I continue to receive comments about people who are leaving their churches and even experiencing guilt over church music volume.
Worship pastors: Listen up.
Many of your parishioners have been listening to you, your music, and your worship team.
You may be the kind of worship pastor who takes criticism well. I hope you’re that kind.
If you’re the “artist” type, who thinks you know how it needs to be better than those in front of whom you perform each week, I hope you’ll pay even more attention to what I’m about to say.
It may require you humbling yourself for a moment, setting aside your title, your musical talent, your dedication to serving, and your desire of being a pastor.
But it’s high time you heard this message: you need to put your audience at a higher priority.
It has been quite a while since I first wrote about the trend toward turning the worship portion of church into a veritable rock concert. Electric guitars and drum sets have infiltrated the instrumentation of a typical church, in some cases even pushing pipe organs and pianos completely out of the picture.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, by the way, unless your audience is made up of such strict traditionalists that anything other than organs and pianos are unacceptable. (I’m not that type.)
Along with that contemporary sound, the musicians have begun to share the stage with fancy LED light arrays, sometimes even computer-controlled motorized fixtures that sweep across the room to give even more of a “rock concert” feel to the proceedings.
It’s not enough that church now looks and sounds like a rock concert.
Unfortunately, some of you seem set on making it feel like one by cranking the music up to unsafe decibel levels, forcing some to plug up their ears with pieces of foam that makes them less able to hear what you’re doing.
It’s time, worship pastors, that you think about the situation you’re creating with this kind of presentation.
It’s time you listen to what some of the worshippers suffering — yes, suffering — through this kind of presentation are actually saying and feeling.
And it’s time, once and for all, that you have the guts to do something about it.
Please, check your stage ego at the door and read on.
First, about those earplugs…
Do you allow earplugs to be passed out at your church? If so, what’s your intent here?
Are you hoping to deaden the loudness of the music so that you can keep seats filled even if it means adding to the discomfort of those who feel your music’s too loud?
Are you actually interested in the opinions of those who complain, or do you think they’re “too old-fashioned” or just plain “too old” to deal with? Are you more concerned about that younger crowd? (And if the answer to that last one is yes, does it ever occur to you that it’s likely the older folks with more money and who are more likely to be able to tithe, which, in turn, pays your salary?)
I gave this example not that long ago, but worship pastors, I’d like for you to seriously consider it for a moment: Let’s say you went to a restaurant your friends had raved about only to find the food was almost inedible because it was too spicy. You call your waitress over and complain about the seasoning. She returns, not with a plate of food with a more pleasing level of seasoning so that you can actually enjoy your experience and be fed, but rather with a giant clothespin that she clamps over your nose with the expectation that you’ll eat the food anyway with the clothespin making the taste less offensive to your senses.
Seriously: would you ever set foot in that restaurant again? If you would, there’s something wrong with you.
Yet, this is what churches do every Sunday by insisting that giant pieces of foam shoved into one’s ear canal is an acceptable answer to complaints the music is too loud.
A recent commenter, Lisa, said in part this about the idea of earplugs:
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 can’t sing or shout praises to God, so its hard for me to enter into true worship.
Think about it for a moment: Earplugs make it more difficult for someone to enter into true worship.
Is that how you intend it? Are you trying to make it harder for people to worship God?
I’m not a worship pastor, of course, so maybe I’m unaware of the actual goal of what some of you are doing with worship music volume on Sunday morning. But it just seems illogical to me that you desire to make entering worship a bigger challenge for people than it may already be depending on their various life situations.
But it’s more about inconvenience of the moment.
You have to consider the bigger impact of what this problem of worship music volume is doing: it’s making some people walk out of the church. And that is having its own impact on those very people that some of you are running out with your refusal to turn the sound down a bit.
Consider this comment from my reader, JoAnn:
[I’ve] been going to the same church for 7 years. But the music has become so loud [it] vibrates in my stomach. I am 67 and can’t enjoy it anymore so [I’m] forced to go somewhere else. I feel kinda lost and guilty like I’m doing wrong by quitting the church.
Or this one from Birdie:
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?
Or this one from Patricia:
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.
Here’s Emily’s take:
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 separate, quiet building. Adult church was an assault 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.
That’s just a sampling of comments, folks.
Do you see the common threads here?
Worship music volume is making people leave the church. It’s causing feelings of guilt and isolation. It’s making people feel they’re the ones who are doing something wrong when they’re the ones in physical pain because of the loudness in the room.
And most recently, there was this comment from Heather about what happened when some people have raised concerns or made complaints about the loudness:
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.
Canned answer? Would you accept that if you were in their place? I’m guessing you wouldn’t.
You, worship pastors, can fix this.
You can bring in (or go visit) an ear, nose and throad doctor — an ENT — and have him explain the dangers of being around loud music for extended periods of time on a regular basis.
You can watch the decibel levels.
You can train your audio technicians to keep the decibels within a safe limit.
You can listen to your parishioners when they tell you it’s too loud.
You’re not there for recognition yourself. You’re not there to put on a “show.” You’re there to lead everyone else into worship. And everyone else means everyone else, not just the ones who operate under the belief, “the louder the better.”
Trust me: there are plenty of us who have walked out of churches when we’ve felt the “show” was taking precedent over God and His worship.
It’s time some of you seriously rethink things.
I hope you will.