same time we had to teach the teens that their voices were the most important voices in the room and that as we made room for their voices by stepping our full band back in volume we needed them to sing out. We taught them that the reason we even have a band and tech is for the purpose of lifting their voices up (as opposed to covering their voices over like they did not matter- at all.) We challenged them that life is a musical. Angels sing at key events in history… we humans sing at key events in our lives… God sings and created song….. and we wanted our youth ministry to be a place we we all make this beautiful music to God together… and their voice is the most beautiful aspect of the sound coming from the room.
I told them that our worship leader would begin to work with them like he has with the instrumentalists… he will need to learn to direct them… to make room for them and then to tease them out, urge them. He would need to hone a new craft. The days of if we are singing they will follow are over.
We decided to try a change at summer camp to help us progress. We put the band in the center of the room toward the back of the crowd, put a cross on the stage, and had the teens on either side of the band … all of us facing forward. We lowered the volume. Added a violin…. and some twinkly lights over all of us. It worked. (really, it was magically delicious) I was worried about a few kids who never really engaged before even when the music was loud. i feared they would engage even less with lowered volume. I was thrilled to hear one of them say (unsolicited) “I can sing better than i thought.”
There was a time early on during this huge shift that i doubted myself. During a time of worship I knelt to pray, asking God if I was on the wrong path. At that very moment I heard a little middle schooler singing in the row in front of me a ways off. Her voice was beautiful. I had been her youth pastor for a while, but had never heard her voice. It was touching to hear her song. i realized that under the old way of doing things nobody would have heard her voice. My mind was made up. Since then I ask now and then if the teens think what we are creating together is beautiful, if they like hearing it like I do. They do. We are still struggling at times. When the band begins to drift too loud i ask them to do an acoustic set for a few nights so we can get our focus back.
We have learned several things about worship environments while trying this approach. One thing I already knew was that it is false to say people will not sing if they can hear themselves. Some may be that way, but after all there are some who will not sing no matter what we do. It is a mistake to destroy the beauty of congregational singing because some will never grow into it. We do not cut sermons to 15 minutes because some people would like it better. Looking back over the many many years of creating worship environments for teens I have some very fond moments…. you know, those moments when a room full of teens are singing so beautifully that I did not know whether to sing along or listen to the beauty. It was like angels singing. It was something angels might well have enjoyed. It was hauntingly beautiful. In many of the highlight moments over decades of doing this… it occurred to me that many of the very best were times when for one reason or another the volume of the band was limited but the sound of the singers were not. i think we have a misconception that it does not matter if the people can be heard because we are singing to God , not to man. I am not so sure God strains out all the stage noise to hear a little blond middle schooler on the third row. He could. But why should he have too???? The angels cannot do that. People, cannot be moved by what they do not hear. Sinner and saint alike are missing out on something so amazingly beautiful when 75-100% of the sound coming out of the room is only the stage, the band.
I tell my team if i ever say “”The band sounded great tonight” … it is NOT a compliment. We failed. Our job is to create space where we lift up the voices of the people we lead. that does not mean we sing loud and trust they are following and mainly know it if mouths are moving. When i stand in a service and can only hear my own voice (not anyone seated around me) I feel less inclined to sing. My voice does not really matter if it does not make the mix. God can read my thoughts… why bother uttering the invisible sound? The band is singing for me. I may as well just listen. No one can really hear my voice…. In truth, i am grieved. I long to hear the people. I long for the people to hear the people. Many of the adults do not sing, i notice. i think they want what I want… something real. I want to be a part of making beautiful music together to God… where the sound coming up from us is US. All of us… together. If we cannot do that… let us be silent. I am tired of feeling like i am singing alone, in some bubble. I LOVE singing with the teens at youth group, where ironically… the band is quieter these days…. it is beautiful. I think we are on to something, ahead of the game… tinkering with what is NEXT. Isn’t that what youth groups do???? We added a violin and sometimes a cello and we make room for it to be HEARD…. adding texture as other band members make room for it….
Ironically, just as we are beginning to find something more organic and together, and in the round… some churches are just now finally getting their turn to have rock concert style worship. A friend said he always loved the singing at a modest sized church he visits when he cannot make the drive to our large modern church. He said last month they got a worship band there…. and guess what. He can’t hear the people singing anymore.
PLEASE tell me there are other groups trying this too…. creating a new cutting edge worship experience where the voices of the people soar high above the servant leaders who work and play and pray for them to do so.
PS… last summer at camp we were at the front of the room about to close an evening service in prayer and go eat some nachos and cheese. Somebody started singing a chorus and one thing led to another and we ended up standing in that massive huddle singing with only voices… the band not picking up their instruments because they know now that sometimes less is so much more.
At one point even making up a different tune to Hallelujah…. singing for like 45 minutes on holy ground… and God led us to end on a chorus where the last words were … “He won’t give up until we are one.” That was unplanned…. and yet, the theme of the camp was … “We are one” about the Trinity. The Holy Spirit wants to lead us in worship. May we find ourselves at his disposal!
Did he mention what he thought millennials preferred? I am thinking that they prefer much like their grandparents, ironically, rather than what gen x prefer, as to volume and the mutual edification… shared real personal interaction rather than being anonymous in the non participating crowd of spectators. I think the churches are not wanting spectators or passive people… but rather are misreading what they think young people want. They think the younger generations are wanting glitz and boom…. and really, the younger generations are more sophisticated than that and long for something real. (even if they do not know how to put that in words… they have real gut level needs and need something deeper than “concert” to meet the needs. They are bombarded with the shout and of culture.
If that is what church is…. too… then i expect they will come for the sermon and skip out one way or another in worship… and when they realize they can go to hear an excellent sermon online… they may skip out church altogether. I think they will be touched more by beauty, gut level real lyrics they feel are where they are, intimacy…. by dialing down… versus to hyping up. I NEED to know what others have found as hey venture into what may be NEXT
As one who used to be a rock and blues musician (25 years onstage) i am used to loud volumes, BUT i have never heard a club as loud as most churches. Truth be told if it causes pain to my half deaf ears because it’s too loud then there is a real problem. BUT lets look at it from another perspective. I am an evangelist and It is impossible to invite people to a church where the music is too loud, when you know ahead of time they probably wont stay because of the loud volume of the praise and worship. I have seen children pulling at their ears and crying during praise and worship. THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE! The parent’s don’t want to see their children in pain and it’s ridiculous if it’s because of something that can be easily remedied. (simply turn the amps down) If your church has empty seats and you can’t figure out why…. check the volume levels in your praise and worship. I attend a church that has great praise and worship and great bible preaching and teaching but the volume levels are just too loud. loud to the point of causing pain. Eventually i will move on if this isn’t fixed just like most church memebers. not only is my hearing being damaged every time i go to church but my ability to evangelize and bring the lost into the church is severely hampered…. what’s more the congregation will eventually stop inviting people to church if the volume is too loud. They figure correctly “what’s the use of inviting people if the praise and worship volume keeps them from coming back” this means, if something doesn’t change the church wont grow past a certain point and will possibly, eventually, have a for sale or for rent sign on the property.
Some good points of discussion here on an interesting topic. The church band / sermon / and performance are become almost the thing being worshiped these days. My wife and I have been playing music for many years and a great deal of it in the Christian context. On occasions when we have been travelling we popped into a service here and there; some places as soon as the Amen is said the band does a big “outro” it can be so loud that one can not hold a conversation after the service. Viola and Barna write a good article on this subject in “Pagan Christianity”.
I too am looking for a church with no loud music worship. I liked the people and the pastor in a church adjacent to where I live but the I can’t tolerate the loud band. I have migraines and tinnitus and I don’t want to aggravate my symptoms with the loud music.
I think it’s obvious that worship groups play loudly because they are more about themselves. Typical band mentality. You think your all that so you shove it down peoples throughs as loud as you can because you think they worship you.
Was the 81 Decibels A weighted or C weighted? I want to try that level and see in my church.
I am having trouble picturing one of these pseudo rock bands playing at the base of the cross drowning out the voices of the angels. Why do we have to bring it into our worship services..I can listen to that all day on the radio. I want peace for meditation about our Lord and God not a rock concert.
Thank you for this! On a practical level, we were going to a very good church, we were in a precious care group and I was helping with some sweet kids with developmental problems. The music was contemporary, which was not a problem. The sermons were solid. The volume started ramping up…my hubby has tinnitus….it became impossible to bear. So he quietly began not attending morning services, and continued with our care group, which he loved! But, after a couple of months, he was told he was forsaking assembling with the congregation. It became apparent we had become a problem.
They told him to just wait in the foyer. He could also use ear plugs. He tried waiting in the foyer, but he really felt it looked like he was a comungeoning old man. He was not trying to be critical. We were worried this all was becoming a discouragement to others. also, he has stationary night blindness, so navigating the dark sanctuary was difficult. Ear plugs were sort of counter productive…caused a snse of separation. So we left, which has brought great sadness. I especially miss those kids!
As a result of this, we really have reevaluated our involvement in evangelical churches. We are seeking God on how to proceed.
I really appreciated your emphasis on hearing the congregations. Aside from the ear pain, we have started to think of the other side effects that come with this high volume …..And how things have become routed in entertainment . If this had not happened, I don’t think we would be evaluating that. I pray for the church in America. Don’t get me wrong, the people in the church we left are far better people than I am, and they have not lost a drop with our leaving. I pray though we can find a place where we are welcome.
Our church recently decided that raising the volume was going to “bring more energy.” I find it otherwise. Instruments are being played at the same level as the vocalists, drums being amped and pounding out kick drums, bassists booming, lead guitarists adding fuzz. It all sound like a garbled mess in the middle. Pull it back, have instruments supporting the vocalists and yes, I believe you should hear the person and the rest of the congregation singing too. It’s not a concert! Looking around, I see less people singing than before.
To those who are against loud instruments (I don’t mean an overly loud volume, that is a problem!) but those against drums and the like, and are calling that a performance, I have a few honest questions for you:
Would you consider the possibility that those musicians, with their skills and abilities and the time they give to prepare, are performing FOR God? That they are using their gifts to glorify God and are playing their hearts out FOR His honor and pleasure? That the “performance” is a gift they are offering to their LORD? And that when people use their gifts in service and in praise of God, that others around them might be inspired to do the same?
From some of the comments I have read here, I fear that good people who love Jesus are being slandered as self-centered performers. Surely, that is not always the case. And I suggest — as someone who has been around worship leaders a lot through the years — it is often NOT the case.
Grace and Peace.
I am sure that the musicians are loving christian`s but I go to church for peace and tranquillity . There are many people that are there to gain strength from the word of God. Especially if there has been some kind of loss , health issues or mental problems..I have a relative that has had a problem and loves his church but the music makes matters only worse.So they arrive late and leave early just to avoid it..It is unfathomable to me as to why modern churches cannot see this..Also what happened to singing beautiful hymns to the glory to God..
As someone else mentioned, a congregation without the sound system on, in a church with excellent acoustics, they can sing hymns or contemporary music well over 100dB. No one ever complains about it being too loud. In the same church, if the sound system is underpowered, if people are complaining about sound above 85dB, this is a sign of distortion. Any distortion in the sound is perceived as being too loud. The higher the distortion, the earlier people will complain about the loudness. I have been to churches where people complained about loudness at 75dB, and in that case, the problem was traced to distortion in the amplified sound. When the distortion issue was corrected, which can be as simple of keeping the mixer, the EQ or amplifier inputs from clipping to replacing the whole sound system, then the amplified sound could be played to a higher level without complaint.
If the equipment has been ruled out for any added distortion in the amplified sound, the next most common cause is the room acoustics. The room most likely stores too much bass and excess air pressure accumulates in front of all woofer type speakers, much like putting your finger on a woofer cone and that air pressure cause the cone to distort. The more speakers you add to the room running at a lower volume can work better to a point as in using line arrays. However, what often goes with this is a room where the congregation doesn’t want to sing in whether the sound system is on or off. If the congregation is discouraged from singing in the room, this is an acoustical problem.
On the medical side, having worked with a number if hearing Doctors, they explain that the ear is designed to hear sounds in very specific patterns. When the pattern is disrupted with “distorted” the ear can be damaged, even when the volume is at conversation levels. Office works are the highest group of people who get hearing aids. Often the white noise from an HVAC system has distortion in the sound. That distorted sound can damage hear just as rapidly as someone exposed to excessively loud noise.
When a person is talking, they hear themselves around 70 to 85dB. When a person is singing, they hear themselves between 90 to 115dB. Since there is no distortion, it is not perceived as loud and it doesn’t cause hearing damage. Otherwise, if the volume of sound were the only cause for hearing loss, then everyone who is singing should be deaf after singing a certain number of hours. The same could be said for someone who talks too much.
Distortion to the ear is unsynchronized sound that disrupts natural sound waves. The more distortion there is, the soon hearing loss occurs.
If too many people are complaining about sound being too loud, after ruling out any personal physical reasons those people are complaining, look for distortion in the sound system, the acoustics, or both. It is not the loudness of sound that is keeping people from enjoy worship. When the sound is painful or unpleasant, fix the problem. it is not the soundman or the pastor or music leader’s fault, but if they refuse to fix the real problem, and they have the ability to fix it, I wouldn’t want to go to such a church, no matter how good the Gospel is being preached or how well the music is performed.
Perhaps there is a very good reason to reduce the volume just enough to consistently hear the voices of the unamplified worshipers. The middle of this post suggests that music volumes can profoundly shape how the worshiper understands themselves: https://trentdejong.com/the-liturgy-of-loud/
Not having read all 95 comments, I apologize if I am repeating other contributors. Today during our worship service I had to walk out, even wearing ear plugs. My primary concern is that there is no posted signage directed to parents of babies, making them aware of the safe ranges and potential hearing damage for their infants and toddlers. They (babies) are far more susceptible to permanent hearing loss at “normal”church decibels and very few parents are aware-possibly because so many babies sleep in church. As a parent, I would certainly take action if supplied with proper information and education on the subject.
My husband and I are suffering from this same “too loud” syndrome and last Sunday, we actually walked out. It’s sad because we love our church but the music volume seems to be louder than ever. The base drum is the worst even from behind the shield, BOOM< BOOM for long periods of time…it jars the whole body. What is really sad is that the church is about outreach but a woman we brought said that it gives her a headache and we've been working to get that woman into church. There seems to be no compromise because the music department nor the pastor won't give an inch. We're beginning to think that the only solution is to find another church but that won't be easy…makes me really sad. I am remaining anonymous for obvious reasons but I know that others in our church feel the same way. We visited another church in our area and it was ridiculous…they offer ear covers!!
For a good while I had been going to a church was traditional. The music was just an organ (it got loud at times but I didn’t mind) and a choir. It was very nice. But I got into some personal differences at that church and then left. I went there for about four years, but I had just settled for it. And then some things came up that was not nice and I left. The only thing I miss from that church was the music.
I left that church about three years ago. Since leaving there, I have looked at all kinds of churches and it’s been the same thing. All of the churches I have gone to has had that “new” style – you know, that “rock music”. What is going on with that? Why the big sweeping change suddenly? I have to confess that I like listening to rock music (especially the “classic”). I feel like it’s appropriate at home but not in church. I feel like “rock” music and church do not mix well.
I’ve been told that the millennials like it, so it’s to outreach them. But I’ve also heard that the millennials are not too crazy about it. After all, they are of the lowest percentage of the population who are attending church. It was the “baby boomers” that started that trend. It started around the late ’60s but it took a long time for it to catch on. The boomers are old now and a lot of them are not crazy about it.
I’m discouraged. I’ve stayed out of church now because of this. I feel like it’s hurting me a whole lot. I’m praying for something better but I don’t see a solution. Oh well!
[…] a bit of reading to try and get a sense of what a good volume level would be. One article, ‘The Sound That Kills Worship‘, cited research which suggested 81dB as an optimum level. That will range according to […]
I’m a millennial, and I abhor rock music in church. Not that my opinion matters — it’s the agenda that needs to be served here, not God…
I used to go to a mega church until i discovered it was in fact a cult. These are some facts about it music wise.
One. The band was the focus, If the song leader told the band to stop playing and let the congregation sing on its own, you could hardly hear them.
Two. At one of our local conferences at the head office church one week end, I gave up on the worship because I had a pacemaker and the band volume was so loud, I had to go to the back of the room and stand behind a barrier because the volume was affecting the working of my pacemaker.
I didn’t read through all of the comments so I’m probably repeating some things that have already been said.
My issue with the “study” that was done is that it’s only addressing decibels. There are so many other factors. Therefore study is both incomplete and incredibly subjective. Churches need to stop picking a decibel level and pointing to that as gospel.
I actually tend to agree (subjectively) that it isn’t necessary to run at 95db in most church contexts. If you mix at 88db, but mix it really well, it can feel FULL and help people engage more. Full > loud.
This is a gross generalization, but it seems as though there are very few churches that mix well. The issue is usually related to NOISE, not necessarily VOLUME. If something isn’t mixed well and the room isn’t treated for acoustics, you get all kinds of annoying frequencies bouncing around the room and it does trigger annoyance in the ear of the beholder. Of course turning the volume down will help reduce the annoyance from that NOISE.
Lastly, we should just acknowledge different groups of people have different tastes. And that’s okay. My grandmother could not stand “loud” music at church. But yet she would turn the TV up to what felt like 100db to watch Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. It is so incredibly subjective.
Bands and more. I chuckle. How about the organist or pianist who plays with ‘the pedal to the metal? As grandpa used to say I lead the congregation and follow the soloist. He looked forward to the once a year convention when the church was full enough to allow him to turn on the 32 foot pipes without dislodging the plaster.
Some churches have the volume up so loud you cannot enjoy the praise & worship. People want to get into God’s presence not go to a concert on Sunday mornings. We need to reach their hearts not overwhelm their ears. It is so hard to enter into worship when the music is up way too loud. Some churches hands out ear plugs which are a further hindrance to entering into Gods presence because they are so uncomfortable. The Volume of the sound system plays a major roll in people getting into the presence of God. It is in that presence that hearts are changed not in the loudness of voices and instruments.
Maybe the quakers knew something?
It seems like the majority of ungracious responses are from those of us who prefer the volume lower.
I know I’m late to the game with this comment so many years after the article was written, but this is a very real struggle my family has been battling. We attended a large church in which the new worship leaders were literally traveling Christian concert vocalists taking a break from life on the road. As they sunk their feet into their positions, we witnessed the volume get louder and louder. Then our son, who had previously tolerated the music without incident, suddenly would run out of worship nauseated then puke. Sometimes it was within a matter of seconds into the first song, he never made it to the second verse or stanza of a song. The church also made changes to their youth band, which became more concert style as well and got louder and louder. So then it was every single Sunday morning and Wednesday night that our son would run out and puke. We took him to doctors, had a brain MRI and audiology testing. This happened for several months. The conclusion was that he had inner ear migraine syndrome triggered by the extreme acoustics. Ultimately, we had to leave that church. That sent us on a disturbing quest to find a church that didn’t trigger him. We visited over 10 churches. We learned to find the bathroom and sit closest to it. It was so embarrassing to be a visitor and have our son running out throwing up in their bathroom. After over a year of trying to find where we could go that would work and trying to find where we fit in within the congregation, Covid hit and sent us home. Now three years later, we find ourselves at home most Sundays watching church on TV and missing our beloved first church. It’s a feeling of being lost like I cannot put into words. My husband and I were members of the praise team and choir at our church back home prior to moving here. Worship through song was a HUGE part of our lives. We have prayed so many times begging God to heal our son, so we can go back to experiencing the absolute joy that church, worship and fellowship brings. It is completely gut wrenching feeling like a failure as a parent not having our son in church, but the suffering he experienced every week was not worth it. Finding a church that has an amazing worship team, that makes you feel it in your soul is so hard. Couple that with an amazing bible preaching pastor and amazing support and study groups, its a stellar combination that every church tries to achieve. And its that combination that every person hopes to find. I don’t have the answers as to why this is happening to us, but I most certainly understand that lowering the decibels and reigning it back in could quite literally change lives.
This is heart wrenching. I’m very sorry to hear that your family is going through this. We have someone in our church community who has a similar condition even though we only run our services around 88db. Running much lower just isn’t feasible for the size of room we have.
Is there a reason earplugs won’t help? I’d even suggest over-ear protection which could be better for your son’s condition and many allow you to adjust how much audio is allowed through. If you’re able to find a service that runs at a more reasonable volume and meet them halfway with ear protection, that may be a recipe for success.
I feel like having to deal with earplugs in order to go to church shouldn’t be an issue. I presently don’t go to a church because of things like this. You get music so loud that it makes you puke and then, after the worship music, you hear a watered down message. Sounds great, huh? Have you considered going to a Church Of Christ? Because they don’t use instruments for their music.
Fact: The worse the acoustics of a worship space is, the louder the sound system is driven. Sound Tech guys are driven to raise the volume, seeking studio quality sound in a space that will never support that kind of quality. Fix the acoustics and the sound volume comes down. It is really that simple. Technology cannot fix a room, but if you fix the room, you fix the technology.