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When Worship Music is Too Loud, What Do Worshippers Do?

by PatrickMay 15, 2015

If you’ve become more and more frustrated by the ever-increasing volume of worship music during contemporary church services, you’re not alone.

I recently had the opportunity to experience an ear infection bad enough to warrant a visit to an Ear, Nose and Throat Specialist. If you have the chance to experience an ear infection of that magnitude, I wouldn’t recommend jumping at it.

In any case, the ENT used an ear-canal-sized vacuum cleaner — something I didn’t know existed that I’ll tell you about one day — then suggested some ear drops to treat the area and then asked if I had any questions. It was my first visit to an ENT, so I had plenty. But I asked about a topic I’ve written about before: the volume of worship music.

No one seems to agree about what is and isn’t too loud, after all.

Musicians like loudness. Worship leaders I know have scoffed at the notion that 100 decibels is too loud. When I wrote about this topic back in January, I mentioned that the only thing resembling a “compromise” of worship leaders is to provide ear plugs. To me, that’s an admission of guilt and a case of adding insult to injury at the same time: who wants to listen to something with their ears plugged up?

That’s not what I call putting your audience first.

The ENT said 80 decibels is about as loud as the music should be. Yes, he said 80. To give you an idea, 85 decibels is the level of typical busy city traffic.

Good luck with that.

Some worship leaders like pushing the 100-decibel mark, which is the equivalent of a motorcycle. A loud rock concert, which seems somewhat redundant, is about 115 decibels, and if you’ve ever been to one and left with ringing ears, congratulations: you’ve probably done damage to your hearing.

Part of the problem here is no one will come right out and say what’s safe versus what’s allowed. This is because OSHA, which provides guidelines about the decibel levels it thinks are loud enough to require an employer to provide ear protection for employees, while health initiatives like the Dangerous Decibels Project are more focused on the decibel level that actually causes damage.

Those sets of numbers, in a perfect world, should be identical. They aren’t.

When I attended a service at what might be described as a multiple-location church that features a live worship band and a live broadcast of a preacher from the “home” location, the music averaged about 98 decibels and peaked at about 102. The pastor’s message peaked at about 80 to 82 decibels.

What’s ironic about that is the message, which is the more important reason for people to show up, is being downgraded by the audio team: they’re putting the priority on what they allow to be so loud, to “rock your socks off” (and your hearing along with them). The music and fancy light shows may be visually more exciting, but the teaching from the word of God, one might hope, would be the spiritual priority here.

That’s not meant to ignore the importance of worship or worship music, but rather to suggest that both should be important in their own way, and going by volume, one clearly is in the mind of sound engineers, while the other is more along the lines of “coffee break time” during which they can sit around and wait for the next song.

If they believe 100 decibels is not only safe but appropriate, why isn’t the pastor’s message at 100 decibels, too? Why isn’t everything at the same level, if everything is important?

Choosing between God and your health.

Once you know what a medical professional, whose medical opinion I would trust more than an audio operator who likes loud music, recommends for your health, you have a decision to make: is attending a worship service worth potential damage to your hearing?

More importantly, one should ask this simple question: Does God want you to potentially sacrifice your hearing just to worship Him?

If you have to spend a long time thinking about that, I have to wonder why. What if worship leaders dropped the volume, over a period of, say, two months, by about two to three decibels per week, to get the volume closer to the 80 or 85-decibel mark. Are they afraid they’ll anger God or get complaints that the music isn’t loud enough?

When you like a pastor’s preaching style, but not the volume of everything else, what’s a worshipper supposed to do? The easy answer in the 21st century is to look for a church that streams its services online so the listener can control the volume completely. But not all churches with phenomenal pastors stream their services.

Other churches do, but if you don’t connect with the pastor as well, are you going to receive the message with the same clarity? These are questions I think every church attendee needs to ask if they’ve ever felt something was wrong with their church’s services.

Bible thumpers like to say Christians should never be willing to compromise their beliefs. But if you believe some part of the service is not being done in a way that’s beneficial (or healthy), how long are you supposed to compromise those feelings just so you can say you showed up every week?

I worked in a church tech booth for years: not once did I ever hear someone say the music wasn’t loud enough. But I saw people leaving after complaining the music was too loud. I truly hope they found a church that met their needs by virtue of a presentation that made them comfortable enough to engage.

And I think that’s the key to it: it’s not about making a church service comfortable. If that was the case, most pastors would have to remain silent on a multitude of topics. But there’s a difference between a church service that’s “comfortable” and a church service that makes attendees feel comfortable enough to engage and truly experience a God moment.

That should always be more important than the stage show.

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Patrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 26 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.
27 Comments
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  • David Kan
    August 18, 2017 at 5:47 pm

    I appreciate the insights from Patrick and fans. I have been a part of praise teams across decades starting in the early 1980s- all with sound systems. Complaints of excessive volume used to be rare. Something has changed. Complaints are widespread. And I know of many who are silent about their physical discomfort every service. Handing out earplugs is NOT the auditory equivalent to offering sunglasses for light sensitivity. Rather, wearing earplugs is more aptly compared to viewing a panoramic sunset with a baking colander over your face. I agree with a previous comment. I have never heard a congregation member complain about the volume being painfully low. There is a very simple way to arrive at the optimal volume for everyone. Leaders are often too arrogant to search out the matter with wisdom. I prayerfully hope that this will change.

  • William
    August 9, 2017 at 10:47 am

    Wow! I knew there were some at our church that had issues with this challenge of louder than tolerable worship music but I didn’t realize it was so widespread a problem.

    We have been attending our church of about 4000 people spread over multiple services for about seven years. My wife and I and our two daughters started attending when our oldest daughter was in the children’s ministry and our youngest daughter was in the infant area. Our oldest daughter who is in high school is a servant volunteer in the children’s ministry and our youngest daughter loves attending church although she is too young to volunteer yet. My wife and I have been servant volunteers at the church for over six of the seven years we’ve been attending.

    About 3-4 years ago the church transitioned from the worship pastor who had been there for about 15 years who lead amazing and current “popular” worship music and songs with members of the congregation ranging from teenagers to people with all white hair and it was plenty loud, maybe even a little too loud but you could hear the church worshipping together. The new worship pastor is great as well, the worship is not any less anointed I believe, but it is much too loud to hear anybody except those on the sanctuary stage and is way past safe listening levels.

    If it were not for our daughters and they’re love for our church, we would stop going to this church because of the volume of he worship services. It is so loud that like others who’ve commented here, I now stay out of the sanctuary until after worship has concluded which I dislike because as a Christian I want to worship God in my church home but am unable to because of the physical discomfort it causes me. I have went so far as to think “is this the enemy trying to make me not worship God?”

    I don’t think that is the case but has anybody thought about it from a similar perspective?

  • Chuck Peterson
    July 9, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    It’s troublesome when a preacher teaches we should esteem others more highly than ourselves then demonstrates the opposite by cranking the volume uncomfortably high

  • Lisa
    June 23, 2017 at 11:38 pm

    Hi, I just found this article and I agree 100% with you! I am so incredibly saddened about how loud music at church has to be. I am forced to wear earplugs during the worship at our church because the music is so loud it rattles in my ear and causes pain. Worship is about the congregation entering in through singing…but I cant even hear myself sing let alone anyone else when the music is so loud it sounds like a Rock Concert! I guess I am old school, I would love to hear worship music unplugged…acoustic guitars, minimal amplification on the vocals, real orchestral instruments….then I could actually hear people at church singing along. Honestly, when the music is so loud i honestly believe it quenches the Spirit of God rather than makes it more anointed. I am so saddened by this it breaks my heart. My church service was so loud tonight I left crying because my ears hurt so bad even with earplugs in! And I love my church!!! And when I have to wear earplugs I cant sing or shout praises to God, so its hard for me to enter into true worship. I am so grieved by this. I mentioned this to a woman in leadership and she said they will not turn the music down. So what can I do? Pray someone will understand….I am so sad!

    • Christin
      June 24, 2017 at 10:18 am

      I think we all need to speak up and let the staff of each one of these churches know. If the dB Volume Meter is so loud, the music is damaging to the ears, heart and unborn children.
      It is no longer worship if you can’t hear yourself sing unto the Lord.
      It becomes a show.

  • Jo ann
    June 4, 2017 at 9:58 pm

    I been goin to the same church for 7 yrs.but the music has become so loud an vibrates in my stomach.I am 67 and can’t enjoy it anymore so forced to go somewhere else. I feel kinda lost and quilty.like I’m doing wrong by quiting the church.just saf.pray for me please.

    • Patrick
      June 5, 2017 at 10:36 am

      Hi, Jo ann.

      I’m sorry you’re having this experience. If you haven’t already, you might consider talking to the main pastor about your concerns. There’s a chance that they might listen to someone who’s been attending a long time.

      But in no way should you feel guilty or wrong for changing churches if the current one is playing music so loud that it causes you physical discomfort. The worship team has an obligation to its congregation to make sure the volume isn’t so loud that it could do physical harm.

      I will pray that you find a church that will better suit your needs if you end up having to leave your current one.

  • Birdie
    May 1, 2017 at 8:23 pm

    I appreciate this article. I think the loud music is a problem for a lot of people, and perhaps especially older adults and babies. I am in my early 60’s, but I have felt physical discomfort for years in church services due to the decibels. My husband has a decibel app, and our church’s registers at 78 to 82 Db. I MUST wear ear plugs or it is painful, but I do have sensitive hearing. They offer ear plugs at most of our services. What grieves me, is that I can only hear myself worship, when wearing my ear plugs. I can barely hear anyone, including myself, when I try not to wear them. It’s a weird sort of isolation. I am also grieved when I see people with young babies exposing their tender ears to music too loud for their development, out of ignorance. Why does the music HAVE to be so loud? What is wrong with hearing other people around you sing? I recently went to a church service with just an acoustic guitar, microphone and a couple of singers. We sang many of the same songs as my church but I had such a wonderful experience of worship, without feeling isolated. I miss corporate worship.

    • May 4, 2017 at 10:00 pm

      Thanks for your comment, Birdie.

      The easy answer is that the music DOESN’T have to be that loud. For some reason, too many worship leaders think they’re being “cool” to have it loud, and too many pastors seem unwilling to question anything, even when their faithful members raise concerns.

      It’s truly sad.

  • Heather
    April 17, 2017 at 5:53 pm

    Thanks for sharing. I feel like I am walking into the Twilight Zone recently at the church I have been attending over 15 years. It amazes me that the volume of the music is acceptable. It is so weird to me that I now have to plug my ears during worship and sometimes I look around and wonder, “why isn’t anyone else bothered by this?” The pastor has mocked , from the pulpit,those who have brought up concerns about the loud music saying that they should respect the musicians who work so hard to lead us into worship. These people were not gossiping, just bringing up their genuine concerns. So, I know that if I say anything the leadership will just have a “canned answer” for me to defend their reasons for doing what they do.

    • Patrick
      April 22, 2017 at 10:34 pm

      You know, Heather, the response your pastor gave really made me angry. Talk about missing the point! Asking for music to be played at a level that doesn’t potentially cause damage to your hearing is not in ANY way “disrespecting” the musicians. To the contrary, it’s respecting them enough that you want to be able to listen to their hard work at a ear-safe level.

      I hate that pastors sometimes don’t see that.

    • Birdie
      May 1, 2017 at 8:39 pm

      I’ve looked around and wondered the same thing as you, Heather, and I’ve also had the experience of not feeling like I can say anything because it will be perceived as complaining, etc. On many Sunday mornings I actually develop a headache, even though I wear ear-plugs in the worship service.

  • Sarah BRYCE
    April 9, 2017 at 11:01 am

    I am struggling with this very issue, and it is causing me not to attend regularly.

    • Patrick
      April 22, 2017 at 10:33 pm

      Sorry to hear you’re dealing with this, Sarah. There’s always the option to stay outside the sanctuary until after the music is over and then go in when the message begins. That might make the problem a bit more clear to those at your church.

      Short of that, I hope you find a different church that does a better job of listening to your concerns!

      • Birdie
        May 1, 2017 at 8:27 pm

        I wait until the worship is over, by sitting in the overflow room and watching it (at a lower Db) on the TV screen quite often. Then I go in. There are others in the room who never go into the sanctuary due to the volume level. I think it’s really sad.

  • Cale
    March 7, 2017 at 1:51 pm

    Patrick,
    This is a nice insiders point to have read. I am in my 20s and have never heard an extensive position on this.
    I do kindly want to bring some things to mind
    1. OSHA’s decibel requirements were never laid out for music, there were never any tests done in music venues of any sort. There are also different ways to measure decibel levels there is dbA and dbC. dbA is an accurate depiction of the measurable audio level.
    Also that “volume” is perceived and Sound pressure level is what is measurable.
    2. I do want to point out that I agree with what you are saying about worship leaders not being very willing to even have a conversation about it. That is an error and I think a heart issue.
    3. No doubt 100 decibels is loud. The other variables to this is room size, PA system quality, and more importantly the engineer him self. If there is a bad engineer behind the sound board he could make 85 decibel blow out your ears and make it feel like an ice pick in your forehead.

    I truly hate hearing these stories especially being apart of the body. Because I think parties on both sides of this discussion should have equal opportunity to worship musically, and connect with God how they feel is best.

    Appreciate your words. This was insightful

    • Patrick
      March 8, 2017 at 9:31 pm

      Thanks for visiting and for the kind words, Cale. I’m glad you found the post insightful.

      You are right that OSHA’s decibel requirements were not laid out for music per se, but when the total volume in the room — from music or anything else — consistently exceeds what OSHA has defined as a safe level, sometimes for 15 to 20 minutes at a time, that’s still a potential problem. I asked my ENT specialist about safe levels and I have to defer to his expertise on the point.

      I agree with you that the lack of willingness to even consider the concerns is a heart issue, but it’s not just with worship leaders: it’s also with sound technicians and sometimes even lead pastors.

      I used a phone app to unscientifically measure the volume level at several churches. The app, which appears to get good reviews but is certainly not as reliable, I’d imagine, as a real decibel meter, showed the churches’ worship sets consistently maintaining levels of 96-102 decibels, with one church’s music peaking at about 105.

      But when there’s a lack of willingness to even discuss the issue, even a “non-scientific” measurement won’t get you anywhere.

  • Patricia
    January 6, 2017 at 1:22 am

    Thank you so much for this, Patrick! The church is quickly losing the spiritual sage in their congregations along with their hearing. Younger people may be flocking to the church, but people over 50 are leaving. My husband and I are in our late 60s and we raised our children in churches with somewhat loud and very anointed worship, but today’s worship services are unbearably loud. Deafening, in fact. We can’t find a church home for this reason and have been out of fellowship in a local body for almost 4 years now. I don’t want to be misunderstood here, as we often are if we say anything. It’s not the songs or style of music; it’s the volume. Period.. Sadly, heartfelt praise & worship has morphed into ear-piercing-rock-concert-performance-praise in many churches where only a handful of people in the congregation even participate anymore. 90-100 decibels is normal now. (90 is a lawn mower and 100 is a motorcycle.) When they have to offer ear plugs, my guess is that it means the music is too loud. Some even suggest ear plugs in their bulletins. Worse yet, is voicing an opinion and then be directed to the earlier “traditional service” where the old hymns are the flavor of the day. It has nothing to do with not wanting to experience lively, anointed worship and we are hurt at that suggestion. Sadly, that is always the response, so it is easier to stay home than to cause discord, I have even heard people say that maybe we should just skip worship and attend the sermon. We feel that worship is essential and not optional for the believer. I have developed tinnitus over the years and my audiologist advised me to stay away from these types of worship services if I didn’t want to lose my hearing completely. She is already treating many younger people who have hearing loss from exposure to loud worship. She said the churches are keeping her in business. I agree with Rebecca; the people of God are asking for help, but we aren’t sure we will ever find it. I miss worship that brings us into the presence of God and sometimes to our knees without inflicting physical pain, but we feel that no one is listening. Perhaps they can’t hear us.

    • Patrick
      January 6, 2017 at 9:18 am

      Thanks for reading, Patricia. Sorry to hear of your experiences, but I know you’re not alone in having faced this kind of situation.

      I have always believed that when a church actively handed out (and worse, SUGGESTED earplugs), it was essentially an admission of guilt in producing music at an unhealthy volume. For some reason, though, these churches would rather people cram foam into their ears to make them uncomfortable rather than just dropping the volume.

      To me, that’s neither serving God nor His people.

      I like your last line: perhaps, indeed, they can’t hear. But if that’s the case, they did it to themselves. Ironic, isn’t it?

  • Emily94
    September 18, 2016 at 10:29 am

    I stopped going to church as a young teen because it was too loud. I turned 13 and aged out of children’s church, which was a combo of Sunday school and kid-friendly preaching that was held in a seperate, quiet building. Adult church was an assult to my senses. Live, ear-splitting music for the first 30 minutes, and then another hour of the pastor booming loudly on the microphone. I spent a few Sundays with my hands over my ears, and then told my mom I didn’t want to go anymore, and she let me stay home because she saw how miserable I was. As an adult, I haven’t been able to find a church in my area that isn’t super LOUD, so I just watch services on TV. I really don’t know why churches do this. Does anyone really like music that loud? I understand that everyone needs to hear, even the people way in the back, but at my mom’s church, you can actually hear the music and the preaching outside of the building in the parking lot. That’s just crazy.

  • Rebecca
    November 29, 2015 at 11:20 pm

    The bible says that an hour is coming and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such people the Father seeks to be His worshippers. If the congregation is unable to enter into this worship time of the service then God cannot find the type of worshippers He is looking for! Seems to me that the true enemy in this whole conversation about loud music in our churches today is the enemy of our souls – the devil! Who else would continuously use this most vital piece of our ability to hear from God to push worshippers away in one way or another. I have been grieved about the way this situation is being handled in churches across the country – passing out or recommending ear plugs : ( As a lifetime member of the worship team of churches I have been affiliated with over 30 years! The answer is easy – bring the volume down! Pastors will have the privilege of mandating the safe decibel levels in their sanctuaries. Provide the congregation the life-giving ability to experience worship as God intended – purely from the heart and encouraged by the worship team. We should be connecting to the congregation – possibly not even standing on a platform at all but out among the worshippers!. Amplification then would have to modified to handle this change in location of singers/musicians. Lets continue this discussion – please! The people of God in our churches are asking for help… Thank you

  • Carrie
    November 15, 2015 at 11:53 pm

    Thanks for addressing this issue. We are not being proactive in protecting one of our most precious gifts. The gift of hearing. Sadly, our young people are going to be severely disadvantaged in the global workforce compared to the unchurched, who havent exposed their ears to harmful decibel levels over several decades. By the time our Christian teens are in their thirties and forties, it will be too late. They will not be able to buy or pray for better hearing after years of exposure to high decibel levels at our contempory churches. As an audiologist explained, sooner or later, the ear just cannot take what it used to take in our younger years. Eventually all of this exposure to loud music will catch up to us. God gives us freedom of choice, but not freedom of consequence. I pray for wisdom for this generation.

  • Lori
    October 13, 2015 at 11:44 am

    Hi, Patrick. I really appreciate your thoughts on this topic. My husband and I are both 53. We attend a young-ish church (by that I mean the vast majority of members are in their 20’s to 30’s) that we actually helped launch recently. Slowly, the music became so loud that I was unable to stay in the sanctuary during worship. It is now so loud that even standing in the foyer with the doors to the sanctuary closed, you would still have to nearly shout to hold a conversation with someone. I have no idea what the decibel level is.

    We’re not the only ones who have brought this issue up to our pastor. There is a small number of others who have also had problems during worship. Our church’s answer was to pass out earplugs. I like the way you described that: adding insult to injury. That’s exactly how we feel about it. And it seems no one is about to turn down the sound anytime soon.

    My husband is heavily involved in leadership. He’s going to be bringing this topic up again at the next team leader meeting. I personally only arrive at church after the worship is over. Why should I get there on time only to stand in the foyer during the song service? Where I’d still have to shout if I wanted to talk to anyone? I feel unheard and cast aside.

    I’m not sure what resolution, if any, we’ll see to this problem. I only know that I’m very, very disheartened.

    • October 13, 2015 at 8:10 pm

      Hi, Lori. Thanks for visiting my blog and for the kind words.

      I think you described the situation for people who feel this way about loud music perfectly: “I feel unheard and cast aside.”

      Any church that is willing to allow some of its own members to feel that way just because they aren’t willing to turn down the volume a bit is making a dreadful mistake: they’re putting the appearance of being “rock stars” above the concerns (and health, for that matter) of the people who attend.

      I hope the church has the opportunity to hear the sentiment you expressed, even if your husband were to submit it as coming from an unnamed person. And I hope they respond accordingly!

    • Tammy
      July 16, 2017 at 4:02 am

      Lori – I feel the same way. My family are TRUE musicians, classically trained and aware of the genres in church music. We r VERY accomplished musicians BUT WE ARE DISMISSED AS PEOPLE WHO HAVE NOTHING TO OFFER. The attitude we get is that we r ignorant traditionalists and we should be dismissed. The worship pastor is an untrained man who kinda plays the guitar. His music is ugly and he’s only able to play in 2 keys. He’s the best friend of the lead pastor, so this church “belongs” to them. There is a lot of sin I am starting to see in these 2 pastors lives and I think it is time to leave. What I am seeing is that the world has come into this church. The music is so ugly and uninspired: just like what you hear in the greater society. There is a great deal of arrogance and fraud in this church; the finances are being plundered by the pastors but no one will say anything.This same worship pastor roundly scolded me 4 objecting 2 the playing of Packer games in the lobby outside the sanctuary just after services!! I now c that their sin in the area of music, volume, etc. is just part of a larger problem of pride and self-sufficiency. The church is [redacted] in Milwaukee, WI.

      Editor’s Note: Given the nature of the allegations here, some of which are completely off-topic to the post, I don’t feel it’s appropriate to name a specific church in this forum. I have removed the name of the church from this comment.

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