If I have heard it once, I have heard it hundreds of times… I understand we are trying, well, something with this worship style, but does it have to be so loud!? It hurts my ears and I cannot concentrate, much less hear from God.
Now, before I hear the “Amens!” from my traditional worship brothers and sisters thinking I am on my way to condemning “rock band worship,” I have heard this exact same question about the worship featuring musical leadership from, wait for it, the Pipe Organ!
I am an avid proponent for volume levels on the upper end of the spectrum for a variety of reasons. I am a classically trained singer/conductor as well as a country/rock guitarist and I have always been more partial to the bombastic when it comes to group interactions. Whether fueled by watts, or massive amounts of pumped air, or just the sheer volume created by more players/ singers in an orchestra/choir, I enjoy feeling the music as well as hearing the music. I find that I can release my own energy into the energy of that massive sound and raise a huge joyful noise to the Lord. There is a tangible “weight” to the music that moves me spiritually as it moves me physically. There is a reason we like to use the phrase “pulling out all the stops.” I just also happen to like it when it is used literally!
However, I also know the power of a “whisper” (1 Kings 19:11-13) and can appreciate the soul lifting action of a reverent piece of music. Music that draws you in; moves you to the edge of your seat or drives you to your knees in prayer. That feeling of awe and presence that makes you aware of God and invites you to praise/worship the Creator.
Worship Leaders – Does the Worship Music Have to Be So Loud!?
Loudness is Not Bad
While that is all very artistic, the truth is that volume in worship is a never ending dance between intelligibility, sonic balance (the need for enough volume to provide sufficient equalization and instrumental separation for a pleasing sound in the acoustical environment) and safe decibel levels, and as importantly, volume at specific frequency levels, for ALL ages, including the young and the elderly. And therein lies one very important aspect of the question. Volume can be more than personal preference or musical taste; it can be an issue of safety, comfort and accessibility for all.
That being said, however, I am not an acoustical/sound engineer and I am not going to talk about decibels and OSHA safety recommendations. I want to look at what is on the other side of the question of, “why is it so loud?” What I want to talk about is a pastoral awareness that choices we make as church leaders have an effect on a person’s ability to enter into worship even if we are not in personal agreement with their point of view or personal need.
The fact is that I can talk all day about proper audio levels based on science and the needs of the music based on the acoustics of the room and I can be 100% correct, technically. But I can still be wrong, pastorally. The pastoral reality is that my ability to properly understand and respond to a congregation member’s concerns when it comes to anything in worship, volume or otherwise, is of paramount importance if being a worship leader is my God ordained vocation. When Christ was asked questions he did not argue like an engineer or scientist or lawyer. He taught as the ultimate pastor, The Shepherd, The example. Scripture shows us that Jesus was a great listener as well as speaker. He sought the heart of the situation and dealt with those issues.
Find the True Issue
It is true that almost every time I have been asked why the music is so loud, actual volume was a genuine concern. However, it has also been equally true that volume was the presenting complaint that covered an underlying discomfort with change, with new things, or often the greatest fear, the fear of being marginalized. Many times, older members complaints about volume are actually an expression of fear that they are being driven out of “their church” by what is in their opinion an attempt to appease the “younger generations,” whatever that might mean in your church. Older congregation members who like their music a little more mellow can see high energy, high volume music as an effort to entertain the young rather than praise the Almighty. And while that may not be true, if you cannot appreciate and understand the root of their concern, it won’t matter what is true. Their perception of what is true is what must be addressed with a pastoral heart.
Everyone, regardless of their age, wants to be valued and feel like they are making a contribution to the church. Like I said earlier, in my leadership I am not trying to appease an age group. I just like my music louder for esthetic and worship reasons. But I also know that my congregation is a mixed, multi-generational congregation that has young Christians worshiping alongside true saints of the faith. My personal desires and leadership style must be tempered by my calling to minister to the whole congregation, not just those who think like me.
I don’t have any easy answers here, only a call to be less callous, less clinical, less scientific, and more pastoral when you are approached with the question of volume. I assure you (and I know from experience), you can show them that decibel meter all day long and explain OSHA standards till you fall over. It won’t matter if the real question they are asking is, “Do you still care about me?”
…Oh yeah, and it may be that your music really is too loud!