Faith

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

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.

57 Comments

  1. In the early 70’s , I was in the US Navy and worked in the engine room of an aircraft carrier for almost 4 years. We worked many long hours in the “hole” where the noise levels from the boilers and turbines would cause your ears to ring and you had to yell at people to communicate. Working in the engine room was torture due to excessive noise levels, long hours, extreme heat, and other stresses. Call it PTSD if you will, but when subjected to the loud volume at church services, it brings back some very bad memories, so I just don’t attend any more. I have found many good preachers on TV and you tube. I can attend church several times on Sunday and during the week also without the bad memories of the past or damaging my health in the present.
    My dad was accomplished in music, and he would tell me, even good music, when played too loud , is offensive. I have to agree with some commenters that the loudness and show gimmicks are to increase the money in the coffers. The churches with loud music should not forget to church the pew seats after each service to recover the coins that were shaken out of the pockets from the loud noise. Enough said

  2. Over the past few years, my church has gone from playing music over the speakers at a comfortable level for us to sing along to (was nice, and made you feel comfortable and like part of the group when you could hear everyone’s voice), to including a few unnecessary live instruments, to having a big live band who plays extremely loudly in a rather small building. It’s extremely uncomfortable and is definitely at dangerously loud levels. If I accidentally forget to put my ear plugs in my purse before I leave for church, I turn around and leave when I realize because it is seriously painful without them. I don’t get it, and I’m a “young person” who a lot of people seem to think loud music is geared to. It doesn’t attract me to church, but rather repels me. If I wanted to go to a rock concert, I would go to a rock concert. But I don’t want to go to a rock concert, I just want to go to church and be comfortable (and not at risk of permanent hearing damage). So glad others feel the same way!

    1. I am in full agreement that the volume is too loud in worship in most churches. I just read that singing is good for the whole of our mind. And my problem is that I do not enjoy singing now.

  3. I have tinnitus, it drives me crazy sometimes. Every where I go now, especially to see films in the theatre or anything likely to be too loud, I bring ear plugs, ones that are comparable to gun enthusiasts – they cut 33 dBAs off if fully inserted in the ear. But films are easily 120 dBA. That is crazy-loud. I also say something to people who are so stupid as to bring a week’s to months-old infant to the movies – they are damaging their infant’s hearing. It makes me furious.

  4. A few years ago I was at my wife’s church helping out prepping for a special mass for the diocese bishop’s visit. It’s a large, old Catholic Church built in the 19th century, containing a humongous pipe organ. While I was helping out in the church the church organist came in so he could practice for the event. I don’t know what the crazy organist was trying to accomplish but it sounded as though he was playing the organ with all of the organ’s stops pulled. It was a deafening ROAR that emanated from all over the church. It was like an earthquake simulator inside the church, with the leaded panes in the old stained glass windows rattling like mad I though they were going to shatter! I could feel the organ’s dreadful droning bass in my chest, my head, everywhere. After ten minutes I had to leave the church, with of course my ears ringing. I literally felt sick to my stomach. My wife saw me standing outside of the church looking perturbed and she asked me if I was ok. I said there are cannons being fired off in there. My wife looked bewildered by my comment, so I went on about the organist who’s trying to break the sound barrier in there. My wife just kind of rolled her eyes and said something about the new organist Lorrin, is very passionate about his music and he plays loudly. I told my wife that she better make sure and protect her ears when she goes to mass with that mad man at the helm of the pipe organ, because my ears rang for several hours after that insident with the crazy loud organ. I’m not a church goer. I’m secular, an atheist, but I respect my wife’s Catholic beliefs. So you can understand my reaction to being pushed into the deep end of the pool when that old pipe organ began screaming (roaring) away since I’m not accustomed to that sort of thing at all. I would imagine that a very large organ with 3000 pipes, and all of its stops pulled, would register over well over 100 decibels. So it’s not just the modern electric guitars, basses and drum sets that can rival a 747 on take off its also the giant antique pipe organs from yesteryear that are auditory killers as well.

  5. I recently attended an event at my church and when I left I had ringing in my ears that has NOT stopped. My ears were damaged in my church. I am so down over this situation. I have seen an ENT and have been told that it will probably never stop. I don’t understand! I truly don’t understand WHY it has to be so loud. The ringing has truly effected my life in a very negative way. 🙁 I also know without a doubt, that God would NOT have me physically harmed by worshipping Him.

  6. Dear Sir, you HIT THE NAIL ON THE HEAD! My husband n I have moved frequently for his work n had to attend numerous different churches. We have walked out of a service ten mins in because the music was rattling our brains. Seen this over n over n over in to many places. It’s harmful and unnecessary to blast us and I do not feel this is Gods best. The subtle God who chose to speak in the gentle wind and not the roaring storm likes us to be still and know, Not blast my brains out. My husband has severe hearing loss due to his occupation. After a loud service his ears will ring for days. Not fun. I love enthusiastic worship but I agree the voices of the congregation are what’s reaching Gods ears. I always call these worship services Rock Concert. They do not contribute to true personal worship. I don’t stand in my home n scream praises to God. I too feel like a nagging old woman but I’m getting fed up. It’s offensive, unnecessary and downright unhealthy. I feel like the OLD GREY MARES are quietly moseying away. Folks you are gonna miss us when we’re gone. TURN THE VOLUME DOWN PERIOD and for goodness sakes keep your babies out of the worship service if the volume is to loud.

    1. Thanks for the article – this is a topic that needs a lot more attention and discussion. My family and I started attending our current church about 6 years ago. They have about 250 adults weekly attending. During my first service there, the music was so loud I brought up my iphone sound meter app and the worship music averaged 94db and peaked at 97. I happened to be located about half way between the front and the back row so I got a good average . I was so ticked off by how loud it was that I went back to the guy operating the sound and basically yelled at him right during worship for having it so loud – he looked shocked. I couldn’t believe I did that because I would not normally do something like that. . There was a man standing next to him at the time that I later learned was one of the board members of the church. I asked to meet with him about the problem. The board member met me for lunch that week and he basically told me that they get more people asking to turn the volume up than they get asking to turn it down so they aren’t going to change it. So, i’m thinking, maybe it’s just me and it’s all in my head…. so I wear ear plugs or try to come to church late to miss the loud worship music. I have also been to other churches and found that they are also too loud for me as well and figured I just need to deal with it because they aren’t going to change. Fast forward a couple years and now they are playing worship at the start of our service and now at the end and while they do communion. This last weekend, they had communion and they said to spend some time in prayer after taking communion… well the music was so stinkin loud even with my ear plugs in I couldn’t concentrate. My 16 year old daughter got up and left the building to pray because she said that she was unable to think or pray either with it so loud. So now I need to come to church late and leave early if I don’t want to be blasted by the sound. My wife and both kids feel the same way as I do. I wear earplugs which claim to reduce the decibel level by 30db which normally brings it into acceptable range for me but last weekend it was even too loud with plugs in. One sound guy at another church told me that they try and keep the db level at around 100 but can peak at 105. I was shocked.

      This all seems surreal to me. How is it that a majority of the attendees of our churches are ok with it being so loud? It’s hard for me to comprehend. There is one church that I have been to that has a fancy earplug dispenser (wall mounted like a gumball dispensor but is free) at the door where you go in. How is it that having music so loud is such a high value for people. I have pondered why for years about this and have heard several explanations i.e. they have to turn up everything else so the drums are balanced, or that it creates “energy”. Neither one of those reasons are justifiable. I do blame the pastors and the church board for allowing this and I would ask – are we just trying to get people into our church for the wrong reasons? Does “sound energy” that may lead to emotional energy really equate the Holy Spirit moving in us? Maybe this loud music is more of a distraction to what church should be about? I have noticed the churches in our area have been getting louder over the last 15 years. You remember the metaphor about the frog in the frying pan?

      So my next question is, how do we fix this if the church pastors, and leaders are supporting the loud music? Do we just form a new church for those of us that value our hearing and don’t want to be “energized” by loud music? Should we create a public website that measures the sound decibel level of each church worship music and post so people can make informed decisions about where they want to go? One church I visited had a decibel meter mounted right next to the sound board – I was impressed by their interest in at least paying attention. It looked like they were keeping it around 87db which was still a little too loud for me but at least it didn’t feel like I was being tortured in church.

      1. Thanks, Ted.
        You ask good questions: How do we fix it? Perhaps through some kind of solidarity within the congregation: everyone getting up and walking out might be dramatic enough to make the point, but it’d be hard to get everyone to agree to such a thing without fear that it would look like they were being “anti-church,” even if they were trying to protect their hearing.

        I love the idea of a public website that “reviews” a church’s volume. But then, how many would actually login?

    2. Thanks, Darla. Sorry about your husband’s hearing loss: real-life stories of those who are suffering physically because of the unnecessary volume ought to be enough to convince worship leaders and sound operators to turn it down!

  7. Thank you for writing this article!
    This unnecessary loud volume of music in church has been a frustration and impediment for me to enter into congregational worship for too long now.
    I, a professional musician and music professo,r hav`e not had much success in convincing worship teams to play at an acceptable volume, and in keys that congregations can actually sing in.
    I will be referring worship teams to this article.
    I just sent a copy to my pastor!

  8. Thank you for writing this article!
    This unnecessary loud volume of music in church has been a frustration and impediment for me to enter into congregational worship for too long now.
    I, a professional musician and music professo,r have not had much success in convincing worship teams to play at an acceptable volume, and in keys that congregations can actually sing in.
    I will be referring worship teams to this article.
    I just sent a copy to my pastor!

  9. Thank you for all your great responses. It is Sunday morning and once again, my wife and I choose to watch and listen to God’s word from home, for the reasons already expressed. Not only is the so-called “worship music” too loud, even when a pray is offered, music (though a lot lower in volume) has to be present in the background. To me, this detracts from my ability to listen or hear or join in with the prayer. Why does music (loud or not) have to permeate every aspect of not only church services these days, but everywhere else. Don’t get me wrong – I love music and all styles (except rap). But praying with music in the background; and 100+ dB of music during so-called worship – please stop!!! If I want to attend a rock concert (which I do not anymore) – I will go to a dedicated rock concert – not church. Worshipping should be done in silence. Prayers should be done quietly. The Word of God should be spoken with gusto and vigor. Unfortunately, at least in the large Ft Lauderdale church I used to attend, it is the reverse. If anyone knows of a church that preaches from the Word in the Fort Lauderdale area, but without loud music and flashing lights, please let me know.

    1. 2years ago i started experiencing ringing in my ear and after a whole year of doctors and meds i still have it. My ear problems is because of the loud music played at my Church. Every Sunday it seems the music goes louder and louder. i now go and stay outside until the Praise and Worship is done, which it kinds of messed up because i love to Worship The Lord on Sundays when i go to Church. I agree with you 100%.. when we are praying for people you cant hear anything. i understand God waters the seed planted but how are those new believers are going to grow in God if they cant hear what we pray for on their behalf? i keep on praying…

    2. Well, I’m quite certain that anyone that ends up reading this post has an issue with the volume of music in the church and I’m not the exception. What grieves me about the issue is the flagrant disregard of peoples sincere issues with it. I think of a few verses & probably the most prominent is Romans 14:15 (NKJV) Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. The scripture has a broader meaning then just the meat offered to idols & I believe it can apply to many different circumstances including this topic. The whole issue is so disturbing. I’m a musician & I also carry two types of ear plugs, the second being very sound deadening. Lately I’ve been shoving them very deep into my ears just to get a volume that isn’t so bad but am concerned about our 2.5 year old & the affect on her. It’s not much of an issue with my wife. Another verse might be, is this grieving the Holy Spirit? I’ve started to talk to people a bit & I find myself thinking that they’ll just think I’m a complainer or fault finder, but I think we have to stand up & be bold in the use of God’s word, & keep a firm footing whether it’s acknowledged or not. The other thing I think is we need to really get before God in prayer, & cry out to him in these issues. I mean people staying home, or out of the sanctuary during worship. People leaving churches. People coming up with other ways in which they can worship God, because they can’t in the sanctuary. It just shouldn’t be so.

    1. I love music worshipful and praises. Love. I’ve been going to churches since gradeschool. Sunday morning and evening services. Wednesday evenings, and all kinds of conferences and youth meetings, and loved going and playing piano, and sometimes with other musicians on guitars. Harmonicas, flutes, bass guitars, violins, and avcordians. Loved. The last 3 years my husband and I have attended at least 6 churches and left sad, mad, and physically affected. My heart started thumping so loud, my ears hurt, literally. So, now, we stay home and listen to music, messages but miss out on “fellowship. ”
      We do meet with friends that are strong in faith and love, and receive God’s love always. But so want to return and fellowship in song. Oh well. New times. I’m getting used to staying home. I still have family believe we are not pleasing God because we don’t go to church any longer. Hmmm!

  10. I am so thankful for this article. This is an issue I have struggled with for some time now. I have been very distressed at how my soul and spirit become so agitated by the loud worship music in our church. So I have recently chosen to not participate in the music portion of the service at all. I sit in the lobby for the music, then go in to the sanctuary for the message.

    However, I do want to worship and praise the Lord in song, so what I am considering doing is starting a small, evening worship group in my home. I will continue to attend the cell groups and prayer groups and other activities at church, but I will not sit in the sanctuary during the music portion of the service. I cannot hear myself sing, or even hear the singing of others in the sanctuary, but I can sit and pray in the lobby while the band plays on!

    It is a difficult topic and there seem to be no easy answers, as everyone seems to have different likes and tastes about how to worship the Lord in song.

    I have simply set a boundary as to what I will and will not tolerate regarding decibel levels, and my hope is that I can still worship the Lord in Spirit and truth without damaging my hearing or offending the Lord or my Bretheren.

    1. Spot on article. So true, and the reality is so sad. There are probably many reasons why the “loud” worship music exists. But probably the main reason is that these large churches (which seem to be the biggest offenders) try to draw people in by seeming hip. That means a professional light show, with lots of fog, loud sound, hip dressed people all dolled up, sometimes paid performers,etc. They use wordly means to draw people in.

      And I am sure that some senior pastors give the excuse that they want to draw people in by any means so that they can be saved. Though I am pretty sure that other senior pastors are far more cynical and approve of it, because all they really care about is bodies in seats, tithes in baskets, etc. Because they have a multi-million dollar building to pay off, they have their hefty salary to pay, and their many other staff members to pay (who many times are members of their families and friend). They don’t care about discipling their followers, they just want numbers. Get saved, keep attending, get plugged in, start volunteering, that’s the Christian dream, at least that’s how they phrase it. It’s actually like joining a cult many times. And don’t get me started about the whole, “We have to support our pastor’s vision, don’t ask questions, or rock the boat, etc.” Yes, we should be loyal to a pastor who is godly and leads well. But we should know the Word of God, and let Jesus be our main Shepherd. Better yet, we should have a group of Elders at a church, who are equal, and serve to make each other accountable.

      I may sound cynical and someone who isn’t a Christian. But that is far from the truth. I have lead worship at small and larger churches for the past 20 years or so. I have run the sound systems, I have installed them, etc.

      But it’s true, the trend lately is fog, more fog, a show Sat night and Sunday morning. Wake up people, it has become Christian entertainment. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. Do we really think that those thousands who attend the large churches Christian entertainment shows on Sundays are saved? Are those pastors even saved? As Jesus drove the money changers out of His house with a whip, so I think that Jesus would do the same to the pastors/leaders of some of these churches.

      I used to greatly desire to lead at larger churches when I was leading a small worship team (I was doing lead vocals and guitar, with a drummer, occasional bass player, and 1 or two backup singers). But having experienced leading at the larger churches, I have come to conclude that our small church worship experience was far more authentic and genuine. Perhaps not as polished or good, but everyone participated, and sang.

  11. I think one of the reasons worship music is loud (or getting louder) is due to the need to turn instruments and vocals up to compensate for the loudness of the drums. I love a good mix. I love when I can hear all the instruments in their proper place in the mix at their appropriate level. One instrument isn’t standing out above all the others and the emphasis is on the vocal / lyric.

    In smaller rooms that have an acoustic drum set, if you don’t have a drummer that can play quietly, you have set yourself up for these types of volume wars. The only solution to try to get a good mix is to push the volume of everything else and eventually it just gets too loud.

    Churches have some options:
    1.) Don’t use drums (not an option a lot of churches are willing to consider).

    2.) Use electronic drums so the volume can be easily controlled by the sound tech. Not a popular choice these days as most drummers despise electronic sets and they just don’t sound as natural.

    3.) Invest in a high quality sound isolation system for the acoustic drum set. I am not talking about a plastic shield that gets placed in front of the drums or a cheap “booth” that gets set up around the drums. I priced out a high quality “sound isolation” booth that says it reduces drum volume by 40 decibels (that’s a huge amount of volume). The cost was $7,000 or $8,000 (and shipping was another high cost). Though our church could afford it the answer was no (at least, not at this time). But a solution like this, if it indeed can cut the loudness by 40 db, not only means the volume of the drums can be controlled, but by mic’ing them the “boominess” of the drums can also be alleviated leading to much crisper, tighter, sound.

    There are some other options as well – playing with lighter sticks, hotrods, or acrylic tipped sticks. Zildjian makes some cymbals that apparently cut 80db out of the cymbals. Using an acoustic set with electronic triggers built in, etc.

    All that to say, I think some churches, due to ignorance and/or bad planning, work themselves into these corners where they set themselves up for these types of problems and they’ve created no easy way out for themselves.

    We are currently running about 90 db’s in our worship sets. That’s the sweet spot as far as compensating for the drums goes. With a better solution to control the volume of the drums we could run at a lower db level. Let’s not forget that the decibel rating system is not linear – that is there is a bigger difference in loudness from 90 to 100 decibels then there is from 80 to 90 decibels. If 90 db is too loud, 100 db is not a little louder – it is a LOT louder. I have a hard time believing some churches are running that loud, but I guess it doesn’t surprise me.

    1. I’m not as frustrated with the volume as I’m with the high shrill notes . Someone complained about the lack of men singing. Well what do they expect. When you play it so far out of anyone’s range. Only as Profesional soprano could come close. So to compensate with the screeching from the congregation they play louder and. Even higher notes

  12. I played lead guitar in our church band for just over 10 years. Here’s what many of you are missing.

    Like most worship bands these days, we had NO AMPLIFIERS ON STAGE. All keys, guitars, drums and basses fed their signal directly to the sound console. The stage was quiet as a church mouse at all times.

    I get so SPITTING ANGRY when people blame the VOLUNTEER performers on stage for being too loud and reality is they are NOT actually making a noise at all.

    So if you must find a scapegoat to complain to, there’s one person – the guy or girl running the sound console that controls the volume in your worship center. But be VERY CAREFUL – that person is THE MOST IMPORTANT human being in your worship service.

    How can I say that? Easily. Let me burden you with knowledge of the facts… without that person, you wouldn’t hear the preacher, the announcements, the baptisms, the confessions of faith, or ANYTHING that happens in your service, and you’d be just as angry. What you WOULD HEAR are the crying babies, the old guys coughing their lungs up, and the chairs squeaking.

    In fact, you should get off your backside and go thank your audio console operator next Sunday for the job they do. They are there early and they stay late. They get all of the blame when things go wrong, and when they do their job perfectly, NO ONE NOTICES HOW WELL IT WENT. They are usually volunteers, and often have minuscule budgets to perform their weekly magic. Yes, get over your self pity and do the right thing – go thank your console operator next Sunday for the job they do.

    1. Hi, Marty.
      Thanks for serving in your church.

      Thank you for “burdening us” with “knowledge of the facts,” though you used a tone in which you may have expressed facts without the love I’d expect from someone who served in a church for so long.

      Maybe you were having a bad day…maybe that’s why you chose to talk down to people with such a rude tone…one I’d like to believe you’d never use inside the sanctuary.

      But just in case there’s any doubt, let me point out what I hope would have been obvious: I don’t blame the volunteers ON THE STAGE. I hope you know — and I worked in the tech booth of my church for nearly as long as you were playing guitar on stage — that in some cases, it’s a VOLUNTEER who’s running sound.

      And in those cases, I don’t even blame that volunteer.

      But I blame pastors — salaried pastors — who actually make decisions about sound and, as has been relayed by others who’ve experienced it firsthand, immediately discount concerns of those who can’t enjoy the music. In some cases, not only can they not enjoy the music, they experience actual pain because of the volume.

      It’s easy to assume that those who think the music is too loud have a chip on our shoulder against the musicians themselves. That’s usually not the case. I’d much rather listen to music performed by a band than music played on a pipe organ. Not everyone agrees with me on that, and that’s fine.

      I just want to be able to enjoy it at a volume that A) doesn’t make me wince and B) doesn’t run the risk of doing permanent damage to my hearing.

      I don’t think that’s unreasonable.

      No matter whether the person running audio is a volunteer or not, or has been well-trained or not.

      Because at the end of the day, if parishioners raise concerns with pastors about uncomfortable (and even unhealthy) volume levels, they should expect to be met with concern and an open mind, not the angry, defensive posture you displayed so clearly in your comment to my audience.

      Go back and read what you wrote. Out loud, and in the tone that’s appropriate for a remark about “burdening you with the knowledge of facts.”

      Now put yourself in the place of a church member who loves — ABSOLUTELY LOVES — YOUR music, but feels it’s so loud that it actually DETRACTS from their ability to enjoy it. If that person — that fan of yours — were to speak up to a pastor and ask them to just bring the volume down to a safe and comfortable level, just because they just want to be able to get more out of the worship experience thanks to the talents you surely bring to the stage, would you want the person they raised the concern with to speak to them the same way you spoke here? Even if you know it might drive them AWAY from your church and your music?

      I’d certainly hope not. And I’d certainly hope you could look at it from the standpoint of people who are only out to protect their health, not attack YOU personally.

    2. “Bible thumper” here. I don’t pluck the strings or beat the drums, so I’m not making the noise. The worship leader has the responsibility to communicate volume to the sound guy. Back around 1980-82 I ran a little sound board. I did what I was told. I made a decision last Sunday- I’m not going to lose what little hearing I have left just to attend church. I walked out, and I don’t intend to go back. I said something to the pastor a couple weeks ago. He acknowledged what I said, but nothing changed.

      1. Thanks for commenting, Tony. So sorry to hear you’ve had this experience. Unfortunately, I’m hearing that more and more from people who’ve tried to inspire a change.

        It’s a shame.

        And I hope you find another church in which you’ll be comfortable and can enjoy all aspects of the service!

  13. We too have the same issue with the loud music, I brought in a sound meter just to be sure it was the volume of the music that was giving me the headaches and not just a cold coming on. The meter was pegging at over 110 decibels. I spoke to the pastor about my grievance but it fell on deaf ears (pun intended). He joked that most of the older folks could not hear very well anyway and joked about it. Our pastor had stated that he had changed the services and kept the children among the congregation (instead of sending them to classrooms) so that they may enjoy the music. On some occasions the music would peak at 120 decibels. The children could be seen holding their ears and some in the fetal position trying to muffle the sound. The kids perhaps are the smartest among the rest of them. Music is no longer music when it is too loud. It is an annoying noise. The week following my complaint the music go louder, and so I left the church. My health is more important than worship services that can not be enjoyed

    1. I agree and thanks. Ive been bringing my 85 yr old mother to church and neither she nor I can go into the service and we leave before the benediction due to the loud volume of the music. I might I we feel very disrespectful. Arriving late and leaving early. We are not getting half of the worship service. As I look around very few are singing. I grew up in the Anglican Church with beautiful music and not deafening and heard beautiful voices all around. The human voice is amazing. Of course there were those who chose not to sing but there always will be. I’m very hurt the powers in charge don’t seem to care for their congregation. By the way I’m not the only one with this concern. Mother nor I wear hearing aids and I don’t want to. I believe in this day churches are hiring and using people with no knowledge of sound equipment or what it should be.

  14. Our church has four services, one of which is traditional (piano and organ) for the older folks. The audio technicians turn up the volume thinking it adds to the worship experience. It does not!. The loud music is so annoying I cannot worship and push my ear plugs in further to protect what hearing remains. My ears were damaged early in life and are sensitive to loud noise. To the Lord I pray, “This cannot be how you intend for us to worship you!” Of course, I sent letters to both worship pastors and they ignored the plea to turn down the volume.

    Our church has a policy about complaining: They say: “Don’t…it’s not about you.”

    I am thinking about leaving the church but know it’s the same all over. The worship team “technicians” added low lighting and revolving lasers to pierce the smog during worship. The sanctuary has a nightclub ambiance. Instead of depending on the Word of God to convict hearts and draw them in, they turn to loud music (the ways of the world) that adds nothing except a fleshy experience. This cannot be of God because any sound above 85 dB borderlines on damaging the hearing in old and young alike.

    In closing, this response is not meant to incriminate members in the worship team who are there with true hearts. It’s meant to call into question the discernment of “those” leading the worship team, pastors and elders included! That leadership would disregard those (of us afflicted with hearing issues) is telling.

  15. 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.

  16. 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?

  17. 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

  18. 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!

    1. 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.

  19. 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.

    1. 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.

  20. 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.

    1. 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.

  21. 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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

    1. 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!

      1. 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.

  22. 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

    1. 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.

  23. 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.

    1. 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?

  24. 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.

  25. 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

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

    1. 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!

    2. 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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Patrick
Patrick is a Christian with more than 27 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.