Is your worship music too loud?

Someone dubbed in a real-life complaint about worship music into the Dora cartoon above (HT: Tim Challies). After watching the video, I was reminded of an article that John Stackhouse wrote for Christianity Today in 2009, “Memo to Worship Bands: Five sound reasons to lower the volume.” Stackhouse’s central concern is summed up in this sentence: “I find almost every worship band in every church I visit to be too loud—not just a little bit loud, but uncomfortably, even painfully, loud.” He then goes on to give five reasons why worship leaders should turn down the volume.

Stackhouse concludes his essay with this:

“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.”

Stackhouse is pretty heavy-handed here, but I don’t think he has anything on the complaint in the Dora video above. It is classic.

14 Responses to Is your worship music too loud?

  1. Lucas Knisely March 5, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

    Yeah, I’m a young guy and I really like the faster more contemporary worship just as much as hymns, but I’ve definitely felt like complaining in some churches that I can’t even hear myself which turns it into more of a concert.

    The video is funny, lol

  2. John March 5, 2011 at 1:04 pm #

    This is so true. I visited an awesome, gospel centered church (which will remain unnamed) and never returned for one simple reason – when I left my ears physically hurt.

  3. Barry March 5, 2011 at 1:09 pm #

    Wow. That’s one painful voice-over. I, too, have been in many churches where the dB level is outrageous. As a worship pastor myself, we watch the dB meter as closely as we watch our lyrics. What’s great is when our sound guys have seniors, yes SENIORS!, comment to them “that they no longer have to bring earplugs.” True story.

    We did, however, recently spike at almost 100dB . . . with no instruments playing at all. Just the voices singing the final chorus of “I Stand Amazed in the Presence.” That, my friend, was awesome, and is volume I can live with!

    BCJ

  4. David Rogers March 5, 2011 at 2:03 pm #

    Dial back the mid-levels in the equalization. This is sometimes where the problem lies in the sound mix. At least, that is what I understood from a guy who tweaked our sound system.

  5. Steve Wilson March 5, 2011 at 4:51 pm #

    John Stackhouse is my new hero!

  6. Mike Gastin March 5, 2011 at 5:32 pm #

    I don’t know about sound levels, but I do wonder at a minister that would take a phone message complaint, set it to Dora and then post it to YouTube. Does not strike me as the heart of our Good Shepherd—more like infantile man-child. Sure, the woman sounds like a burden, but clearly she’s brought this up more than once and the guy has not responded to her. She’s frustrated. Is that wrong?

  7. Jason March 5, 2011 at 5:33 pm #

    How does this guy know so much about other churches’ music? Does he ever have time to go to his own church?

  8. Steve March 6, 2011 at 4:33 pm #

    I like some of the contemporary stuff, but I miss the hymns. If a guitar (or organ) is so loud that I can not hear myself sing, I wonder what the point is of having the congregation move their lips.

  9. Heather March 6, 2011 at 11:18 pm #

    The video was funny but yet sad to think that she didn’t feel like she could worship God in church- the one place designed just for that! Churches have become more disrespectful towards God… They wouldn’t play that way if God was standing in front of them!

  10. Jason March 7, 2011 at 1:23 am #

    It’s one of the most subjective matters in churches today, if not (I hope) the only subjective thing. Unless you are a musician or someone who runs sound or know how hard it is to tweak the music every Sunday morning based on who is playing and what type or shape the building you are in happens to be, then I don’t think you’re in any position to say what is loud. I play guitar and run sound in our church plant (a rented exhibition hall) and each Sunday is a struggle to try to get the levels right.

    Our motto for our sound team is to play with undistracting excellence to the Glory of God. Sometimes we feel like we’re fighting for that in the midst of our Sunday morning worship. That’s how hard it is to run sound. The dynamics are constantly changing. Wonder why there is a guy behind the board at all times – because you can’t just set levels and leave them alone.

    Maybe the author of this article should have targeted more of the mega church bullseye. When these churches are being built, the consult acoustic technicians to design the rooms.

    Once again, the issue is way to subjective to write such a semi-harsh article. It’s silly and a waste of type in my opinion. Like I said, a person who is in the company of his own congregation on a regular basis shouldn’t have time to write about how annoying other churches are.

  11. Heather March 8, 2011 at 10:07 am #

    If no one wrote or said anything about how a church is messing up…how would anything be able to change? He is writing about it because it is becoming a growing problem that churches need to know about do they can try to avoid making the same mistake. You are right, it is hard to manage the sound-so one shouldn’t complain over every little thing however this isn’t about the small inconveniences but about someone not having the ability to worship without going home with ringing in their ears and feeling like their church cares more for the noise than the worship.

  12. Jason March 8, 2011 at 10:43 pm #

    I must be sheltered. I say this as a testament to the grace of God that I have not experience this – at least not since college where I saw it more in parachurch organizations. But I have heard horror stories of crazy-loud bands (that aren’t very good for that matter).

    I can’t stand over-simplifications of issues. I think this is one of them. It leads people to think that if the band is too loud, they don’t really love Jesus. By the way, I believe the main role of music in the church is to edify the body (through singing Truth about God and to God). Therefore, if one person has a problem with the music and no one else does, then, to me it sounds like that person believes it is about “them and God.” As if the music is supposed to “connect” them to God in some way that can’t be done outside of Sunday morning. (Maybe that’s an over-simplification 🙂 )

    There are people who are offensive and people who are easily offended. I have experienced more of the latter growing up in the Church.

    We need to do a better job of cultivating music leaders in our churches that understand how to balance serving everyone. And we need congregations that see that church music is not about “me and God.” It is about “us and God.” When we seek to serve one another when it comes to music – leaders being sensitive to listeners/singers, and congregation coming to the realization that it’s not as easy to control sound as they think it is – that will be more glorifying to God. (at least I think)

    Ephesians 5:18-21
    18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.

  13. David March 10, 2011 at 8:21 am #

    Forget the fact that a debate on ‘worship bands’ could go on endlessly, part of the problem here is the acoustical design of the spaces in which worship occurs. Many churches set up all kinds of instrumentation – amplified and otherwise – with very little thought given to the way sound interacts with materials comprising everything from floor to ceiling and what’s behind them. It isn’t simply a question of how high volume is placed or eq is set for amplified music, or even the voicing on an organ (to use another example). Some spaces are designed to accentuate certain types of music, ‘defeating’ other types, and some spaces are so poorly designed and constructed that they appear to be at war with any musical offering, vocal or instrumental, amplified or otherwise. This is a major factor in the struggle congregations face – not to mention the people trying to engineer sound for worship services.

  14. Craig Betts April 12, 2011 at 9:30 am #

    I appreciate the variety of comments made so far in response to this issue. I am a church musician of 20+ years and I have great respect for our sound teams and the incredible efforts it takes to balance the whole package. But keep in mind, the issue here is VOLUME LEVEL. My wife and I are currently struggling with this very issue in our church. My five and seven year olds are holding their hands over their ears. It is literally/physically painful. This cannot be good for anyone. Unfortunately, we have a generation of young people who listen at this volume level all the time, so it does not usually affect them. But the bottom line is that no one should have to worship with earplugs. There is a level of moderation that we need to achieve. If someone likes excessively loud music, they can listen to it on their personal sound systems at home. I believe it is just simple common respect and the act of honoring others, realizing that when you have such a large variety of ages and tastes you must find a place of moderation. From a health standpoint, 90 to 100 decibles of sound is pretty much the limit before the ear begins to incure physical damage. Why try to get as close to that as possible? I don’t beleive that is wisdom, neither is it caring for our “temple of the Holy Spirit”.

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