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.