Memo to Worship Bands: Turn It Down, Please!

That’s the original title of the piece I’ve published in Christianity Today of late. When you’re done reading it, please comment below–and also check out the comments (some of them a little, um, straightforward) on the CT site.

Can you hear me? You can? I’m sorry if I am shouting, but I have just spent half an hour in a church service with a typical worship band, and my ears are ringing. I’m sure to be fine in a minute. Or hour. Or day—I hope.

Why does everything every Christian musician performs nowadays seem to require high amplification?

I was at a Christian camp not long ago where we gathered to sing around a bonfire. Guitars appeared, but just before I could get nostalgic and suggest we sing “Pass It On,” the microphone stands appeared, too. Apparently three guitars for 40 people were not enough. No, they had to be amplified.

I am not 110 years old, friends. I grew up in the 1970s with fuzz boxes, stacks of Marshall amplifiers, and heavy metal bands loud enough to take on Boeing 747s and win. I have played in worship bands for more than 30 years, and like lots of juice running through my Roland keyboard or Fender bass or Godin guitar. Furthermore, I’m a middle-aged man and my hearing is supposed to be fading. But even I find almost every worship band in every church I visit to be too loud—not just a little bit loud, but uncomfortably, even painfully, loud.

So here are five reasons for everyone to turn it down a notch—or maybe three or four notches.

First, I know it’s breaking the performer’s code to say so (the way magicians are never supposed to reveal a secret), but cranking up the volume is just a cheap trick to add energy to a room. The comedic film This Is Spinal Tap showed us all the absurdity of using sheer noise to compensate for a lack of talent. (The knobs on the band members’ guitars and amplifiers were modified to go to 11.) Do not compensate for mediocrity by amping it up to MEDIOCRITY.

Second, when your intonation is not very good—and let’s face it, most singers and instrumentalists are not anywhere close to being in perfect tune—turning it up only makes it hurt worse. If I hear one more “harmony singer” have trouble deciding whether to hit the major or the minor third and instead split the difference at a scalp-tightening volume, I think my head will split also.

Third, the speakers in most church PA systems cannot take that much energy through their small, old magnets and cones, especially from piano, bass, and kick drum. So we are being pounded with high-powered fluffing and sputtering—which do not induce praise.

Fourth, consider that you might be marginalizing older people, most of whom probably do not like Guns N’ Roses volumes at church. And if you suspect older congregants may be secretly delighted behind their tight smiles, ask them. I dare you.

Fifth, let me drop some church history and theology on you. By the time church music matured into Palestrina and Co. in the 16th century, it had become too demanding and ornate for ordinary singers. So Christians went to church to listen to a priest and a choir.

The Protestant Reformation yanked musical worship away from the professionals and put it back in the pews. Luther composed hymns with simple (and beautiful) tunes and meters. Calvin insisted on taking lyrics from the Psalms. This was music in which almost anyone could participate. The problem today, to be sure, is rarely elaborate music. We could use a little more artistry, in fact, than we usually get with the simplistic and repetitive musical figures of many contemporary worship songs.

No, the contrast with the Reformation is the modern-day insistence that a few people at the front be the center of attention. We do it by making six band members louder than a room full of people. But a church service isn’t a concert at which an audience sings along with the real performers. Musicians—every one of them, including the singers—are accompanists to the congregation’s praise. They should be mixed loudly enough only to do their job of leading and supporting the congregation.

Now, I like Palestrina and I like good Christian rock. So, church musicians, if you want to perform a fine song that requires advanced musicianship, by all means do it. We will listen and pray and enjoy it to the glory of God.

But when you are leading us in singing, then lead us in singing. And turn it down so we are not listening to you—or, even worse, merely enduring you. I know that is not what you want to happen. But I am telling you that’s what is happening.

Sorry, again, for shouting.

0 Responses to “Memo to Worship Bands: Turn It Down, Please!”

  1. Chris E

    Luther composed hymns based on popular melodies, including drinking songs

    I’m not entirely sure that’s true. Doesn’t it come from a misreading of what ‘bar form’ actually means (a musical rather than descriptive term).

  2. Michael W. Kruse

    “No, the contrast with the Reformation is the modern-day insistence that a few people at the front be the center of attention. We do it by making six band members louder than a room full of people. But a church service isn’t a concert at which an audience sings along with the real performers. Musicians—every one of them, including the singers—are accompanists to the congregation’s praise. They should be mixed loudly enough only to do their job of leading and supporting the congregation.”

    Amen!

  3. John Stackhouse

    Chris E: I’m being told by others what you’re telling me, too. I’ve looked into it, and it’s hard to sort out the real history from the highly tendentious stuff (i.e., “You can’t use Luther to justify this godawful rock music the young people have polluted our church with!” and the like). So I left it in this edition to see if someone out there really does know what’s what on this score (so to speak)!

  4. Michael Kruse

    BTW, I fully embrace contemporary music forms in the life the church regardless of whether Martin or John thought it was a good idea. We all know they were flawed human beings. Being Presbyterian, Calvin is of course a different matter. 🙂

  5. Chris E

    I used to use the same anecdote myself about Luther using bar tunes.

    Like you I’m not sure what weight to place on the various websites that use the opposite argument to claim that all contemporary music is non-Christian.

    Having said that, the Bar Form itself is well attested to, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bar_form or see the long and lengthy entry in the New Grove Musical Dictionary.

  6. John Stackhouse

    Thanks, Brother Michael, for this reference. I am persuaded. So I have altered the original post so I will not be guilty of spreading this myth further!

  7. Thomas

    Here, here. I was at Missions Fest last weekend and I went to the Friday night youth rally. The worship music was earth shatteringly loud. At some point music ceases to be music and just becomes loudness and the words become irrelevant.

  8. Paul+

    You are bang on, John. I love blasting my favorite Christian musicians through my iPod buds (and yes my wife does warn me this isn’t a good habit), and I love blasting the roof off my mid-19th Century Neo-Gothic church at our Friday night youth events. But this is different than corporate worship times. Earlier this year I saw my favorite artist — Charlie Hall — lead worship at an evening service at Willow Creek, and I was the only one my section of the balcony(seriously, I was looking around) who was not grimacing at the volume — well, truthfully, I was grimacing too.

  9. Estela Teng

    Such insights from a great musician! I enjoyed playing violin in chapel a few years ago with you. I have never thought about volume being used as “a cheap trick to bring energy to a room”… but that’s exactly it! I guess the bigger question is, “Why isn’t there enough energy in the room to begin with?” Maybe we should think about a better way to better way to “work the crowd,” I mean, encourage worshippers.

    As for the repetitiveness of songs, I wouldn’t attribute them to laziness as much as to the fact that repetitiveness allows for easy memorization. I think the psalms does a bit of that, doesn’t it? Moreover, contemporary worship songs are only following the style of the contemporary music that the mainstream enjoys. That’s how songs from Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, or N Sync get stuck in our heads, right? So what’s wrong with using a style that speaks to people?

  10. poetreehugger

    A lot of the problem is the whole issue of intentional entertainment in the church service: I don’t need it, and it’s really not what I’m there for. (Hence my hesitance to ever applaud in a Sunday morning church service.) The effort to manipulate me into a worship feeling through volume or drum beat is similar to the emotional manipulation of the sermon cliches such as ‘end times’ thrown in for effect. Along with the appreciation of (in it’s place) good rock music at a certain volume level, here’s another trait I’ve noticed in a few of us ’70’s survivors: a cynical nature that makes us suspicious of emotionally manipulative methods.

    However, I always appreciate the service-minded intentions of the ‘praise and worship’ (a term that should not have been appropriated for a certain style of music) team made up of my friends in church.

  11. Shaun Jung

    Interesting post! This has been something I (as a drummer in church) always wrestled with. I realized that while it is fun and fulfilling to play loud, worship is not at all about me. God is the one who should be getting all the attention, not the drummer (or any other musician for that matter).

    “Do not compensate for mediocrity by amping it up to MEDIOCRITY”

    Interesting how some may think that mediocrity would be compensated for pumping up volume.. I don’t know about others but I’d wanna play quieter to hide my mediocrity not louder (or not even play for that matter). I wonder if the Proverbs verse “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue” could be rendered, “Even a mediocre-musician is thought to be skilled if he keeps silent, and discerning if he keeps down his volume”? ;P

  12. Courtney

    I have two things to say:
    1. Great article – I completely agree. I think that sometimes bands crank up the volume to provide “cover” so that congregation members won’t be too shy to sing. But I have found that usually the louder the music is, the more distracting it can be (and the more painfully obvious any mistakes are).
    2. I love that you referenced Palestrina twice in this article. He is one of my favorite composers – I fell in love with him during college when we sang Sicut Cervus in choir.

  13. Pat

    Good post. I especially liked what you said about the music during the Reformation: “This was music in which almost anyone could participate.” Growing up in church in the ’60s and ’70s, I’d have to say that is true. Not that we don’t have beautifully written songs today, but so many time it does feel as if the congregation is just there to listen or be entertained, not participate. Unfortunately, we’re dealing with this issue now in our church and many people, not just seniors, have expressed a dislike for the worship. Some have even taken to not coming into the service until worship is over. This to me is unacceptable. Somehow or another, we’ve got to turn this trend around.

  14. Tim

    Hey John,

    I do find it quite surprising that you say that every church you’ve been in is too loud. I mix sound from time to time at a church with a mixed population (in terms of age). I have actually had it happen a few times where on the same Sunday one person will complain about things being too loud while a second will complain about “not being able to hear the ______”.

    There is without a doubt a line we need to tread. People relate to music in different ways and we need to do our best to lead the whole congregation into God’s presence. One rule of thumb is certainly to make sure we aren’t physically hurting people’s ears, but there comes a point where the members of the congregation need to step back and worry about what could be considered a difference in musical tastes.

  15. John Stackhouse

    Tim, I need to be allowed a little rhetorical license! I don’t mean literally every single service I have been in over the last six months, since I have been in a lot of different services in several different countries in the last six months. So I am exaggerating for effect. I’m glad to say, for instance, that the church we used to go to and the church we go to now do not have a problem in this regard as a rule.

    You’ll notice, however, that what I am writing has nothing to do with musical tastes. Other people might choose to interpret it that way, but I am not writing about rock versus hymns. I am talking about the proper amplification of congregational accompaniment, and I could write the same sort of thing if the person on the massive pipe organ was deafening us on Sunday morning (a problem that I am not making up: I’ve been in one or two churches where that has happened, too).

    So let’s not slide off the point I’m trying to make. It is about the intensity and quality of amplification, not about style. And people who “just like to rock” cannot dismiss this point, since I cannot see it being a Christian principle that I should be allowed to worship any way I like at the expense of my fellow Christians.

  16. Michael

    Excellent post and article. Because I have experience doing sound, but am not currently a “sound man” (Why is it always men? Perhaps that’s part of the problem), I often feel torn when I’m at a service and it’s too loud or distorted. On the one hand, I could go back and make suggestions; but on the other hand, very few react well to such “suggestions,” since such comments may be the only feedback they receive. Yet without any dialogue or means of communication, people just get alienated and leave. Sigh.

    A C.S. Lewis quote may be appropriate here; it has at least helped me consider my own purposes in worship.

    “When I first became a Christian, about fourteen years ago, I thought that I could do it on my own . . . I disliked very much their hymns, which I considered to be fifth-rate poems set to sixth-rate music. But as I went on I saw the merit of it. I came up against different people of quite different outlooks and different education, and then gradually my conceit just began peeling off. I realized that the hymns (which
    were just sixth-rate music) were, nevertheless, being sung with devotion and benefit by an old saint in elastic-side boots in the opposite pew, and then you realize that you aren’t fit to clean those boots. It gets you out of your solitary conceit.

    (From “Answers to Questions on Christianity,” in God in the Dock)

  17. Dennis

    Pat makes the remark: “but so many times it does feel as if the congregation is just there to listen or be entertained, not participate.”

    The “volume” issue is just part of this. It’s fascinating to me that in our Lutheran church the choir is out of sight in the rear balcony and in essence participates as part of the congregation, not separate and “in front” of the congregation.
    The choir speaks “with the congregation” and not at them.

    It was far more common in church architecture (through the late 1800s in the U.S., though there are exceptions as usual) to have lay choirs sing God’s praises and aid the congregation “from a position of humility and service rather than in full view,” as one commentator puts it.

    How fascinating in this day and age that these “praise band performers” now must be in front.

    You are right, Professor Stackhouse, that there is a a part of all this that contrasts with practices recovered during the Reformation. Some of these changes are definitely theological and an interesting comment on where the “focus” ends up being, loud volume or not.

  18. smokey

    One of the things that I love about churches of Christ is our accapella song services. I love to hear all of the congregation raising their voices together – the talented with the tone-deaf praising God from the heart. Daryll Tippens, provost at Pepperdine, has written a wonderful book of spiritual disciplines which includes a beautiful argument in favor of congregational accapella worship that some of you might find interesting and perhaps even enlightening.

  19. Joel Chan

    Hear hear!!! 🙂 I’ve been struggling a lot lately with the issue of volume and the performance-emphasis of corporate worship in many churches today.
    When I play in the worship band on Sundays, it disheartens me to see so many people behaving as if it is a performance. And then I feel worse when I put myself in their shoes and realize that I can’t blame them completely. They often can’t hear themselves over the stage, the songs are fit to the songleader’s vocal range rather than in consideration of the vocal range of the congregation, and there are long and unnecessary band breaks with musicians struggling to “worship” with canned solos when their spirit is not compelling them to.

    We’re doing a worship event on campus next month, and we’re eschewing amplification and a full-blown band. Instead, we’re going to have the lyrics take the stage, interleave the musicians (2 guitarists, a pianist, and a percussionist) among the congregation (which will be seated in a communal-type circle formation), and emphasize that the “vocalists” ARE the congregation. It’s time to put Jesus back on the throne during worship time.

  20. Ben

    I do hear what your saying we do need to be considerate when we choose our volume. But I think this issue is often made out to be bigger than it ACTUALLY is.. if it is too loud go to the back, if it’s the style you don’t like then fine, go some where else.. Just don’t be a complainer about it.. us christians can be the most complaining group of people I have met.. I say lets keep the main thing the main thing.. worship is about his worth (not about us or stlye or volume)The question I would ask is ..is this style accessible to non believers. Church is not about us (primarily) it’s about God and reaching a broken world.. I get that it can be loud..but it is so far down the list of our priority’s

    Lets see our churches grow, like never before seeing people who were on the edge of society in church praising God, lets see God being made Big in our lives, and seeing communities change for God, Lets keep our eyes fixed upon an amazing God who sees worship far beyond a song, but a life style..volume for me pails into insignificance if we are seeing God Glorified and people saved.

  21. Mike

    Of course Ben (#28), should corporate worship really be primarily (or even secondarily) about evangelism? There are a broad range of assumptions that go along with that idea, not the least of which it assumes that non-Christians (or should I say post-Christians?) will still come to us and that Sunday morning corporate worship is an early and easy entrance place (which I don’t think it is nor should be)

  22. Emily Iris

    Re: Ben.

    I totally appreciate what you mean about volume and style not being the main thing. And I agree that we need to be accessible to non-Christians. Sometimes I would question whether many of our modern day worship songs actually are helpful for non Christians though since they often fail to explain the Gospel or tell us anything about the character of God clearly and give us only a vague “Jesus is my boyfriend” kind of picture. So it’s not always a straightforward choice between hymns and modern songs. Both have their place and their problems.
    The thing about keeping the main thing the main thing is that, for worship leaders, the main thing is to be helpful and supportive of the congregation’s worship. If it’s too loud or a style they either hate or can’t keep up with, we’ve failed on the main thing. Congregations will differ hugely on how loud is too loud but it’s really important that we take their feelings into consideration and don’t go in with an attitude of “I’m worshipping God in my way at my volume and if you don’t like it go somewhere else.”

    I think the other interesting question that comes out of this is musicianship in church contexts. I think, there’s a delicate balance between wanting to be inclusive but also wanting to be musical. There are a lot of mediocre musicians out there who have a great heart for worship and want to be involved in the church band which is great. But then we have the problem of how much musicality can we really expect from a ramshackle group of amateurs? I guess people are doing their best and we just have to be gentle and loving in guiding them when they could do something better and I think, for a lot of churches, that does mean turning the amps down a bit…or a lot! I think often churches need to look at what resources they have and work with them rather than kidding themselves into thinking they can sound like Guns ‘N’ Roses if they turn up the volume.

    Personally I’d love it if Guns ‘N’ Roses were the worship band in my church (Obviously on the condition that they all were radically saved) but until that happens we have to be honest about what we do and don’t have and not many of us have world class rock musicians on our teams so we shouldn’t be straining our speakers as if we were.

  23. Toni

    Interesting article and interesting comments – I’ve just been emailed a link to this page.

    Things are generally a little different here in the UK – we don’t really do the megachurch thing and we also don’t generally do the mega-PA thing, so although there are a few occasions when I have wished a band would turn down (I speak as an electric guitar player!) generally things are managed carefully.

    The whole key to this thing is balance: assuming everyone’s serving and saved – I understand from some of the music forums that plenty of churches hire good musicians regardless of salvation, because the unsaved guys are talking about their church gigs. For a worship band to work with a congregation then they need to balance with them. It shouldn’t be a case of ‘loud enough to hear and no more’, but instead there needs to be grace on both sides.

    As for more volume to compensate for ability, I wonder if there was a bit more rhetorical license going on there? More distortion, sure (give it enough an no-one even knows what chord you’re playing). The usual reason for more volume is because most gear sounds better cranked a little. The modern trend generally is for smaller rigs, so it’s possible to get decent tone without ear-bleeding volume.

    One thing that might be an issue is the increased use of modeling amps and floorboards. Some of these, particularly those from Line 6, can put out a really abrasive tone if they aren’t carefully tweaked, and going through the PA can make it twice as harsh. Now these won’t account for bad singing and lousy keyboard players, but they could be a reason why your guitar and bass sound so horrid.

    A good tip is to encourage guitar players to use smaller amps, drummers to use bash sticks and then carefully work the PA so that congregation and band are about level. Training the PA operators is also more than a little helpful, but that’s a whole story in itself.

    🙂

  24. j2o

    I agree with the general point that you are making. However, I disagree with the following statement in the article:

    “A church service isn’t a concert at which an audience sings along with the real performers. Musicians—every one of them, including the singers—are accompanists to the congregation’s praise. They should be mixed loudly enough only to do their job of leading and supporting the congregation.”

    Personally, in a worship time I want the music to be so loud that its overwhelming (like when I’m at a rock/pop concert). When it’s loud I lose all my inhibitions and can belt out the tunes to God knowing that the person next to me can’t hear me and I can’t hear them. A big condition is that the worship team must be really tight and in tune (musically and with the spirit), otherwise it would just be painful. But I think that’s what we should aim for.

    Why shouldn’t church service music be as good an experience as rock concerts? When the music is good people will be drawn into worship.

    I also think that the musical direction should be aimed at the youth as most people who get saved are in that age bracket. And if the music isn’t constantly kept alive and fresh, new people will not come into the church. People need to embrace muscial changes that come with each generation.

    Having said all that, I agree that there is a big difference between loud and good!

  25. Tim

    John,

    Thanks for your reply to my previous post and I am sorry if it came across the wrong way. In my experience, however, amplification cab also be a matter of taste. I regularly monitor out church’s sound using a meter to ensure that things aren’t too loud. Despite this, people do angrily tell me that things are too quiet or too loud. I’m not saying that some churches don’t need to turn things down, hoewver, that is not always the case.

    I really do appreciate your blog, even when I don’t agree!

  26. cal

    whatever we can do to please you. please, sit back, get comfortable, enjoy your worship time. whatever volume you’d like, how about the lights? which songs would you like today?

    come on man, this is a completely waste of a blog.

  27. Greg Phelps

    I would add a sixth reason. Tinnitus.

    I’m 55 and have it. Not just from the Ben Folds concert I went to 3 years ago from which I never recovered, but years of unprotected power tool use. All you iPodders? You’re most likely ruining your ears as I write. Bit by bit. Nerve ending by nerve ending.

    I used to like loud music. (I don’t buy, by the way, that loud music is just a clever ploy. As a student in the 70’s, no undergrad kegger that played Van Halen or Doobie Bros. at 2 would have lasted until the next keg was tapped.)

    But now, even if I go to live concerts, Christian and not, it’s ear plugs, baby. To protect what I have remaining. The damage is done. Unceasing, loud ringing on a forested mountain ridge is a pretty harsh consequence for my euphoric one-nighter with Ben.

  28. cal

    not trying to argue, just expecting a better, non-consumeristic view of worship from a great theologian like yourself. these meaningless debates should be left to the “worship” magazines.

  29. Mark

    Hello John,

    Could you offer some help, please. My wife is a worship pastor and I am her bass player. Our son (24) is one of the sound techs at our church, and the only one with extensive training in audio production. All three of us basically agree with what you have to say. However we were given a copy of your entry in its Christianity Today form by another pastor in our church. He is someone all three of us respect. Can you see that there may be further discussion pending?

    Where you could help: in the worship settings where you are involved, what is the general db level in the room? I know other factors such as equalization and distortion level enter in, but my guess is that when you are playing, amplification is being used. A judgment call of “how loud is loud enough but not too loud” has to be made. I hope we are all doing our best, but using a device to measure sound pressure can aid the judgment process (and the discussions which ensue). Do you know where your particular church body tends to land?

    Thank you in advance.

  30. John Stackhouse

    Sorry, but I don’t have a dB rating or anything of the sort.

    My sense instead is that this judgment has to be made contextually and communally. Ask your church through a survey whether the music hurts their ears (I am appalled to hear that some churches hand out earplugs), or whether they find it unpleasantly loud, or whether they find it it too loud for the style, or whether they find it too loud relative to the congregation, or whether they find it too SOFT for the style, for leading, etc.

    Once you get past the question of sheer ear damage, other questions come into play that require Christian virtues of good judgment, concern for others, concern to worship, concern for visitors, the respective roles of leaders and congregants, and the like.

  31. Jin Soo Kim

    Great article that addresses some issues.
    And I would agree about being loud to cover up mediocrity.

    However in many cases, the mediocrity of ‘whom’ is the issue.
    And that ‘whom’ may be musicians, but many times are instead sound people.

    What I’ve experienced while running sound is that you actually make the ‘house’ sound level higher to mask the loud stage volume. So that the audience will hear the mix intended for the audience instead of listening to the leaked monitor mix of the stage.

    The solution to this is having a more experienced sound person. The reason is that a unexperienced sound person gives the musician all the monitor volume they want, and in this case the volume will keep rising as the subjective loudness of the monitor mix decreases as it interferers with other monitor outputs.

    Also when it also comes to house mixing. I agree with you that raising the volume is a cheap trick to raise energy levels. Or I should say the ‘punch’ to add firmness to the sound. However a good sound engineer can generated that solid ‘punch’ with a relatively low volume; this can be done by properly mixing the sounds with adequate equalization and compression.

    However it also is a matter of preference of people. It is a little simplistic to dismiss loud sound for the reason of ‘drowning out’ the congregation’s singing. There are people who prefer to ‘swim’ in the presence of overwhelming sound, while there are those to ‘stand and walk’ soberly with moderate volume. (Personally, I prefer the former) I believe both preferences should be taken into account. (Which makes the job of the sound person even harder!)

  32. Kate

    I sing in a worship band, and all I can say is, I agree with you 100%.

  33. Nathan

    Two comments:

    1. The number of people singing (and their enthusiasm) in the congregation can really change the congregation’s volume. It’s very, very sweet when the congregation and the musicians are mixed perfectly (John’s most important point 6, above). Your sound system (and playing) should aim for that. The congregation is part of the performance, not the audience. God is the audience.

    2. I blame loudness mostly on drum sets. It seems that once you get one of them up on the stage, even behind plexiglas and pillows or whatever, the rest of the band has to be amped to match the acoustic drums, and the congregation gets drowned out. It takes a drummer with skill and humility to counter that trend.

  34. Andrew

    “but cranking up the volume is just a cheap trick to add energy to a room”

    This MIGHT be true in some contexts. HOWEVER, as one who has been playing guitar for almost fifteen years – and through quality amplifiers at that (mostly Fender tube amps) – I can attest that, at low volumes, most guitar amps sound like crap.

    NOW, I do understand the need to adjust to what are often woefully inadequate sound systems. But I agree more with a previous commentator who added this little tidbit:

    “I would agree about being loud to cover up mediocrity.

    However in many cases, the mediocrity of ‘whom’ is the issue.

    And that ‘whom’ may be musicians, but many times are instead sound people.”

    I cannot count the number of times I’ve known more about how to mix a room than the “professional” sound person hired by the church. Again, the question is one of priorities and allocation of resources. Honestly, I’m fine with mediocre praise music, a crappy sound system and a crabby sound engineer if the church is using its money and time to actually live the way of the Gospel.

  35. Ryan Spiker

    There are many opinions out there as to what is the “right” way. The point is that everyone is trying to please themselves by tweaking worship music to what THEY want it to be, and I think we are all missing the whole purpose of “worship” here. It’s a matter of our hearts bowing in reverence to our savior, not about singers, musicians, or sound engineers….but about using these gifts as tools to bring people closer to God! If our hearts are in the right place, true worship will happen.

  36. Piano Man Dan

    For years I have heard about worship bands that are too loud, but every time I visit a big stone church “downtown” I am blown away by huge organs! Truthfully, I don’t want my hearing damaged by an organ. So, let’s complain about all church music – not just the contemporary.

  37. John Mc

    Having played electric guitar in our worship band for years, volume tends to be a recurring theme that comes up repeatedly. I do my best to submit to the sound techs to keep the sound reasonable but nonetheless the drums (which are usually the loudest) and other musicians must be able to hear each other, it’s more complicated than it looks so you shouldn’t presume the musicians are trying to be rock stars. It sounds like you may have encountered some inexperienced sound techs. Maybe they’re new to the process…cut them some slack…the whole worship band and sound management is a process that is tuned over time.

    Nonetheless, my idea of ‘LOUD’ and someone else’s is subjective…and therefore GRACE needs to be the order of the day. I’m 47 and have been playing for 30 years, and I personally like both loud and soft music, there’s nothing ‘holier’ about quieter music. There’s no way as a worship team leader that we can please everyone, but when people complain after we volunteer our time and talent to serve the Lord it bothers me when people want to criticize. They don’t endure the countless hours trying to learn the music, practice, and fine tune the effects to try to make it as good as it can be nor do they know the hearts of the musicians doing their best. And some musicians (myself included) are there because other folks in the congregation won’t volunteer their time and do their share.

    What I didn’t notice in this post, and maybe I missed it, is what does God’s word say on this subject to musicians:

    “Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy.” Psalm 33:3

    The word ‘Shout’ denotes loudness…albeit a reference to human voices as amplification was not available back then. No, this is not an excuse for me to crank it up, but at times allowing an instrument to be expressed does not necessarily represent an over inflated ego in the band, but rather an expression of Skill…God given skill that can be expressed with emotions that are fitting the message. So cut the worship band and sound techs some slack here…it’ not easy and hopefully we improve over time with encouraging feedback.

  38. John Stackhouse

    If I had wanted to say, “LOUD IS BAD,” I wouldn’t have written an entire article with a handful of points. And of course we should bear with each other as we sort through these issues. So let’s indeed sort them through, rather than merely defend our particular preferences or performances and bash anyone who criticizes. I’ve run sound boards and I’ve performed with groups large and small, loud and soft, for a long time: I’m sympathetic with everyone involved. All I’m asking is that we give this set of issues the thought and care they deserve–as do our fellow Christians.

  39. Brian Cox

    As a worship leader, I think that blanket statements are not always wise. As a general rule, I notice that less talented musicians “hide” in the volume of the rest of the band.

    A good sound man is as hard to come by as a good worship leader. I don’t want to shift blame around the congregation, but an honest assessment will show you that volunteers rarely perform at a professional level, and we all have our issues.

    I’ve noticed that if you put 3 people together, one will have a complaint against the other two. How many staff meetings have you sat in where people are complaining about the volume of the band, the song selection, the style of music, the style of clothing, the air conditioning, the color of the carpet, the attitude of the child-care receptionist, etc.

    How many scriptures talk about preferring your brother’s needs and preferences to your own? How many scriptures were written about unity and forgiveness? You can and have pointed the finger…now where’s the grace?

    If this is such a point of contention for you, I recommend calling a church and asking them how loud their volume is before visiting the church. Perhaps this would quiet your spirit.

    As an aside, my wife likes the church we are at because, among other things of course, they allow the music to be above 80db.

  40. John Stackhouse

    Brother Cox, I don’t know what your point is–you seem to be offering a rather random selection of thoughts–but you seem to regard criticism as a Bad Thing that somehow fails to offer grace.

    I’ll blog soon about leaders who seem to think criticism is an evil–such people need to change their minds or get out of leadership, I’ll suggest. But for now, may I assure you (as I have assured readers several times in the post and in subsequent comments–did you read the comments before you posted your own?) that I am raising what I think are important points on behalf of the whole body of Christ, including the worship band members themselves.

  41. Bob McDowell

    My sister and I both have hereditary tinnitus, and after 20 minutes in the same room with the guitars and amps, I’m miserable.

    At one hyperdecibelic “worship”[sic] session at a conference, on my way out of the hall for auditory respite, I almost stopped to tell a mother with babe in arms that she might be abusing the baby by exposing it to such loud noise.

    Do you know of any academic, peer-reviewed works which objectively assess the acoustic exposure which congregants are subjected to??

    • John Stackhouse

      No, I don’t know of such studies. But I’ll bet someone does: Let’s see if anyone will help us with that…

  42. anne

    Hi

    I have just come back from Church this morning and the noise was really bad.

    I have been in worship bands for 30 years but due to having M.E/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome have had to stop. This morning the drums were awful/and the band was amplified to an ear splitting level. At one stage the audience grimaced in pain and the Pastor ran to the back to to get them to turn it down.

    I went outside and nearly collapsed my teenage daughter who normally if fine said it made her heart flutter and caused a sharp pain.

    They have introduced 2 more speakers, we now have 4 which is suppose to give a general all round sound but it seems to have doubled it instead.

    Music is not only heard but it is felt through the body and the brain.

    Those of us that have an illness it is very damaging.It can take several days to recover from an ear splitting Church service.

    What is the point in going to Church to make yourself ill.

    When I first came into the Charismatic church it was a breath of fresh air. Anointed music played with a simple band, never loud.You could hear them and yourself singing. I remember such Angelic singing in tongues wafting through the Church in the services. It couldn’t be heard now because of the noise or would they even be there?.

    How sad.

    Anne

  43. Robert McDowell

    Exposure to excess sound energy levels is hazardous to the hearing mechanism. I call letting kids stay in a room with excessively amplified music CHILD ABUSE. If you find the music in a worship[sic!] setting to be earsplitting, you should evacuate the kids at the very least.

    Robert W. McDowell, M.D., F.C.A.P.
    Instructor, Dartmouth Medical School

  44. anne

    Hi

    Thank you for your reply. I wonder why it made my daughters heart flutter and cause a sharp pain?

  45. Robert McDowell

    Dear Anne,
    It’s impossible to say from here why your daughter’s heart fluttered and experienced sharp pain. If this continues, you should contact a doctor. Sorry I can’t be more specific.

  46. Darin

    Very interesting article, well worth the read. As a long time music ministry, I would have to say I agree. My church just downsized it’s meeting hall, and suddenly no drum!!! Shock, horror! So as music director I just said, “now we go acoustic”, and suddenly, in a matter of weeks, we have 3 and 4 part harmony and a sweet, beautiful sound. Keep your noise, I’d rather have the intimate experience!

  47. Stephen Nettles

    2 statements…..

    1. the off key harmony singer your speaking of….. ugh!!!!!! oh that hurts to hear lol… solution…. LESS SINGERS FOR PETE’S SAKE!!!!!
    2. as a crazy young person that finds so much intimacy and closeness to God through being enveloped in loud music that serves to glorify God……. I WILL CONTINUE TO PUSH THE BOUNDREIS OF JUST HOW LOUD I CAN GET THE PASTOR TO LET ME GET! 😀

  48. TK

    Worship is a lifestyle. If the worship music is lifting up the name of Jesus – that is all that matters. It shouldn’t matter how loud or even how long the worship service lasts. Keep your focus on Him and everything else falls into place. If we become offended or don’t agree with the little things how are we ever giving glory to God. We are not living to satisfy our flesh – we are here to live and please Him. Remember – Jesus gave HIS LIFE for us.

  49. Bob McDowell

    TK,

    Would you have any category for “strange fire”?

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