How Loud the Worship Team?

MarshallStack_Slayer_FotorOver at Christianity Today, John Stackhouse, Jr. expresses his thoughts on the volume of worship teams in an article called, “Memo to Worship Bands.” He gives five reasons why church music teams should tone down the volume.

1. Cranking up the volume is just a cheap trick to add energy to a room.
2. When your intonation is not very good, turning it up only makes it hurt worse.
3. The speakers in most church PA systems cannot take that much energy.
4. Consider that you might be marginalizing older people.
5. Musicians—every one of them, including the singers—are accompanists to the congregation’s praise.

After saying that musicians “should be mixed loudly enough only to do their job of leading and supporting the congregation,” he ends with this:

Now, I like Palestrina and I like good Christian rock. So, church musicians, if you want to perform a fine song that requires advanced musicianship, by all means do it. We will listen and pray and enjoy it to the glory of God.

But when you are leading us in singing, then lead us in singing. And turn it down so we are not listening to you—or, even worse, merely enduring you. I know that is not what you want to happen. But I am telling you that’s what is happening.

I think Stackhouse makes some good points, although I’d nuance a couple. Playing loud isn’t always a “cheap trick”, and most PA systems now, especially in newer churches, can handle louder volumes. I’d go on to say that there are times to turn up the volume and times to turn it down. I’ve been in churches where the group up front is so quiet that they can hardly said to be “leading” anything. You can’t even hear them, and that causes its own problems. Other times I’ve found it impossible to hear myself singing, much less anyone else in the crowd.

I can think of a few times when the volume of the band (and vocalists) might be raised.

  • when the congregation is listening, not singing
  • when we’re teaching a new song
  • when the church is singing loudly and passionately
  • when the band is setting the tempo
  • when the leader is giving directions.

But the sound of the musicians shouldn’t consistently dominate or overpower the congregation. In the New Testament the predominant sound  when the church gathers is the singing of the congregation (Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16). They constitute the real worship team.

Monitoring the volume according to the situation is something both the sound engineer and the band should be aware of. The band should play less or more, louder or softer, depending on the situation. It’s also a good idea to check your volume by listening from out front, or asking someone you trust (who’s not at the sound board) to evaluate it for you. And keep in mind that it may be too soft as well as too loud.

We’ve also found that factors like poor EQ (which can make a band  sound loud), where someone sits in the room, and people’s tastes and preconceptions can all play a part in what constitutes a “loud” band. Obviously, each of those situations requires a different response.

The issue of volume is something we’ve discussed in our church for years, especially as it relates to how it affects hearing. If you’re interested, here’s a document we give to people when they have questions about the volume of the band. It addresses the concerns for hearing damage more specifically.

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54 Responses to How Loud the Worship Team?

  1. Jean February 3, 2009 at 6:54 PM #

    Thank you for this! I’m a musician in a small church but have had a few “battles” over some of these issues over the past few years. It’s nice to hear someone else say what I have always believed. I especially like the phrase “Musicians—every one of them, including the singers—are accompanists to the congregation’s praise.” This gives me a great perspective.
    Thanks!

  2. chad February 3, 2009 at 9:40 PM #

    I ran sound for a regional touring worship band for 3 years. We brought our own system in everywhere, and the band used in-ear moniters (years before the aviom-off a hot rodded mackie console and a drop snake) and place their amplifiers off stage and used alot of soundproofing.

    We would play at a few places that threw a fit about volume, but I usually ran them at about 95 db. Most of us also led/worked at a church in town that wanted Sunday morning to be at 82db. It was a bear to pull that off, with drums in a converted gym (we called it the sanctunasium). One of my “arguements” for volume was the amount of college students that told us they loved when it was louder (we also led at a weekly service in a very interesting room in town). I usually kept that service at 98. The reason was that they didn’t have to worry about anyone else hearing what they were singing/saying or the quality of it.

    What we found out when we did have volume issues is that it was most often a problem with genre or instrumentation. I was always real careful to keep things within a comfortable level (I remember when we opened for a well known worship band and their soundguy had them at 110db…it was miserable for everyone involved), because I realized that for many of these services, this could have been the first time some of the adults had ever been around really interesting worship music.

    But above all, like you said, for the musicians to think that they are important enough to overshadow the congregation. I now lead worship in a community where the crowd can easily take over from the worship leader. It is a great problem to have.

  3. Jonathanh February 3, 2009 at 11:00 PM #

    thanks Bob for balancing both sides of the argument

    we’ve actually had the problems in our church where the music is too soft for the music that we’re playing (contemporary). i tend to think that a music ministry can’t minister fully if they can’t be heard!

    we always like to bring up the case where church-goers will tolerate a church organ at 130dB, but complain when the band is at 95dB.

    certainly walking around with a SPL meter and abiding by hearing loss/SPL guidelines (http://www.dangerousdecibels.org/hearingloss.cfm) should help the sound crew come to a reasonable result.

  4. Chris E February 4, 2009 at 3:46 AM #

    As hard as it may be to realize, in some quarters these battles go the other way.

    My own church is blessed in many ways, however they have an aversion to performing which is so strong that it becomes pathological.

    Whilst it’s true that the music shouldn’t drown people out – by the same token the music should be loud enough so that people are able to sing loudly, and hear themselves *and* the music. Otherwise they’ll just mumble, especially if they aren’t sure of the tune (which in practice means any song not in common meter).

  5. Nick February 4, 2009 at 6:34 AM #

    I’m surprised health/hearing loss wasn’t mentioned here. I’ve often wondered how a two-hour, 95 dB SPL worship service affects one’s hearing when integrated over every week of one’s life. I wish I had some hard data on the effects, but I expect it’s significant. Check out the following web page, for example:

    http://www.digital-recordings.com/publ/pubear.html

    This isn’t just an “older person” issue: A 20 year-old needs to have good hearing far longer than a 60 year-old. Jen and I don’t do it as much anymore, but we have used hearing protection in the past when attending church. Loud volumes bother her more than me, but that probably indicates that I’ve already lost some of my hearing.

    This is also a reason why I like the in-ear “tree” monitors: since they go down much farther into the ear canal, I can keep the volume lower on the belt pack.

    • Bob Kauflin February 4, 2009 at 6:49 AM #

      Nick,

      I updated the post to mention the effects on hearing. The effects typically aren’t as bad as people make them out to be. The document I mention from Covenant Life addresses that topic. I hope to have the document available for immediate download soon.

  6. Conner Byrd February 4, 2009 at 9:08 AM #

    Good discussion here. It’s one I’ve had at our church for about 4 years now (ever since I’ve been involved with worship there.) I do have a few issues with this article. I need to hop over and check out who wrote this. I think #1 is an absurd argument depending on style. I think style plays alot into dB levels. Have you ever heard Anberlin played in an elevator? at a sandwich shop? It’s awful! You shouldn’t play that music that quietly. If you’re playing modern, contemporary worship music I think it should be played at louder volume, it does encourage an emotional engagement and there’s nothing wrong with that.
    #2 is right on!! Typically it’s not that the music is ‘too loud’ it’s that there’s a bad mix or bad intonation and painful frequencies stick out and are offensive to the ear. Turning up the volume does amplify this! Which is why a paid sound tech or a highly trained volunteer is absolutely a necessary component to a church’s staff.
    #3 and #4 go into a church’s vision and strategy. Saying the speaker’s can’t handle it is saying it’s time to upgrade. That’s kind of silly. I’m outfitting our youth room and the speakers I’m looking at for that room can handle 95 dBs with ease. If you’re sanctuary speakers can’t then that’s an indication of the age of your system.
    I’m a bit confused by #5. I’m not sure how that and the next quote are in relation to dBs. I agree fully with the statements but not so much in relation to musical loudness. I know in our church, it’s uncomfortable for me and other congregants share this concern, when the music is soft enough for me to hear myself above the music. I WANT the music to be loud so that I can sing out confidently!
    Again, though if you’re style is acoustic folk led music or piano led introspection and you play in keys that are low or led by a woman (typically use low keys for men) then you can get away with low volumes and it compliments the musical style.
    But as far as hearing loss goes. I know that only the music portion of the worship service is that loud for us. When the pastor speaks he’s much lower. We don’t even measure it. I’d guess it’s in the 60s. So you’re only looking at what? 20 minutes then if you do a song or 2 at the end of the service maybe another 10 at levels at or above 95 will not do any permanent hearing damage.

    Sorry for the long post. I LOVE discussing this stuff. I’m sometimes wrong but I enjoy talking about it :)

  7. Jared Dragoun February 4, 2009 at 1:09 PM #

    We just got done creating an FAQ form that we keep at our “information center” after the services to answer questions like: Why is the music so loud? Why is the music so soft? (we get both)

    Here is our one paragraph answer:
    We are okay with loud (2 Chr 15:14, Psa 150:5-6) and we are okay with soft (Zech 2:13). The sound volume level at RiverLakes is not random; We put a lot of thought into finding appropriate volume levels based on the content of the music, and when it comes to preference we strive for a good balance. This balance will not satisfy everyone’s desires. We fully recognize the benefits and distractions of both louder and softer music. For those with sensitive hearing, please grab a seating chart at the Information Center and make your way to a lower volume section of the auditorium.

    It’s helpful for most people to know that we’ve actually put thought into the sound level. We’ve measured the SPL in different parts of our room and offer a seating chart for sections that aren’t quite as loud for people who have sensitive hearing (hearing aids, etc.). For those who simply PREFER softer music, I have to inform them that there are many who PREFER louder music. We have people who will leave our church because they prefer something softer, but we also have people who don’t attend our services because they prefer something louder. These are all PREFERENCES, and not of utmost importance in the decision making process. Now, the last thing we want to do is actually hurt people’s ears, but what I usually experience is (like Jonathan above) people usually have more of a problem with the style of music.

    So, as the ministry leader, I have to determine what level is best for OUR congregation’s praise of God? Softer music certainly gives more opportunity for the congregation to be heard, while missing the intended style of music (if you’re playing modern worship). Louder music can give confidence to the singers, but potentially drown them out. Our congregation has a long way to go with participation in the singing, and if you’re in the back half of the room and the music is soft, you’ll feel like you’re singing a solo (since those around you are barely opening their mouths), so instead of singing out, you may join the mumbles. Therefore, for our congregation, for the current time, we’ve raised our sound levels a bit in order to give support to those who want to sing out. Eventually, when more people are free to sing out, we can drop the level a few dB.

    Most, when driving in the car and desiring to worship in song with a CD turn the music up, not down.

    A word of warning, SPL readings (dB) aren’t entirely helpful, as they can differ greatly from perceived loudness. And, as some have said, it really depends on the content to determine a good level. For us, Here I Am To Worship works well at 85dB not 95dB, and I Will Boast works well at 95dB not 85dB. (You also need to be careful to measure different positions in your auditorium and be familiar with what you’re reading, besides dB amount, e.g., C-weighted, A-weighted etc.)

    I promise to never post this long again.

    • Bob Kauflin February 4, 2009 at 2:29 PM #

      Jared,

      I promise to never post this long again.

      As long as you post something that is this helpful and relevant, feel free to make your post as long as you want. Thanks for the helpful thoughts, Jared.

  8. Jeff February 4, 2009 at 3:27 PM #

    I read and commented on the article at CT and was distressed by the amount of venom thrown towards church worship teams. I hate to think that these people endure something they dislike, sit there with a frown on their face, and then complain all the way home in the care. My suggestions on the site were to talk to the worship leader (in loving humility, of course.) Instead, it seems everyone is happy to complain and even get to the point of questioning motives of the worship team.

    Most of the time, these miscommunications are the cause of an inexperienced sound person and a team that can’t hear what is going on in the seats.

  9. todd February 4, 2009 at 10:24 PM #

    I’ve read the article, too, and it seemed pretty vindictive, specifically the implication that praise teams turn up the volume because they can’t sing in tune.

    He also compares church worship to “Guns n’ Roses” volume. Either Stackhouse goes to one ROCKIN’ church or he hasn’t heard Guns n’ Roses in…well…forever.

    I can appreciate the concern, but it’s no wonder we have worship wars. When each side is already rude before the dialogue begins, it’s hard to find a solution.

  10. matt blick February 5, 2009 at 1:23 PM #

    I grew up playing in heavy metal bands and have been leading worship AND teaching rock bands for about 20 years.

    I agree broadly with Stackhouse’s point, but his examples and arguments are poor. Maybe someone needs to buy him a ticket to a Guns n’ Roses show and then have a word with him (in sign language probably) about the danger of making inflammatory hyperbolic statements.

    Palestrina & Contremporary Worship can both be sung and played out of tune.

    I love Jared’s point about preference. And db meters are a poor judge of how loud is too loud. That’s what ears are for.

    And what any critic of a bands volume needs to understand is the band has the least idea of anyone how it sounds out front or how loud it is. Generally they are not trying to blast the lady in the 3rd pew directly into glory but trying to be loud enough for the drummer & trying to hear themselves enough to play well.

    My rule of thumb is that a member should be able to hear themselves and the person either side singing. The lead singer should only be as loud as someone sitting, say, in the next row. That works for us, with a diverse age range, about 250 people, in a congregation that highly values contributions – people are free to spontaneously pray out , start songs, sing prophetically etc

  11. Matt Poppe February 6, 2009 at 2:02 PM #

    The article makes some legit points, but I agree that his tone does come accross as pretty harsh. I’m curious how Stackhouse’s worship leader is feeling right now. I hope they’ve had some honest and fruitful discussion long before Stackhouse’s poor opinion of him was published. Eeesh.

  12. Mitchell February 6, 2009 at 3:59 PM #

    Speaking of not being loud enough … I was leading one time in college and did a key change that the congregation didn’t hear. I went to B, they stayed in A. It sounded awful. I literally had to stop and let them know that we were going to try that again … with the key change. I still laugh about that one.

    • Bob Kauflin February 6, 2009 at 4:40 PM #

      Mitchell, yep, that’s what I’m talking about. You’ll be happy to know that exact thing happened in the last session of WorshipGod08. A whole chorus in two keys. It was beautiful.

  13. Robert Wood February 8, 2009 at 10:19 AM #

    My pastor actually found this article and printed it out for me- not because he thinks we’re too loud but because he knows it is something I would be interested in and might have missed otherwise. I didn’t view the Stackhouse article as an attack on contemporary worship so much as an opportunity to do a heart check. Am I really serving the church in how I lead worship (in this case through volume levels) or am I serving my pride? I know in my younger days before I was a Christian, it was all about me and making sure my guitar could be heard. I remember having “volume wars” with the drummer and the other guitarist. The louder we got, the “better” we thought we sounded, although the recordings I have from those days certainly don’t confirm that logic.

    If louder volumes are leading our congregations to worship God, great. If, on the other hand we are a distraction from worship we need to prayerfully reconsider how we do things. Whether it is in volume, key selection, musical style, etc.

  14. Berean Wife February 8, 2009 at 3:45 PM #

    How does keeping music just under the deemed safe level affect a person who is in a worship service for three plus services a week? The worship team also often practices for at least an hour or two each week plus their own personal practice time. I have noticed an increasing number of people in the music industry that are “deaf in one ear.”

    Then every one of us is exposed to high levels of noise from life itself. We hear lawnmowers, babies, cars, truck airplanes, other music sources, TV’s, etc., all throughout the day.

    It isn’t just a matter of taste, because often my daughter’s orchestra music, which I enjoy, is way too loud, especially the percussion and brass sections. But as someone who has often left a worship service with ears that hurt it can be quite painful and unconducive to worship. I carry earplugs now to all music venues.

    Berean Wife

  15. Eric Barnhart February 10, 2009 at 12:39 AM #

    Bob –
    Thanks so much for tackling the “nuancing” of this article. And that document! Wow. I’m sending a link of that to all my techie buddies. What a great resource.

    I always appreciate the irony of conversations about objectifying something as subjective as an individual’s auditory experience. I find many similarities in this argument with the issue of fidelity: namely, why record audio through a signal chain consisting of mics, preamps, A/D converters and consoles that cost more than most people’s cars, mix through THX certified monitors at 24 bit 96 kHz, all so the final stereo track will likely be listened to through earbuds on an iPod as a compressed MP3?

    I’m glad you mentioned console EQ. I find it helpful to keep in mind in discussions like these that the human ear has its own eq as well. Age, hearing loss/tinnitus, genetics, and a host of other things all contribute to each person’s ear having its own personal eq curve.

    Honestly, that document you included addresses the key issues/concerns i’ve heard so well, graciously and in lay terms with a true spirit of humility and service. what’s the policy for ripping off content from you all? ;)

    • Bob Kauflin February 10, 2009 at 8:12 AM #

      Eric, thanks for the encouragement. Feel free to pass around whatever I post here to anyone you’d like.

  16. David MacKenzie February 10, 2009 at 1:02 PM #

    One other factor we’ve been factoring in at Covenant Life is that at a given SPL, some frequency ranges are more uncomfortable than others. We noticed that we had drifted over the years toward more and more high frequency boosts in our house mix, as we wanted to add presence to the vocals, clarity to the acoustic guitars, bite to the electric guitars and piano, attack to the drums, etc. The resulting mixes could be harsh.

    In the past year, we’ve deliberately moved our mixes toward putting more of the power into the lower frequencies, giving the bass range more punch, so you feel the power of the band but it’s still comfortable to listen to, not piercing.

  17. Benjamin February 11, 2009 at 5:35 PM #

    Very interesting discussion. I’m from Hamburg, Germany, but we have exactly the same discussion in our church. I’m just a little cofused about the values you are talking about in the mentioned document. First, the OSHA values are given in dBA, then you talk about target values in dB (without A-weighting), further below you say you measure in dBC and lates in the examples it is again dB. As dB, dBA and dBC is very different, it would help if the document would be more clear. Here in germany we typically use dBA as A-weighting is in accordance to the human ear. C-weighting, which is a very smooth weighting, is more or less unknown in europe.
    The given leves in your examples, are these peak levels or are the averaged over let’s say, one song or the whole worship period.
    We measure peak levels of (only?) around 82dBA (approx. 86dBC or 87-88dB) and this sees to be the max for sunday morning service worship time but we’re still searching for the right limit. The averaged level is around or slightly below 80.
    I was once last year in the sunday morning service in your church in Gaithersburg and i would say, the worship noise level was similar to ours, but the values are different…? I may have to come again…

    • Bob Kauflin February 11, 2009 at 11:03 PM #

      Benjamin, thanks for the comments. I’ll check with our tech director about the differing standards in our document.

    • Bob Kauflin February 13, 2009 at 1:46 PM #

      Benjamin,

      I asked our sound man, Dave Wilcox, about your thoughts and this was his response.

      1. dBA and dBC are definitely different measurements, with dBC more accurately representing the way humans hear sound. dBA is more flat from a purely scientific perspective.
      2. dB is just shorthand for the scale you are using, in our document it always dBC. By itself, “dB” is meaningless.
      3. I have no way to account for the lower levels they are seeing. There may be a difference in measurement technique. It could be a failing meter. We had one of our meters fail recently and that began by reading 5-10dB lower than reality.

      Hope that’s helpful.

  18. Jim Pemberton February 13, 2009 at 2:56 PM #

    It helps to have a godly worship-minded sound man focused on mixing the group so their musical leadership in corporate worship is effective.

    The acoustical dynamics in our worship area are such where it is best for all vocals and instruments to be mixed as fully as possible through the sound system we have provided in the room to compensate for our dead areas. The instructions we give to musicians and worship leaders is that they should be concerned with worship content and godly musicianship and not for the final mix. Aside from asking the sound man for what they may need to hear in the monitors, he doesn’t need suggestions from the musicians for what the congregation hears.

    But he may make suggestions such as “that guitar isn’t staying in tune,” “please hold the mic a little closer to your mouth,” and “you guys aren’t singing in tune – are you having trouble hearing each other or do you need to rehearse more before you do this thing?” The truth never really hurts anyone and discipline in corporate worship needs to start with any who would lead.

  19. Rich February 13, 2009 at 6:07 PM #

    Thanks for the article. I really appreciate the desire to balance the worship “leading” with those being led. I hope that this makes it way to all the SGM family of churches. :)

    btw: I wonder what worship would be like without electricity? Would we be able to sing low enough to hear the music leaders? :)

    • Bob Kauflin February 13, 2009 at 9:20 PM #

      Rich, I’m doing what I can to spread the word… Without electricity, maybe we’d probably use a big choir so people could hear us, like they seemed to do in the temple in the OT.

  20. Thomas Dion February 14, 2009 at 2:39 AM #

    I have been on both sides of the stage, a drummer and a sound guy. As I read this post, I noticed not one mention of what worship means to the worship band. Let me explain what I mean. (By the way, in no way am I diminishing the need for volume control. I’ve been in that place of, “whoa, ouch!”).

    What I see is this; worship is not only the worship of the congregation. Worship, being lead by a worship band, is only a concert if the worship band is playing for the congregation. As a drummer, I find it great joy to worship God with a God given raw talent that he gave me. The highest honor is to be able to worship God both in singing and in playing, giving back what He gave me.

    I really was amazed to read Stackhouse’s comments, as if he was attending a concert with no regard for the worship band as worshipers themselves.

    Bob, I am sure you can attest to this (in fact I have witnessed this during Celebrations past), when you are leading worship, you are not “leading” in the sense of a lead vocalist or lead guitarist, you are leading by example; so if you are playing loudly, its not that you are trying to “whoop it up a little” (to steal Terry Virgo’s analogy), you are playing as the Spirit leads you and if you play softly, in the same manner, you are not trying to “Air Supply” (sorry) the congregation, you are playing as the Spirit is leading you. The same as if a worshipper in the congregation is shouting “HOLY IS THE LORD, GLORY TO THE LORD ON HIGH, PRAISE HIS WONDROUS POWERFUL NAME” or is on knees seeking to see the Glory of God in silent or soft worship. Both are being led by the Spirit!

    Both band and congregation worshiping in one spirit is awesome, and I thank God that Sovereign Grace Church, Chesapeake, VA is full of worshippers on stage as well as in the congregation.

    I spend most of my time in my small shed (I know my many neighbors must love me and wished I played on stage! LOL) praising God with my sticks, sometimes soft and sometimes loud, but it is Spirit led! Not Tommy led or emotionalism because I really like this song, I simply sit and allow the Spirit to move upon my heart… pure sweetness! What a gift from God! mmm mmm mmm…

    I think we all, either in the congregation or sound booths, need to remember this simple rule; Before worship starts, get the sound check at a reasonable level, get the balance of harmony set and the EQ right; after that allow the Holy Spirit to move the volume up or down according to the worshipper on stage and in the congregation. Don’t soften or pump up the worship band, allow the Spirit to do so during worship.

    Let’s hear what God is doing in our hearts during worship, let’s be more attuned to our hearts and not caught up in the “this does not sound good to me”. Listen to the song of joy our hearts are singing, praising God. Listen to God speaking love, correction, affirmation, grace, peace, mercy, forgiveness, acceptance.

    Leaders, Elders, Decons, allow the church to usher, invite, welcome and stay in the Spirit led God glorifying worship, oh what a beautiful sound!

    Amen?… Amen!

    In Christ ALONE,
    Thomas Dion

  21. Guy Peters February 20, 2009 at 10:24 AM #

    This is an area where having a lead sound tech with an appropriate level of musicianship and spritual maturity is vital. These traits help mightily in discerning the right volume for the song, the setting, and the purpose of each piece presented by the worship leaders. In fact, your sound tech should be considered as much a worship leader as anyone standing before the people.

    May God be glorified in all our worship!

  22. Bob Dutton February 22, 2009 at 6:21 PM #

    I’ve read the article and all the threads. Most everything seems to relate to the ‘technical’ issues. I’m not a musician, but I think something is missing that needs to be addressed. Is what we are doing bringing glory to God? Scripture teaches that our bodies are temples of the Lord. As such they are to be honored.

    Loudness can occur at any frequency – so be careful about boosting low ranges as well as high ranges. Exposure to any loud noise – be it aircraft, NASCAR races, lawn mowers or music – will have a negative cumulative effect on the ear. Once the ‘hairs’ in the ear are damaged, they are permantnetly damaged. They do not heal nor regenerate!

    What is too loud? When I can feel the compressions of the sound waves on my chest, and on the back of the pew in front of me – the music (any frequency) is too loud, period!

    I know I’ll step on some toes, but why do we have to have loud, apmplified music anyway? The world got along fine for centuries with no electronic amplification. Do we really need to use the playbook of worldly emotionalism in music? I.e. – You’ve got to feel the emotion, and the only way that will/can happen is when the music is so loud no one can hear anything. What does the Word of God say? “Be still and know that I am Lord” (Ps. 46;10b).

    Spurgeon preached to a congregation of at least 5,000 in his church in London – many times. He had NO amplification, and he was well heard. I’m afraid we’ve ‘shouted’ (amplification) so long in our churches in America (both preaching and music), that we’ve lost the presence of God!

    ‘Nuff said.

    P.S. If you’re in your 20’s and 30’s, buy stock in the hearing aid companies. It’s going to be a growth industry. WiIth all the loudness that surrounds us, including sticking ear buds in our ears to listen to our iPods, and blasting the paint off the car next to us at the stop light with our super stereo systems, an aging population will be totally deaf in the next 30 years.

    ‘Nuff said.

  23. Matt Aquilone March 3, 2009 at 12:56 PM #

    I loved the article, and it really convicts me, a college student who plays in bands (worship bands too) to not be so hard on those in the congregation who don’t like loud music. But I’d like to comment on some of Bob Dutton’s statements…

    When you describe “what is too loud”, I believe this is not usually the level that people complain about at church. In most cases people comment on the volume of bands in churches when either they don’t like the style of music or when they don’t like specific instruments (ie drums, electric guitar) no matter what volume level they are mixed at. Maybe you attend a really loud church but whenever I’m in the seats/pews I don’t ever feel the compressions of the sound waves on my chest but people still complain about the volume long before that point.

    In response to your question “why do we have to have loud, amplified music anyway?” The truth is that we don’t. The truth also is that we don’t even need music at all to worship God in spirit and in truth. There are times that people should worship God in silence and in more quiet settings and also there are times that people should worship God at loud volumes (see Psalm 150:5).

    Also, the world got along for as long as it did without electronic amplification because that was what the culture of the day was used too. The style of music in Spurgeon’s day was the style of music they worshiped God with, just like in our day we worship with the style of music that suits us. In Spurgeon’s day, hymns being led by a choir or a single front man with a hymnal in his hand was how they worshiped, and today we like to listen to bands play music (I’m not excluding bands from playing hymns…because I love them too!) which usually involves amplification of some sort. It’s just a portion of culture that we have to face and deal with humbly.

    Lift, Praise, Adore Him
    Matt@

  24. sound tech March 27, 2009 at 9:42 PM #

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    Read the beginning of the 6th chapter of Isaiah….you may want to reconsider whether or not you will want to stand before the Throne someday.

    I absolutely agree volume can be abused, but there is undeniably a sense of power and awe that come with correctly applied dynamics.

    Spiritual maturity on the part of the technical people is critical to finding the correct balance between extremes.

    I am a HUGE proponent of varying the levels (as has been shared above) depending on the song and moment. For me, in one worship service this can range from 85 all the way up to momentary fader punches of over 100.

    The intent is never to assault, merely to facilitate the intent of what the song is trying to say. Whenever possible I seek to actually “turn down” so that it’s possible to build dynamics again.

    I think most complaining about hearing loss issues would be hard pressed to find a church that actually violates OSHA hearing loss standards. As it’s been said, most complaints center around either dislike of the the music style or poor mixing/acoustic/PA problems. The first is remedied by someone finding a place more suitable for that persons worship preference……the second corrected through training and spending the appropriate money to ensure the sound is of the highest quality it can be.

  25. Pastor Ted March 31, 2009 at 3:40 AM #

    I appreciate this particular forum on Volume. And it all boils down to one’s specific audience. The college age and younger adults will like that FAT sound as long as it is mixed well and the lead singer can be heard nice and clear. However, most of the Contemporary worship songs out there are so well tailored that they have moments of hard drive energy and then moments of solemn pull backs where the congregation can be heard and drawn into worship. A good worship leader and band can create that dynamic which really makes one given song a journey, just like symphony music with it’s high points and mellow points. For sure too loud hurts, but a FAT LOUD with a good mix is actually very enoyable for all generations. That’s been my experience with delivery songs of worship. Besides that, keeping songs dynamic, yet simple always brings worship to a good standard.

  26. TuffEnough May 29, 2009 at 9:14 PM #

    I remember the days of corporate worship in my teens and twenties when I could hear the congregation. I felt part of it. I felt like we were before the throne of God together praising Him.

    Now, I can’t hear myself or anyone but the band and lead singer. They look and sound just like they would if they were entertaining on a stage. No difference!! Often, I look all around me and notice that hardly anyone in the congregation is singing. Why should they bother? When you stop and listen, you honestly cannot hear the sound of the congregation singing, only the band.

    I long for a church where I can again feel that sense of corporate worship. Where the leaders are simply leading and not performing a concert.

    One church I visited did rattle my body with it’s volume, but even when it is less, it still gives no sense of singing as “the church”.

    I totally disagree with the statement, “today we like to listen to bands play music ….It’s just a portion of culture that we have to face and deal with humbly”. There are a lot of things that we may like about culture, but they shouldn’t replace something so that it is not even of the same essence. Listening to bands, is not corporate worship and cannot replace it. I believe God gave us corporate worship for Himself, but also for our own good, to build us up together. I suppose if you haven’t experienced it, you don’t know what you are missing.

    • don skidmore January 30, 2014 at 6:41 AM #

      thanks for saying that. Tuffenough

  27. Renaissance June 8, 2009 at 9:48 PM #

    This is a nice place to discuss.

    A lot of things to truly take into consideration when we talk about worship within the church… and the fact of the matter is that churches are unique. No one church is alike.

    Now what I mean by that is not that we worship a different God, but rather that our tastes, hearing, sensitivity to certain frequencies, choice of songs and genres, are different from church to church and even more so from individual to individual.

    So what does this mean to for the worship team and sound technicians?

    1.) Know the middle ground where the congregation can meet and worship God together through song.

    2.) Know your technology and acoustics to aid you in achieving that goal.

    3.) Make sure no health risks are made during times of worship (hear loss/impairment to be exact). Sticking to 1 hour for 100 dBA sound (take note this is the maximum limit and therefore suggested that your sound is lesser than this).

    Like what TuffEnough said, “I believe God gave us corporate worship for Himself, but also for our own good, to build us up together.” It is a corporate thing and not an individual activity; I adore songs that sing about the church and not the individual and when we come to God, we should come as a family.

    Anyways, music helps the church express itself to God in ways that just merely speaking cannot do. We as the worship team are just merely giving the congregation the space to worship God. We do not take that space.

    Yes, we do worship together with them, but we come to serve them more during this time than ever.

    As much as worship team members invest their time in music technicalities, I believe that they should invest even more of their time knowing the congregation to better serve them.

    Knowing who the congregation are in Christ, find songs that match their personality/tastes in music, and come together to God our Father as a family.

  28. Matt Aquilone June 15, 2009 at 12:34 AM #

    To TuffEnough:

    What I meant by the statement that you disagreed with was this:

    I was attempting to compare the different styles of what people liked to listen to in Spurgeon’s day (whether inside or outside the church setting) vs. what most people like listening to modernly (whether inside or outside the church setting). In short, I shouldn’t have used the term “listen to bands” to describe corporate worship. I was rather attempting to describe what people typically like to hear (and I should have included singing along with) according to their cultural contexts. I should have emphasized that today we SHOULD be singing along with the bands, just like people sang along to the hymns (and still do!).

    I’m totally with you that people should be singing along in order for the Body to be praising God in music together and in unity. So I agreed with everything you said if I had meant what you thought I said! haha Sorry for my poor choice of words. However, I still believe that amplified band music (with the congregation singing along) is a cultural norm that we should deal with humbly. And I don’t think you would disagree with that either.

    I feel really sorry for you at your church, to be quite honest. I know many churches who use bands at loud volumes and the congregation is just screaming their hearts (and lungs) out because they feel that they can do that in that type of setting. Maybe it’s just a case that the worship style doesn’t fit the preferances of the people in the congregation and your band should be turned down.

    Lift, Praise, Adore Him
    Matt@

  29. Nic July 8, 2009 at 7:24 PM #

    The worship band that I am in plays 90 db at one service and over 110 at another. I had to quit the one service it was so miserable and no one could hear a thing singing. The reason they said was so the congregation was not afraid to sing.
    It does put ‘dead’ energy in the room and I think there is no room for God in that.

    I don’t get it

  30. Daniel Cash October 31, 2009 at 11:58 PM #

    Someone in my church put this article in my mailbox. Frankly, I found the tone and thrust of this article insulting, judgmental and counterproductive. The author clearly had a bone to pick with a particular person in a situation, and instead of dealing with it in a healthy way, he decide to spew venom at all worship leaders.
    Just because the music is louder than he prefers, he passes judgment on the musicians’ skill, motivation and attitude. It is disgusting. Shame on CT for printing it.

  31. Matt Fields November 10, 2009 at 4:15 PM #

    I agree that music volumes in a Church setting should be dictated by what you’re trying to accomplish, but, I have been noticing something a lot lately. It seems that some worship teams are getting really loud. It’s not because they think people can’t hear them, it’s because they have fallen into something that I like to call “The Business”. A lot of “WORSHIP” teams have forgotten what they are there for. “LEADING” the congregation in worship. Instead they are trying to put on a concert. I know that a lot of you may not like that comment, if so, you’re one of them! I have played in worship teams for over 5 years now. I only left my first Church because the Pastor left and took our singer with him and the Church split. I couldn’t bear watching this happen so I left and joined another Church. This is where I got my first look at the dirty side of worship leaders. Our worship leader was more interested in making CD’S and touring than leading in worship. Usually leaving our pastor with the task of singing. I see it this way, either you are there to lead the congregation in worship or you are there to entertain an audience. When I go to a Christian concert I know what to expect, A good show. But when I attend Church I don’t want that! I don’t have a problem with a planned singing event at a Church but keep the performing out of worship. Like Scripture says, doing things for your own glory, then that’s all the reward you’ll get! I’m not asking for anyone’s opinion on this but I do hope that there are others out there that feel the same as I do. Thanks and God Bless!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  32. Gordon Wilkerson March 7, 2010 at 11:39 PM #

    Bob,

    What is your recommendation for amplifying an acoustic piano when playing it with a band? Our church has a nice size grand (a Yamaha 5C, which measures between 6 and 7 feet). We have a single mic pointed toward the soundboard on the treble side. I can hear pretty well when I play as I lower the music rest. The lid is open but not all the way up. Other instruments in the band include acoustic, bass and electric guitars, a keyboard we use for synth sounds and of course drums.

    Thanks,
    Gordon

  33. Eric Worthington October 3, 2010 at 10:15 PM #

    Hi Bob,

    Until a few years ago, I never had trouble with loud worship music. I have since developed a tendency toward sound sensitive headaches. Worship can often be uncomfortable or even quite painful for me know. I actually searched to see if you had written about this because it has been a bit perplexing to me. It is odd to be singing a song about how there is no more pain or suffering in heaven and have the song itself cause pain.

    Also, spending more time in the lobby and also being an usher has caused me to become aware that this is a problem with other people. I met a visitor leaving once because the music was too loud for her young son. She was very polite and said that he had a cold. but I never saw them again. I am also concerned that this seems to be more common among older people. It can be preference but I think it can also be physical due to changes as we age. I value having a wide range of ages in the church.

    For some of us, the sensitivity can be quite acute, so there is probably no ideal solution, but I was wondering if you had any thoughts on how to balance worship volume for people’s various seasons of life and physical condition. Also, do you have any advice on how to persevere in being envisioned for corporate worship when it can frequently be a cause of pain.

  34. Patrick Shanahan Sr March 14, 2011 at 3:23 PM #

    I need some help. I’m part of a small worship team @ a small church (40 ft wide – 80 ft long – 12 ft ceilings). This stuff is NEW to me – sound equipment..etc. I’ve always played an acoustic guitar by myself with a small, low-end amp. Now I have a nice acoustic/electric Ibanez guitar & 40 watt fender acoustic amp….an organ/piano with a Roland 100 watt amp. We have 4 vocal mics running through our small “ancient board” & the guitar & organ/piano adjusted by themselves..not thru the board. Trying to get the right sound from instruments..as well as volume…& the right volume for mics so every thing BLENDS in together without drowning out one another & the congregation. We have a small platform about 25 ft across that we are on.
    Need advice for everything…how far do I space the amps from each other….where do I point the amps…straight out or on a 45 degree…can amps stay on floor or should I get stands to raise them. ANY help would be very much appreciated. BTW, we play a combination of old hymns & contemporary christian music. thanx – patrick

    • Bob Kauflin March 15, 2011 at 11:55 AM #

      Patrick, thanks for stopping by. Difficult to answer your questions in a blog comment. At WorshipGod11 this year, Doug Gould will be addressing this question specifically in a seminar. Generally, you’ll have to experiment to see what happens. There are no cookie-cutter answers. If the amps sound better raised, then I’d raise them up. But usually that makes them too loud. Hope that’s helpful.

  35. StevenT June 16, 2011 at 12:13 AM #

    At Kingdom Harvest Church i generally tell the sound crrew to keep the music at around 95 db But if we were to loud my wife and mom would tell me. LOL

  36. Rhonda Glazner July 17, 2012 at 5:54 PM #

    If you do research on what levels are safe you will find that 85 db is as high as it should be. I can’t even imagine an average of 95.

    Why have we bought into the world’s rock culture? If you attend a church with an orchestra–the sound is not loud. Why is that? In the days when pianos and organs were used–there was never an issue about volume–maybe that should tell churches something. It seems to me that churches have moved into the politcally correct group rather than being set apart. Be not conformed to this world. (Rom 2:12) However, how many churches have done just that?

    Something is wrong when there is so much controversary over volume and bands!

    Blessings, Rhonda

  37. Darrell Tanner August 14, 2012 at 12:38 AM #

    I think we will see a time when some law suits will be made for ear damage. Whether they are sound suits or not is not the point – but I think can be one on the basis of 1) warnings posted2) a log keeping the db, etc. I’m not saying this is a good thing, I’m just saying it is coming. Law suits trend. you can see them following medications, certain surgeries, foods and next i beleive will be alledged ear damage.

  38. Bob Martin August 26, 2012 at 4:43 PM #

    I have a question about age related volume. As we age our hearing degrades, especially on the high frequency end. Scientifically, you would think that loud music would bother a 20 year old much more than a 60 year old person. However, obviously that is not the case, so why not. I have a theory, there is no question that I have lost a lot of hearing ability in the high frequency end so I am not able to hear the small nuances of the different instruments and voices. My theory is when a 20 year old hears the 95dBA level of music in our church they are able to hear the different voices and instruments and enjoy the music as it should be but for me it’s just a wall of sound that seems to overwhelm my ears. It’s not that I just don’t like loud because I am old, it’s actually uncomfortable and sometimes even painful, depending on the dominate frequency. This is my theory but I was wondering if there is any study that indicated this sort of phenomenon?

    • Bob Kauflin August 26, 2012 at 9:09 PM #

      Bob, frequencies can make a huge difference when it comes to what we hear. This article might be helpful:

      http://www.churchsoundcheck.com/hlitl.html

      I know that music can sound “loud” when you’ve lost some hearing (because I’ve lost some of mine), but it might be your ear finds certain frequencies offensive.

      All that to say, I have no idea!

  39. Dan April 19, 2013 at 12:10 AM #

    Here is what I think about the matter.

    1st a good sound guy goes a long way, the church I go to now likes to be “modern” so they turn it up a bit more each Sunday until people start complaining. Then turn it down every Sunday till people stop complaining. First problem they have is a really bad eq on there mains. Please figure out how to eq a pa and if you can’t, pay someone and lock the eq unit.
    There was one post about different songs at different spls, so true. The sound man is the most important part of the band!! When I run sound for a “modern” worship service, I use subgroups a lot. If I can I like to have one for the whole band, so lets say the verse, I can turn the band down and turn up the music in a intense chorus.

    If the just keep the DBS at 90 all service someone will say its to loud. The same person will love a chorus to kick in at 95 as long as the song started at 80 dbs and wouldn’t have a clue how “loud” it was.

    That said I was rocking out some worship today on a long trip home. I turned up the music till I thought it was to loud. It was 98 DBS. Then I started to sing my heart out to The Lord. I could still hear my voice ( if you were in the car with me you would have told me to turn up the music so You could worship) haha.

    Then I turned down the music to 65dbs. Again I sang my heart out.105 DBS!!! Now try to tell the sound man to turn me down haha

    So my main point is if you are a mordern worship team the sound mans jobs is to first make the Congregation Comfortable and as they/band get into it, push it a bit. There is nothing better then a room full of people singing there hearts out.

    So if your church sings hymns with the pa at 65dbs and everyone is singing praises to The Lord. Don’t turn it up to the point people start to fade off.

    EVEY ONE WORSHIPS At DIFFERENT DBs
    If its to loud don’t go, if its not Rockn enough don’t go

  40. Eric August 6, 2013 at 10:56 PM #

    We have good and balanced methodology at our church. One motto: We want to mix BIG, not LOUD. That’s where the good stuff is. The low end and fatness of the mix is much more engaging than the loudness factor created by high frequencies like guitars, vocals and cymbals. We darken most everything and try to make instrumentation smooth, pleasing and warm.
    I don’t agree about the congregation NEEDING to hear themselves or the folks around them sing. An individual doesn’t typically enter a service thinking, “Ooh I can’t wait to hear all these people around me sing so I can worship God today…” We go in to sing to the Lord with our own voice, and its not as easy to “drown out” a crowd that’s legitimately singing as it seems. Our medium sized 500 seat room seems conducive to around 90-93 dbA for worship. Some folks still want it louder, and some want it quieter. Those are taste people. The folks who want it louder are “concert” people. They have experienced and enjoy frequenting live concert environments. The people who would prefer it quieter are “car radio” people. They are the people who turn the radio in their car on as background music for their thoughts and conversations. They don’t want to sing along, they just want background soundtrack for their driving. And as a truthful discovery; if we turned down the db level of worship to 85, in reality these folks would still not feel completely happy, because the music is still “live” and live band driven music has a live energy and feel to it that’s difficult to take away. Live worship isn’t comparable to car radio music, which is what these folks really want, truthfully. The third group are folks with extra-sensitive hearing, like my mom. We are empathetic to these folks and provide ear protection to them to help accommodate them better.

  41. don skidmore January 30, 2014 at 6:30 AM #

    It’s so good to hear “But when you are leading us in singing, then lead us in singing. And turn it down so we are not listening to you—or, even worse, merely enduring you. I know that is not what you want to happen. But I am telling you that’s what is happening.” Of course the music needs to be loud enough to be exciting, but if you are drowning out the voice of the gathered worshippers then, what are you really doing???
    When the worship team is so loud that I can only hear myself sing it makes me feel alone in a crowd. I can still worship, but sometimes it just stifles me. Sometimes I stop singing altogether. I find myself thinking this is all about the band. They want to be LOUD because LOUD is cool. They don’t get it. The audience is a bunch of isolated individuals. There is no sense of a gathered group of worshippers. We are an audience at a concert. That’s not to say there are not times when we want to have a concert moment now and then. Nor is it to say I have not worshipped at concerts where it was concert level sound. Those need to be exceptions to the staple diet of worship life together. I agree most with the idea that the most powerful and beautiful sound in the room of gathered worshippers is the voice of those worshippers. (when i drive in the car sometimes the music in my car is so loud it is embarrassing, but in the worship setting I am part of something bigger than myself. The volume needs to reflect that.) I have led youth ministry for decades and I can tell you the most amazing moments of “worship” have been in settings where the teens were filled with the Holy Spirit’s renewal and singing with real anointing. It was so beautiful I hushed to listen. It was like listening to angels. Sometimes in slower response songs I have heard harmonizing among the crowd as the Spirit moved, He was leading US ALL like a conductor. Finding that balance where the band is loud enough to be exciting and yet not so loud as to destroy the sense of our being able to hear ourselves (and not just some band) before God singing together is sometimes a hard balance to get right, but when it works it blows totally out of the water all the other experiences we call church worship. Being in a band and making music is an energizing experience in it’s own right. Grunge-ing it out loud is a great feeling. The people in the crowd are not on stage feeling that, doing that. Nor are they trying to live vicariously through us. I hope, as their pastor, they want to ENCOUNTER GOD TOGETHER. Should God have to use his omniscience to hear the voices of his children singing above the band? Sorry for the rant. I’ve got those “what was the sound man thinking last night” blues.

  42. Kay Wapman July 19, 2014 at 11:13 AM #

    My teenage daughters and I have been searching for a church home, and we like contemporary Christian music, but have left all the churches we have visited feeling so disappointed because we felt overwhelmed by the sound level. Not just me (I am 57), but my 12 and 14 year old girls, also. My 14 year old would comment that she really wanted to sing along, and would try at first, but then would give up because she couldn’t when the music was so overwhelming. It is very frustrating when you feel a desire to worship God, but then when you try to, it is an exercise in futility because all you can hear is the band, not the congregation or yourself. I invited my husband to visit one church with us where the messages were fantastic, but he couldn’t tolerate the volume and said he would not want to go anywhere where he would be blasted out of his seat. I did attend one church that I loved that played the same type of music but at a much more tolerable level, but it was not in my city and we want a church that is more local to where my children attend school. That congregation was much more engaged in the worship than the other, louder congregations we visited, where we noticed that many were just listening. Please, musicians, do not drown out the worshipers! I fail to see how this is glorifying to God.

  43. Deafened Pete November 7, 2014 at 12:02 AM #

    Just read the leaflet that is given out …what arrogance . I’m glad I don’t go to your church and have to shout out the songs while being drowned out by loud music. 95 to 100 db is far too loud. Shear arrogance …just turn the volume down …. simple and easy.

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  1. Media Arts Dad » Blog Archive » When is Church Too Loud? - July 14, 2009

    […] Kauflin at Worship Matters has a recent post on the subject: How Loud the Worship Team where he outlines 5 great points:1. Cranking up the volume is just a cheap trick to add energy to a […]

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