The Sound That Kills Worship

Darwin and Christine reached their limit. Their church’s worship leader recently raised the band’s sound levels to the point that Darwin suffered ear pain and headaches.

The couple met with their pastors to request that volume levels be reduced to former levels. Instead of a lowering of decibels, the church offered the congregation free ear plugs to block the sound.

After 19 years of faithful membership in this church, Darwin and Christine reluctantly left. They’re looking for a new church where they feel they can participate in worship. It’s not the style of music that bothered them. They like contemporary worship music. It was the loudness that sent them out the door.

For this week’s Holy Soup podcast, I talked with Phil, the worship leader at that church. He defended the sound levels, which he said typically rise to 95 decibels (approximately the loudness of a jackhammer at 50 feet).

That’s loud. So loud that it hampers congregational singing. A new scientific study from Dr. David Gauger, music professor at Moody Bible Institute, found that such sound levels discourage congregational participation. “When you get above 90 decibels, it drops off dramatically,” Gauger said. “They do not feel they can worship. They cannot hear their own voice. They do not feel supported.”

Listen to my conversation with Gauger–and with Darwin and Christine and worship leader Phil–here on the Holy Soup podcast:

 

Gauger’s study determined that too-soft music also deterred congregational singing. When sound levels were kept below 70 decibels his subjects did not feel confident to sing along. The participants determined that the optimum sound level for singing was 81 decibels.

But many worship leaders today prefer to amplify the musicians much higher. I recently measured the levels at a large New York church. The sound regularly peaked above 100 decibels–in the middle of the room. I noticed few people were singing along. It was a loud concert atmosphere. What’s the goal here? Gauger said, “Concerts are great. But we can’t call it worship if we (the congregation) aren’t doing anything.”

So, why do musicians and sound technicians insist on elevating the sound levels beyond what many find bearable? They, like Phil, seem willing to lose people who can’t tolerate the noise. But, I’m curious, what are they afraid of if they’d reduce the volume just a bit? Do they fear that people would get up and bolt for the doors, screaming, “I can’t stand it in there! It’s not loud enough! Heck, my jackhammer is louder than that!”

When the surrounding sound is too loud–or too soft–worship participation suffers. “Singing in general is in decline,” Gauger said. “Nowadays we’ve relegated it to the professionals.”

If the goal is to put on a churchy spectator event, crank up the band–or the pipe organ–and don’t worry about the exodus of people like Darwin and Christine. But if the people’s participation is a priority, we now have some sound evidence to set reasonable audio levels.

When God’s people gather to worship, what should it sound like? Gauger concluded: “The real issue is, can the congregation hear itself?”

(Thom Schultz is the director of the film When God Left the Building.)

70 Responses to “The Sound That Kills Worship”

  1. This was the reason I stopped going to Harvest Bible Chapel in Naperville, IL. Even though they put the drummer in a hamster cage, he was so loud and out of control, he was overpowering the other real musicians. You couldn’t understand what they were singing if it wasn’t for words on the screen and, yes I could not even hear myself. I could have screamed bloody murder and no one would hear me. I liked the pastors exegetic messages. He was really good but the so called worship part of service was so ‘painfully’ loud, I gave up on that church.

  2. Very insightful article. I am a church musician who has for many years been trying to deliver professional sounding music to a reserved Catholic congregation. In doing this I always try to balance my music volume with the ability to also hear them singing. The music (including percussion) must be loud enough to feel. Yet I also want to hear them singing right along with us, or the worship music is not really reaching its ultimate purpose. Thanks for the info!

    Sincerely,

    Chris Urrutia

    chris_urrutia@att.net

    (210) 218-7720

    Let us build the “City of God” [online video]

  3. sanctifiedtourist Reply May 25, 2016 at 6:39 am

    I want to hear myself and others too. I am uplifted by the voice of the church. Thanks for a great article.

  4. Don’t know about the lower end at 70 db. Something else is going on. But the upper end is NOT just about the perceived volume.

    85 db is the level of truck traffic on a busy road. There is some research to suggest that acute expose at levels above 80 to 85 db can trigger both endocrine and autonomic nervous system responses.

    Tolerance to this probably varies with the person, but the drop in participation at 90 db seems likely due to the worship band dumping stress hormones into the congregation.

    Church is not a rock concert and not everybody thrives on adrenaline.

    • And as a I think about it, talking about some sweet spot between 70 db and 90 db smacks of bare physiological manipulation. If we have to be ABOVE a particular threshold, then Gregorian Chant and practices involving silence fail as worship.

  5. Thom, I read this article years ago and it came to mind as I read your blog today. The author uses the volume standards set by Disney in their parks and shows as a benchmark. We’ve been setting our decibels at about this level for a few years and I think it’s spot on. I’d love to hear what you and some of your readers think.http://thomrainer.com/2013/04/how-loud-should-our-church-music-be/

  6. Spencer Bernard Reply May 25, 2016 at 7:27 am

    This “excess decibels” practice has pretty much swept the nation! Does such practice constitute “conformity with the world”??

    ~——————~ Spencer Bernard, Jr.

  7. I HIGHLY recommend the book ‘A Royal “Waste” of Time’ by Marva J Dawn. A must read for anyone leading worship or part of a church with warship wars over music/sound levels/type of worship…etc.

  8. Thank you for addressing this issue which is a huge one for me. It caused me to seek out another church to worship at, as well. Whether it’s to attract a certain age demographic or what have you, this elevated beyond reason sound level is not worship. Period. It’s entertainment. The worldliness in which we try to engage or entice “customers” to our churches is very, very sad.

  9. So why do we need a ‘worship group’ anyway? It often results in worship by proxy, which is false really… Is it a bigger church or mega-church thing? We do sometimes complicate things for ourselves.
    As ‘senior pastor’ for 30+ years, I experienced all the tensions (loud and soft, songs and hymns, etc), never mind the moral failures of the more ‘showy’ worship leaders and members which were devastating to church life.
    So glad it’s over for many of us around the world who gather in smaller, simpler, organic fellowship groups.

  10. Let’s turn up the volume on the Holy Spirit and turn down the volume on human performance.

    • Well said Steve. I am an organist trying to include a mixture of soft, loud, slow, fast. You know it is either too soft, too loud, too slow, too fast!! LOL. But I hopefully have a mix to make a few members of the congregation happy on Sunday mornings ❤ "God Is Good All The Time, All The Time God Is Good", yes He is!!

  11. After having to walk out of several Churches, because of the loudness, we have found a Church we can tolerate. The loud music is borderline, but if my husband leans forward with his hands on his ears, he can stand it.

    I believe that the ‘rock concern” mentality of Churches is sad. Worship of Almighty God is not about the band.

  12. Brett commented: “I have to wonder how volume affects those performing music. I’ve sung in several choirs–generally singing the tenor part, which can be difficult to find. Finding a part often requires hearing one’s own voice as well as the other parts. There’s a certain quality of sound that resonates when everyone hits a harmony.

    At times, the tenor section can be pretty thin, so there isn’t always a strong tenor to follow. Or, there is, but that poor fellow is also struggling to find the part while learning the music. Sometimes the way I would find the tenor part was to listen to the other parts and sing the one that was missing. Certainly, I would look at the music and have a general idea of where the part was headed, but for music to sound right singers need to be right on. If someone is a little off things can sound quite wonky.

    I found when volume levels were too high–particularly with the background tracks and/or instruments, I had a hard time finding my part. The ear is a huge part of the equation for singing properly, and too much volume takes the ear out of the equation.”

  13. LOL Thom

    I got dragged to the Flatirons Church by my son while he was on leave, and did not take the offered ear plugs and had a massive headache afterwards…… Agape sick

    >

  14. I’m going to try to post this anonymously because my pastor might be reading these comments and I don’t want to cause further issues. We go to a small church with a big sound system. Thankfully, it isn’t as loud as it used to be, but it’s still painfully loud at times. I’ve asked several times about having the volume lowered. I was told to “sit somewhere else”. My husband was asked to monitor the sound board one Sunday. I asked him to turn it down a little, which he did. The song leader – not a young man – left the platform during the service and turned it back up himself.

    There is a lot of deafness in churches, and it isn’t just in the physical ears of the congregation members. It’s also in the leadership and how they hear the body.

  15. First, the church is (supposedly) concerned with the well-being of its members. Sustained loud sounds can cause hearing damage, regardless of the source. Second, IMO the reason for overly loud music is that the musicians/producers have ego problems. Third, in my experience, the source, range, and type of the music make a difference. I know this is personal, but for me, a loud acoustic sound is not uncomfortable but a loud electronic sound is. I also cannot stand the bass tones that don’t seem to have a pitch but vibrate so wide that it nearly bursts my ears, even when it is not loud. As for type–yes, this is very individual–but if it’s Beethoven, I can take it and if it’s the Stones, I can’t.

    • Interesting distinction. Last Friday, I sang in an ‘acapella choir’ of 900 people! It was glorious and I found no discomfort in the high volume. Out of curiosity, I checked the decibels and to my surprise, found it around 95-100! In electronic amplification, I find that level oppressive. The old hymns and the well-educated crowd who knew their musical parts, was so inspiring, I had no idea we had sung for 2 and a half hours!

  16. There is a totally different angle to the decibel discussion. And it is serious.

    1. “With extended exposure, noises that reach a decibel level of 85 can cause permanent damage to the hair cells in the inner ear, leading to hearing loss. Many common sounds may be louder than you think… A typical conversation occurs at 60 dB – not loud enough to cause damage.”

    It is inconceivable to me that a pastor or elder board or parents would allow young children (or anyone for that matter) to have their hearing damaged at church!

    I suspect the musicians have hearing loss already and don’t realize how loud it is.
    One day a set or group of good parents will fire (or sue if they don’t know better) the person or church that damages their children’s hearing. All it takes is a small measuring device to see how much damage is being done.

    Consider what Gods word says:
    Psalm 139:14
    “Fearfully and wonderfully made” is how King David described God’s creation of human beings (Psalm 139:14). There are several references in the Bible where the body is described actually like a temple (John 2:21; 1 Corinthians 6:19).

    Common sense and reason must prevail. I pray parents and leaders act before another generation of deaf people suffer for no reason.
    I visited a large church in San Antonio where my ears hurt with the excessive volume. I have no idea what the message was as it was turned up so loud. I covered my ears. I sent a letter and called the pastors office the next day. The assistant said they get calls about the volume but “that’s the way Pastor likes it.” In my opinion what he has to say must not be very important since it has to be screamed out. I feel sorry for the uneducated people ruining their hearing in worship and the message.

    • Amen! There have been studies on hearing loss in young adults due to excessively loud music.

    • Sandy Smith, Sound engineer here. I ran sound as a contractor for a large church in San Antonio a few times. I’d be willing to bet a small pile of deblunes that it was the same church. The first large event I ran there, the pastor himself walked back to the board and asked me “Son, is something wrong with MY sound system?” (Yes, he said ‘my’) I replied “No sir” then he said “Then turn it up, or you’re fired.” I said “yes, sir”. Being a sound engineer, I am exposed to the same volumes you are multiple times a weekend, due to the multiple services and rehearsals. I don’t know of any engineer that would intentionally risk his hearing(career) for a gig. Unless they are already half deaf, this is normally a concern. Needless to say, I didn’t want to return and do more gigs there and risk my hearing. One time I mixed a service there with specialized audio engineer’s ear plugs… Anyway, I understand your plight, but I do feel that there is a lot of misconceptions about when hearing damage actually occurs. The typical loud church services can only begin to cause permanent damage after 5-8 hours. The only one in danger is the audio engineer and maybe other production staff, who were there from 5am to 9:30pm most Sundays.

      What I’m saying is I completely respect your opinion and preference for a quieter service and wish I had the flexibility to choose another church as easily as you can. I just don’t like the claim that they are putting people in physical danger. The only real danger is robbing people of the ability to connect to the message and the holy spirit, which is admittedly a huge deal.
      Anyway, I completely sympathize I hope you find the place that is right for you. God bless!

      • Thanks for your reply sound engineer. I can picture what you described happening in that church (you wouldn’t lose those deblunes). The pastor has chosen to be subjected to hours upon hours of deafening sound so I truly believe he has no idea of how painful it is.
        When I sing I prefer to close my eyes and picture myself bowing before a holy and awesome God, praising his name, and within myself thanking him for loving me, who in no way deserves his mercy.
        I really don’t mind seeing the few worship leaders or choir, but if they were behind a curtain or in the back I would be just as able or more to focus on worship.
        I love music! I go to a small to medium church in Sugar Land. Our sound engineer is Great!! I can hear myself and those around me sing! 4 or 5 people up front with 2 guitars, drums, trombone, trumpet, piano. We do hymns and contemporary mixed. We all sing with ‘gusto’ and I really think the Lord is pleased with our adoration. Pleasing Him is the point! Your ministry as a sound engineer is so important. God bless and keep you.

  17. Carolyn S. Masser Reply May 25, 2016 at 10:19 am

    Sylvia has a device that measures decibels. ~ C.

  18. At our church we limit the music to 95 decibels, slightly less at early service. OSHA seems to say that at 95 decibels you should limit exposure to 4 hours per day. A lot of the push for more volume ( and other things like younger worship team members ) is driven by the fear that the church will die out. I get that, but think it’s overemphasized when you think that a 50-year-old today could very well attend the church for another 40 years. And, the older group generally pays the bulk of the bills. From my perspective, two separate services with different music and volume makes sense.

    Unless your church only has 50 people, this doesn’t split the church because you don’t know everybody anyway. Small home groups are where the real fellowship occurs.

    Lastly, one big step in keeping the volume down is making sure the sound team controls everything. If you allow a guitarist to bring his own amplifier, or a drummer to play acoustic drums without a full cage ( plastic shields just bounce the sound around ), you’ve removed the ability of the sound techs to blend things at minimum volume. Pipe organs were loud at times, so much of this is more about music choices than volume, but volume can be limited.

    https://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=STANDARDS&p_id=9735

    TABLE G-16 – PERMISSIBLE NOISE EXPOSURES (1)
    ______________________________________________________________
    |
    Duration per day, hours | Sound level dBA slow response
    ____________________________|_________________________________
    |
    8………………………| 90
    6………………………| 92
    4………………………| 95
    3………………………| 97
    2………………………| 100
    1 1/2 ………………….| 102
    1………………………| 105
    1/2 ……………………| 110
    1/4 or less…………….| 115

    • Whenever I find a softly-playing percussionist, I thank him or her. Getting all sweaty beating up the drums has little to do with worship, and a lot to do with the world. ~ The church is dying because the sound is supposed to be the driving factor for health! The Holy Spirit is forgotten in this mad desire to generate excitement by volume. Sure, db levels above 90 can cause physical changes, but that’s not evidence of the Holy Spirit! Wake up, church! Sounding like a rock band isn’t going to help people who need to get back to reading their Bibles and singing in adoration!

  19. Kerry commented on Facebook: “The noise is awful….the local SBC Church has a praise group that performs before church. It is so loud, we 55+ folks stand in the foyer until they are done….”

    • It happens a lot. Everywhere. And not just 55+. Many simply avoid church altogether, than to suffer discomfort.

  20. Thanks for posting this. It’s not pleasant to go to a worship service, and be unable to stand the noise. Maybe I’ve got “old ears,” but 100 decibels? Really?? That is just wrong.

  21. What if singing in church is not “singing with the worship team” but “singing to one another?”

    Then the point is not:

    * hearing damage
    * personal preference
    * age of the congregant
    * excess decibels
    * control at the sound board
    * worship style, etc.

    …but instead is whether you can hear the person next to you as they “speak to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs?” (Col. 3:16 and Eph. 5:19-20)

  22. A quote on J.S. Bach’s playing, “If he continues to play in this way, the organ will be ruined in two years, or most of the congregation will be deaf.” – a local councillor on Bach

  23. How about no instruments at all? Too primitive? Well, that was the way of the first, apostolic, Christ-centered church, the same one that became the foundation of what has become today entertainment business, instead of church. When the Son of man comes, will He find faith on the earth?

    • Churches of Christ still do not allow instruments in their worship services, only vocal music. The chapel at Pepperdine does not have a piano, let alone an organ.

      • And they know how to sing! Friday, May 27, I was privileged to be among 900 of them, singing our hearts out for joy and worship, with no musical accompaniment. Only the loveliness of hundreds of voices who knew their parts and knew how to sing!

  24. David commented on Facebook: “We’ll never agree on this till we realize worship isn’t about us…”

    • Jared replied to David on Facebook: “…and when we agree that worship isn’t about us, this won’t be an issue anymore because…we’re all used to dangerously high sound levels? Not sure what your point is! The issue being discussed here is the spiritual merits of using sound amplification in a way that’s potentially damaging people’s hearing, driving people away, and tearing down bonds of fellowship between fellow congregants due to the fact they have no way to hear each other in all the excess noise. (And, FWIW, I’m no old fuddy-duddy…I’m in my 30’s and love loud-ish electronic dance music.)”

    • “When in our music God is glorified, and adoration leaves no room for pride, it is as though the whole creation cried: ‘Alleluiah! Alleluiah!'” [Hymn 29 in Nazarene Hymnal, which I like to sing to Finlandia, returning to the alleluiahs of 29 for the end.]

  25. As a sound tech, I can actually answer the question of why louder is desired by muso’s, leadership, and even sound techs.
    It is a simple law of sound mixing that a louder sound hides a multitude of issues in the mixing, since sound levels out at higher volumes. Therefore, the louder sound is percieved to sound better, even though it more often highlights a lack of skill on the part of the tech that this has become the ‘goto’ fix for church sound

  26. Jared commented on Facebook: “I don’t have a problem with loud music. I’ve been to rock concerts. My complaint in the later case is often if the sound level is incredibly high, the actual quality of the instrumentation greatly suffers because your ears are distorting so much. But what is being discussed here in this podcast is really a separate issue — what are the spiritual ramifications of loud music in a church worship setting? Does a band playing super-loud music in a church service do the attendees any favors? I (and the main participants in the discussion here) think absolutely not! We should be gathering to worship in a way where we are encouraging and uplifting each other as believers in mutual fellowship. The worship “band” (if there even is any) is simply a support for that main activity. Anything less is falling short of what is actually in the Bible about singing hymns and spiritual songs for the benefit of one another. Unfortunately many churches operate more like purveyors of mass entertainment than nurturers of genuine community…I’ll save that conversation for another day.”

  27. There is another issue to consider which I found out when I moved to my present community. One of its foundation is praise so it has the full works. However, I have a pacemaker and I noticed that when we were not in a room that could absorb the volume, i.e. one with a low ceiling, my pacemaker started going haywire. It seems that the vibrations caused by the bass guitar are in sync with the operation of my pacemaker. This means that my pacemaker cannot operate properly as a result.

  28. It’s sad this is even a discussion. Sunday morning (or Saturday night) is a performance. The room is dimmed and the ‘stage’ is bright. Is there any concern about participation anyway? If you think you’re leading and no one is following…then your just out for a walk.

    If you think it’s not about the ‘praise band’ then put them behind a curtain.

    I know of a large church that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the best sound equipment money could buy. If they needed something that didn’t exist, they had it made. Custom mix ear buds for each member of the band. All the bells and whistles for audio (and video).

    They apostles would be sick at how far off the mark we are!

    • Steve replied on Facebook: “Why have we made Christianity a spectator sport? Perhaps it is because we want to draw a crowd and we know that if we allow people to actively interact with one another that will be outside many people’s comfort zone and may drastically reduce our crowd and offerings.”

      • Libby replied on Facebook: “We have created an atmosphere of more “chosen ones.”

        The congregations know for sure they’ll never measure up, not to Jesus, not to the beautiful singers, not to the minister, to the famous, to the rich, to the political class…”

  29. Really the focus of worship is to bring us into an atmosphere of communion with God and corporately speaking there is a wide range of tastes musically. Excessive volyme means lack of Holy Spirit guidance. I’ve been in services where the kids were looking around in wonderment as the elders went all out. That’s phoney if it becomes a pattern. I’ve sat in services where the precense of the Holy Spirit was so powerful that no-one moved . The worship leader(s) need to spend at least double the time praying ,seeking God that they do practising. This will prevent two worship related illnesses. The sound of snoring ; and the inability of the ushers to hear the Paramedics arriving to remove the ear -damaged deaf seniors . Let’s seek the elevated position of seeking the blessing of all.

  30. Maybe it’s the spoiled child syndrome, the louder they scream the more attention they think they will get. Not sure if God works the same way.

  31. I love how this guy keeps stating that it’s the worship leaders decision to run the band this loud. Theres so many technical reasons it ends up at this volume and it has nothing to do with the worship leader.

  32. I hear your heart on this matter. However, I think you’re adrift on a few points.

    You reference 95 db. You left out the scale, metering speed and averaging. It is a number without context. 80 kph is different from 80 mph.

    Secondly, no discussion was presented about OSHA guidelines. Why do we wear hearing protection? When do we need it?

    Nothing was mentioned about EQ. Candidly, that is what I find people objecting to rather than the pure volume levels. I run active scans during my services lest an instrument or voice begin to put an edge on the overall mix.

    Also not covered was the culture of the church. I am involved with a number of churches. Some are liturgical in nature. Others have a blend of Jamaican and African. You can bet the two services have radically different volume levels. Church cultures also evolve with time … and that often doesn’t set well with those that have resided with the body for long periods of time.

    As a sound person, it can be a thankless job trying to find the balance point. Put a plan together and slowly test for the edges of the box. It can be fun being outside the box but it can also bring the rain …

    • I think this was a reply to my comment. I didn’t mention more about the 95 decibels since this isn’t a sound tech forum. We use our meter in A-weighted/slow mode. Even professional sound people would be hard-pressed if you have uncontrolled sound sources like the drums I mentioned.

  33. 81 decibles? to be blunt… thats a joke. thats not much louder than average conversational noise. People need to feel the music actually move them. loud is better IF its mixed well. Its not even possible to mix a concert at 81 decibels and hear all the individual elements. . And people DO worship at worship concerts in arenas with chest pounding volume levels. Go to a worship conference or hillsong, chris tomlin, matt redman etc etc concert and try and tell me people dont worship when its loud. People are missing the mark when they think the volume needs to be lower, when in fact it just needs to be mixed better. hire a professional sound engineer and dont let “volunteers” anywhere near the console.

    • You are probably right about having professionals on the sound board. Most churches under 500 people either can’t afford it, or just find other places to spend the money. I’m trying to get a pro in for consulting and training for volunteers. But again, if you allow uncontrolled sound sources on stage like acoustic drums ( not caged ) or guitar amps, even a pro would have trouble. Sometimes things like on stage lighting even trumps making the best decisions for sound.

    • It’s a real question of who they are worshipping. Those popular concerts are full of joyful people, there is no doubt; the doubt is whether they are joyful over God or feeling cult-figure worship.

  34. I am a professional touring audio mixer. I have worked with artists ranging from Steven Curtis Chapman to Kelly Clarkson. I have mixed audio in everything from the courtyard at Moody Bible College in Chicago with Mark Schultz to Gillete Stadium where the Patriots play with a Giant Country Artist. Many of you are casting arbitrary assumptions without any actual technical knowledge. This is a very dangerous and slippery slope.

    These are some things you may want to consider. I spent 12 years working for artists in the CCM market. I have been in most of the larger churches in this country and abroad. I have seen a massive discrepancy from church to church in everything from what they think is important, arrogant self indulgent and very often judgmental pastors. (the same type with the starbucks in the lobby and the S series mercedes parked outside)

    1. Just saying something is “X” amount of decibels doesn’t mean anything. Is it “A” weighted? Is it “C” weighted? Do you even know the difference or what that means?
    Sound Pressure Level (SPL) is a sliding scale. This is not a stereo system that you just turn up or down. There is actual acoustical physics involved in the creation of a mix. It is mathematical and scientific. One of the greatest issues churches make is allowing an architecture firm to design their system,. They better choice is to use a professional touring audio company such as CLAIR GLOBAL or SOUND IMAGE. Yes they are more expensive. Like anything in life you get what you pay for. Going to Guitar Center and buying a DJ PA for $1000 will not give you the same end product as a line array or Spherical array that each speaker may cost up to $4000 per speaker. Its the equivalent wanting to have a fine steak but instead you are served Steakum. Both will feed you but they are not remotely the same.

    2. Stop having your church congregation run audio. Hire someone from a sound company. Stop using young Billy that has a predilection to the AV club at 15 years old. He is not a professional audio mixer. He like your church congregation do not understand gain structure, compressors, noise gates, or the inverse square law. Put as much thought about budget into the person that is providing you the means to hear the message as you do the idea of adding a coffee bar or the over the top theatrical giant sized holy jacuzzi. Its about priorities. I understand the layman doesn’t realize that audio is a science. It isn’t just turning the level up or down.

    3. The average audience or congregation that is overly excited and applauding loudly or cheering can reach 110db A weighted. If you have a very loud and talented singing congregation, that also can reach over 100db A weighted. If your mix is 85-90db A weighted you will not be able to follow along. I realize this is not the case in some of what you have explained. YES there are TERRIBLE audio mixers.. .BUT
    Is that person an Audio Mixer or a volunteer? They may not even have the knowledge base to mix the music properly. They are basically winging it.

    4. Seat yourself strategically. If you put a nice old blue hair lady and her husband 3 feet in front of the subwoofers…IT JUST WONT EVER WORK. at ANY volume.the wave length of the low frequency information coming from those speakers is so wide it will never go anywhere if it is at a very low level. I always brought our own touring PA into churches. ! because it was better quality then anything i have seen in a church. A lot of you pastors were really sold a bill of goods.. 2 most are poorly maintained. I literally went into a giant church that just a 4 million dollar production package put in. We were the first concert there. The entire PA was buzzing with a 60 cycle buzz. The Church tech said its been like that since they put it in. UNACCEPTABLE.. you are using the wrong people. We not only fixed their PA but then brought our own in and our lighting.

    5. USE PROFESSIONALS

    6. USE PROFESSIONALS

    7. Find a good regional audio company as well as a lighting company for that matter and make a service agreement with them. Ask them them to create a training program once a week with people at your church that ARE interested in audio or production. It may cost the time of the person teaching but it will pay off long term.

    8. USE PROFESSIONALS

    9. USE PROFESSIONALS

    thank you for your time.

    • All I know from 40 years of pastoring is that ‘professionals’ can often be the problem – e.g. having an accountant as your church treasurer and he doesn’t understand how the kingdom works… In my last congregation we had a ‘professional’ sound engineer and he cost us a fortune in equipment which other ‘professionals’ said we didn’t need to have good sound!
      But God bless you, I’m sure you’re doing an outstanding job in your current milieu – I really mean that! It’s just that the ecclesiological ladder may be propped up against the wrong wall.

      • you miss my overall point completely. The ecclesiological ladder has nothing to do with it. The laymen think that audio is just turning knobs until it sounds good when in reality there is an enormous amount of science involved. I am sure some churches can’t afford A level audio mixers. I bet they can figure out a way to have a sound company train some of their volunteers though. The larger churches i don’t buy for a minute they can’t afford it. If the message is important it should take priority over things like coffee cafe’s that rival Starbucks or in some instances “private jets” for the pastor. I have seen dozens of churches that the Senior Pastor is driving a luxury car. I have heard from many of them that they make in excess of $150k per year. Yes< i know this may be the top 1% of large churches but fundamentally its wrong if you are approaching delivering the message with untrained volunteers or inadequate sound reinforcement. The churches I have seen that have done it best ironically are in Nashville which tends to have a lot of people from the concert industry. They don't want to be on tour with professionals then come to church and not be able to hear. Its about priorities and that people think its not very complicated to turn something up or turn it down.. its not as simple as reaching for the overall level control (master fader)

    • I think the average church not only can’t afford the super XXX + sound system but can just pay the pastor and maybe and accountant and part time worship or youth leader. Most churches run on volunteers. They have no choice. I was a volunteer and on the sound system. My church did invest in better surrounding speaker system and it did help from the 2 giant ones hanging from the ceiling in the front.

      It was enough to balance the singers with the instruments which I was more trying to have the praise team come out clear with the instruments and not having voices or instruments overpowering each other. We were lucky that when we did add a drummer (even with the large complaints of older folks) he played them lightly with the other instruments and singers and not overpowered them resulting in a 15 minute drum solo like these big, big concert style churches. I couldn’t and didn’t have the ability to control drum volume.

      You work with what and who you got. I don’t know about all the weighted stuff. I would just try to make our Sunday morning “production” sound as good as I could. Now and then some would mention the volume being a little too high (nothing compared to these ‘concert’ church worship services) but would use that to judge volume level and try to remember each week to keep the sound level where everyone could enjoy it.

      There were three of us at the time who would take turns on the sound system so we could have one or two weeks a month we could just come in and enjoy church. But I was doing other volunteer things around church so it was a real part time unpaid job. I was also alternately on the computer doing the words on the screen and powerpoints for the pastors message. I would set up songs during the week, helped the (paid) youth leader, was a cadet leader, was on the worship committee, ran an adult Sunday school class and was in a mens group. Burn myself out.

    • If you were truly Christ’s church, there would be NO paid staff of any kind (and no building for that matter). Christ’s church is his bride and anything else is distraction.

      I remember a friend’s comment as we studied Acts chapter 2. He said “I want what they had.” I replied, “Then you will have to do what they did.”

      This one hour a week show will never lead to maturity. Pick any study and you will read that Christians are no different than the rest of the world (divorces etc,). Why do you think that is? Would a parent spend one hour a week raising their children and expect any good to come from it.

      Keep your show if you must but let’s get busy BEING the body of Christ! When we begin living the ‘one anothers’ I think this whole discussion will fade away.

    • I absolutely agree with everything you say here. I’ve mixed probably over a thousand gigs all over the world, produced and mixed hundreds of records and still deal with church sound most Sunday’s… This would of been my exact response if I had the time.. Hope someone listens to this!! Paul Burton.

  35. So when did God begin to lose his hearing? Anybody know?

  36. Could you please share a link to Gauger’s research study? I’m assuming it’s published in a journal or as a dissertation. Not being critical, would just very much like to see the primary source for my own research.

  37. Thank you. As a 35 year veteran of ministry sound profession. I could have written this!

  38. Dave commented: “In the last, well, almost a year, now, I have attended many smaller churches in search of one that I can call home. Most of these are without the big stage, big flat screen and fully outfitted “band” with every expensive musical device available, and what I have found is this:, when parishioners in the pews know that the volume needs to come from them, they will sing and at some point, really start to enloy themselves. It is when the service becomes a concert/show, (which I am tired of by the way), where the people on stage become more interested in showing their talents instead of worshipping, thus jumping around, dressing down, and cranking it up, which, by the way is why I stopped singing. The human voice is Gods instrument, for our ears and his too. A real leader will encourage the pews to sing and worship, not drown them out with amplifiers and drums.”

  39. As someone who is “hard of hearing,” I would like to add a couple thoughts/observations. I admit it is not hearing loss due to aging but a condition present from birth. In my opinion, it may be that the current worship style, while lovely to listen to, is not condusive to singing along. The songs, beautiful as they are, can be difficult to follow. There is no book with words printed. Most people can’t read music so, even if they have the sheets provided, they can’t follow the tune. Words on the screen are nice but the songs often drift from them, using additional phrases or repeating the same words over and over. This makes it easy to get lost when trying to sing along. I notice that, in contemporary worship, very few people attempt to sing along. Again, it is beautiful to listen to but not great for singing.

    There is a reason, in my opinion, that singing is declining in general. There is a reason singing laong stil occurs during a traditional worship song. These songs, while “boring” to some, are easy to sing. The notes are easier to follow if you are limited in musical reading and the tune is predictable. All very good for singing.

    I fnd that, if the tune doesn’t repeat or isn’t predictable, or if there are too many insturments vying for attention, I am lost and cannot sing. This separates me from the worship. I am now a listener rather than a participant. It isn’t as meaningful. There is a time to listen to great Chrisitian music but weekly church service isn’t that time. It’s a time to participate and invite the Holy Spirit in to the worship. In my opinion, it’s not easily accomplished at the volume and style of music in many churches. A mix of music might achieve the desired results.

  40. David commented on Facebook: “We’ve had this issue raised about a “new” congregation in Frisco. People have told me how they tried to worship there, but it sounds too much like a rock concert and they leave. They referred to the ministry at Easter and Christmas Eve as a performance at the Cathedral. I do not know when it became known as the Cathedral. But, let’s just say their self value is elevated about what happens inside, but I’ve yet to see what they do outside. I only know a few people who have gone and still remain, but one family says they wait ’til the music is over before they go in. Our small congregation, I think, does it’s best to make sure everyone can participate in the singing. Almost to the point the opposite is true, they will not sing afraid of being heard by others. But, at this point it seems most do participate.”

  41. I learned to sing in Church. When in High School, I belonged to Youth For Christ in Peoria, IL. We had a choir of over 200. We sat in voice sections to rehearse. Although a baritone, I wanted to sing bass. That experience was a gift that never left me. Then came ‘entertainment evangelism’ and ‘part-singing’ in Church faded almost to oblivion. So too did our involvement in worship. Little or no involvement affected not only our hearing but our vision as well. Those crowded, clapping, shouting, waving episodes of ‘7-11 Hymns’ (Seven words sung eleven times) mean that we can’t see nor hear the man lying beaten on the Jericho Road. And so, of course we walk by on the other side.

  42. Many here should read “Who Stole My Church: What to Do When the Church You Love Tries to Enter the 21st Century” There are some solutions like having an early/traditional service. Or you can wear the offered ear plugs. Or find a church more to your liking. But the leadership, including elders/deacons, in many churches today are worried about the church dying out if they don’t attract younger people.
    What is it that attracts younger people? Well you might ask 100 and get 20 different answers.
    I know it’s hard to go look for another church when you feel that you built this one with your own blood, sweat and money.
    I think many times the power desired in the music can be achieved without causing ear pain by bringing in a professional sound consultant for advice and training ( even if your church can’t afford to hire someone like that permanently). We often find funds for those things we make a priority. Our church has fought to get good sound despite overly loud drums and when it finally made it to the elder board, they voted to spend $3,000 on a quieter, better drum kit without even batting an eye.

  43. Angus commented on Facebook: “I have walked out of more than one service where the sound was giving me a headache. That’s not worship. And for me, it’s not entertainment, but maybe for other. Y’all can have it.”

  44. What comes to mind with talk of the high volume is 1 Kings 19:11-12,

    [11] And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake:
    [12] And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

  45. If the worship band is actually leading the congregation, then they should be able to hear the congregation, right? How can you lead if you cannot hear what the congregation is doing? (Maybe the congregation is singing a totally different song?) No, the answer is not to shame the congregation into singing louder. (Please spare me the tired speech about “yelling at football games, but not being loud enough at church”.)

    Worship leaders – instead of cranking the volume louder, lower the volume, so you can hear the congregation. Try to discern where the congregation is at. Have some empathy. You might learn a lot about what the congregation can and cannot sing; you might learn what they actually respond to, what moves them.

    Also, not all declarations of love and honor and respect are made at high volume. Do you bellow at your earthly father each and every time you tell him “thanks”? No. sometimes it’s just a whisper.

    Listen to the congregation. In order to lead, you must know where they are.

  46. Doug commented: “If the worship band is actually leading the congregation, then they should be able to hear the congregation, right? How can you lead if you cannot hear what the congregation is doing?

    An idea for worship leaders, bands and sound techs: lower the volume, so you can hear the congregation. Don’t worry if it sounds “empty” (maybe that’s how the congregation is feeling.) Try to discern where the congregation is at. Have some empathy. You might learn a lot about what the congregation can and cannot sing; you might learn what they actually respond to, what moves them.

    Have a bunch of songs ready, and be prepared to NOT do all of them. Maybe you’ll only sing the quiet tunes; maybe only the loud ones. It all depends on how the church is doing that particular day. Don’t worry about “the list of songs we’ve prepared, and we’re doing them in this order.”

    Also, not all declarations of love and honor and respect are made at high volume. Do you bellow at your earthly father each and every time you tell him “thanks”? No. sometimes it’s just a whisper.

    Listen to the congregation. In order to lead, you must know where they are and what they are doing.”

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