By Jordan Richmond
If you have any semblance of modern, band-driven worship, I guarantee you’ve had complaints about volume. I had a guy who would stick toilet paper in his ears every week and obnoxiously pace the foyer during the music set.
Conventional wisdom tells us that more volume equals more energy. After all people don’t want to hear themselves sing right?
So what’s the perfect volume? In this case, Disney has the answer. Disney seems to have a knack for managing expectations and providing the best user experience on the planet. They can teach us a thing or two about worship. So during my last visit to Disney World I decided to conduct an experiment. Every show I attended I would take out my iPhone and fire up the RTA Lite app. This handy (and free) little tool let’s me measure the decibel level at certain frequencies. I can see the level of the bass, mids, and trebles. The results shocked me.
- Decibel Level – At every show and concert, the average level was about 75 db. That’s pretty soft—about the same as a dial tone with the phone up to your ear. Occasionally it might pop up to 85 db (city traffic), but not much more (hearing damage occurs at 90-95 db with sustained exposure). It was amazing how an explosion or kick drum had incredible intensity when everything else was at a pleasant level.
- Frequencies – The frequency spectrum was linear (as opposed to flat or the typical “smiley face” with enhanced lows and highs, and reduced mids). Bass was the loudest, and it would evenly taper off as it headed toward the higher frequencies. So the sound I heard was ultimately smooth. It had impact when it needed to, and was never shrill or brassy.
- Other Factors – Admittedly the shows I attended were family friendly—inviting young and old. EPCOT did have more concert/dance adult-oriented venues later in the evening. These were significantly louder (too loud for my taste). Also, every Disney venue featured Meyer arrays and trained sound men, so the end product was excellent.
So what did I learn from Disney?
I observed everyone, babies to grandmas, enjoying their experience. They participated. I also realized that sound is something we cannot escape. We cannot turn off our ears. We can look at something else if a light is too bright, but we cannot divert our hearing.
I attended a church service that weekend and felt almost assaulted by the sound (around 90-95 db). Admittedly I’ve subjected my church to that numerous times and wondered why they didn’t participate as actively. By all means pump the volume for youth groups. But for the large corporate service featuring all age groups (or children’s worship), it might be a good idea to bring the volume down.
More volume does not necessarily equal more energy. It insults your listeners, and robs you of the head room you need to emphasize dynamics and impacts when you need to. Turn it down. Smooth it out.
How loud is your church? Would you respond differently if the volume were different?
Jordan Richmond is a worship pastor at Idlewild in Tampa, FL. He has also served other local churches in Florida, Kentucky, and the Cayman Islands.
Posted on April 17, 2013
With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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Thanls for your comment. I have real fear for losing my hearing and quite alarmed that young children are being exposed to this at a stage when they can be very vulnerable to hearing loss. I also used to enjiy participating in congregational singing but with the choristers so loud (and nit necessarily in tune) I hardly sing anymore.
I have been in my church for over 35 years and when ever we would get a new Worship leader there would be battles over the loudness; just as it seemed that we would get one broken in they would leave and we would have to start all over again. If anyone dared to say anything about it being way to loud to the pastor or worship leader they would say get some earplugs and brush us off. They did not care at all. One time I wanted to go to ER because I thought it busted my ear drum because it hurt so bad. But I didn’t go because I didn’t want a lawsuit against the church because of it. It had injured my ear when that sound blared up, my ear hurt for a week and a half and ever since has been even more sensitive then before and I have lost some hearing in it. I have been a faithful servant but now feel like I need to leave. I am heartbroken that my Pastor and church don’t care. Sometimes I think I should have gone to the ER. There are so many people in church who says that it is to loud but know it wont do any good to say anything so they just put up with it. Some people are more sensitive than others but the church should be for all people not just those who can tolerate it. Praise and worship is suppose to bring us into God’s presence – a place where he could touch our hearts and speak to us in a personal way and allow the Spirit of God to do a work in us and through us. His word says to make a joyful noise, but loudness does not equal joyful if it hurts peoples ears and keeps them out of God’s presence and hinders the work of the Holy Spirit! I go church on Sundays to worship not to have a concert.
I am here because of tinnitus, hyperacusis, and hearing loss from acoustic trauma incurred during a church service nearly three months ago. I can name, the date, time, song, channel (female vocal lead) where the injury occurred. The injury was a result of the pastor placing a volunteer with documented hearing loss in control of main volume, at the back of house. It’s worth noting that multiple studies show people who incur this sort of injury are more prone to depression, anxiety, and a lower quality of life. We do not attend church in the hope of incurring these ailments, if anything we go to church in search of respite.
People in this eight year thread can quibble over 85 vs 96, dB vs dB(C), decibels vs lufs, or whatever. In the end, what matters most is the safety of the congregants, followed by the ability of the church to remain a solvent, cash-flow positive entity. If your church plays music at uncomfortable volumes that leaves your ears ringing (or worse, a feeling of aural fullness, a sign of acute damage), tell your worship leader and pastor. If they fail/refuse/neglect to take remedial action to prevent further exposure to injury (and litigation), *LEAVE*.
Finally, understand that lawsuits serve two purposes: to compensate victims, and to discourage practices that would lead to similar injury in the future. I for one, refuse to provide financial or other support to an organization that risks wasting my contributions in litigation they could have easily avoided by merely listening to attendees.
Our church regularly gets into the 90-plus decibel level according to my NIOSH app. I am 61 and developed tinnitus 10 years ago after getting strep from an English-As-A-Second-Language student I was working with.
The loud music here increases the ringing in my ears, for days.
It seems like this should be illegal. Would love to have your feedback. Thank you, Carolyn Evans
WE LIVE IN A FUNNY WORLD. WE’RE TOLD THAT CHURCH MUSIC HAS TO BE LOUD BECAUSE THAT’S WHAT THE YOUNG PEOPLE LIKE. YET IF I WERE A GAMBLING MAN, I’D BET TEN-TO-ONE THAT MANY OF THOSE SAME YOUNG PEOPLE WOULD TAKE OFFENSE AT THIS COMMENT BEING TYPED IN ALL CAPS.
I have lived in two states in recent years and have attended numerous churches each state. Sadly, I have only found only concert format churches. A church that focuses on the congregation worshipping does not seem to exist any longer. Churches, at one time, encouraged true communication between the congregation and God. Today, it seems to only be about the visceral reaction of the body to noise levels.
I have spoken to many people waiting in the outside edges of churches who are waiting for the noise level to stop so that they can go inside for the spoken word. I also have spoken to others who try to be polite and go inside, all the while suffering quietly with the noise level. I also have spoken to others who have just quit going, while feeling true betrayal from their Christian family.
I remember the days when we all could sing in quiet worship, sometimes even without any instruments, without any performers on stage. I remember when it was a holy altar and place of reverence.
It is truly tragic that those who are seasoned in their faith have been relegated to the outside of the church. We are outside with those who have PTSD because of various reasons, those who’s health is fragile and can not tolerate noise, those who have various neurological ailments and we are also outside with those who remember the sweet worship that used to be.