How Loud Should Our Church Music Be?


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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  • This is really an issue of church culture than it is about volume. Who are you trying to reach? What atmosphere works best for that culture? There is never going to be a “one size fits all” structure. Nor should there be.

    It’s easy to read this article and see the authors preferences. Had I written this I undoubtedly would come to a different conclusion based on my own biases. This is precisely why every church should share the same loving message of Christ but with their own unique “packaging”.

  • Al Hayes says on

    Great band + great system + great room + great and anointed sound person = 80> <90db max at peak dynamics.
    Anything missing from this equation not even Disney can fix.

  • Stephen Beasley says on

    This article has bothered me for several days. First of all the measurements were not done by calibrated instruments so the numbers are wrong. The Bible says in Deuteronomy to use “true” weights and measures. Additionally there are many technical details missing such as distance from source, db weighting etc. As a media minister, I am compelled to mention two convictions about volume: 1 The audience should never be distracted by volume but rather motivated to participation in worship. 2 When God is speaking or the Holy Spirit is manifest, everything else is no longer important. With the right attitude, a person will always find Jesus and their preference of volume remains simply a preference not a principle for worship. Maybe next week we can consider dim vs bright congregational lighting…

    • Hey Stephen,

      Thank you for your comments and desire to help facilitate genuine worship.

      As a media minister I’m sure you have a much better sense of the ideal room volume than I do. I was simply shocked by Disney’s relative “softness” compared to my tendency to push the volume. I wondered if I was unintentionally causing a distraction. In an ideal world this wouldn’t be an issue, but it’s unfortunately divisive in far too many churches. At the very least, the experiment proved that Disney (at least in the shows I attended) was far softer than what I typically run.

      To your point, I too was concerned about the accuracy of the iPhone. You’re correct in that it’s not a calibrated instrument (though handy on a family vacation :). But if it helps, I did A/B it with a calibrated meter and found it to be very close – within 3 dB. Our family tended to sit in the middle or back 3rd, and I’m sure results and anomalies would vary elsewhere. Regarding weighting – RTA lite doesn’t give the option to switch so I’m going to assume it’s dBA based on my observations and given that it’s so common.

      Regardless, I don’t think there’s a “perfect” volume. Everyone has a preference. For me it was simply a wake-up call to lay my preferences aside, and consider how to best love and lead others.

      Bless you man!


    • Debra Magrann says on

      Since the question was, “How Loud …” many responses came not with preferences, but physical ailments. The second person to respond to this article was an audiologist. The point is not “How Loud…” but, rather, “Harm Not.” Noise-induced hearing loss is a major health issue and it is growing exponentially. The Body of Christ should not be adding to the problem.

  • Ron Cram says on

    I had a period of time where there was something medically wrong with my ears, especially my right one. At 85 decibels, I had severe pain. At 80-82 decibels, no pain. I did not know there was something wrong with my ears. All i knew was that it hurt like crazy and I couldn’t stay in the service and I couldn’t worship God. I was disappointed and angry because the sound people were completely heartless. True, it is a large church. But most people would not notice the difference between 80-85 decibels. And no one would walk out because the music was too soft. I thought the church was incredibly insensitive. My ears are better now, but I still worry about others in the service every week who are going through what I went through.

    • I think you will find that the sound engineers have nothing to do with the overall level of the sound. It is not a choice that we get to make but are instead told where it needs to be: by the Senior Pastor, the Worship Pastor and just about the entire congregation at times. We can mix EQ’s, highlight certain instruments or voices, but if the overall level is too low we are told to turn it up, too high we are told to turn it down, just the way things are. Next time, go directly to the Worship Pastor.
      BTW, we use a pro DB meter and are rarely 5 DB out of the “official zone” but still get comments. People and sounds change week to week but the DB meter does not lie. You think 85DB is high? You should have heard our old pipe organ!! 100DB at least, sustained, never a complaint, EVER.

  • If you cannot hear the congregation singing the music is too loud. We should strive for excellence in everything, but worship is not about the music (the dynamics, the hook, etc), its about God’s people lifting their voices to Him whether it be a song of praise or lament. Are there praise bands and guitar solos in heaven? Or are we going to worship God as a congregation with our hearts and voices. I would bet the latter.

    And if it means anything my old band was called VOLUME- a heavy rock band, and I still like to listen to loud and heavy music just not for worship.

    • There’s a fine line. If the sound is too quiet, you can’t hear the leader and this can be annoying if you don’t know the melody very well. Also, sometimes your neighbor is making a joyful “noise” unto the Lord that probably only He can appreciate! So the music can help to mask bad singing to a point. It also helps to have a concrete floor under the congregation. That way the sound of you and your neighbors singing is reinforced as it bounces off the floor. Carpeting sucks it right up. There are 2 churches that I have attended in the area and it is better singing in the one with the concrete under the congregation than the carpet.

  • I wish other people cared about this outside of the worship service, too. I don’t enjoy concerts of contemporary bands because they are always too loud. A sound technician can completely ruin a song for me that I love on the radio. I want to hear individual instruments and voices- not distortion. My hearing is the only sense that really works, and I’d like to keep it!

  • Dan Ciolkosz says on

    Interesting discussion – thank you to all that posted. Some of the comments make it almost seem that volume is a sort of drug that we use to “pep up” or focus the congregation so that their worship will be more authentic or effective. Creating an atmosphere conducive to worship is a good thing, but at what point do we cross the line into inappropriate manipulation? I’ve often wondered if people who prefer loud worship do so because their minds are spinning with all of the endless input they received during the week, and they find themselves unable to focus on the Lord otherwise.

    I once spoke with a pastor who strongly believed that musical worship should be dominated by the voices of the worshipers, rather than the instruments, so that the church would be engaged in active rather than passive worship. He played in a (loud) band at other times, but he didn’t think that had a place in corporate worship. That’s the closest thing I’ve ever heard to a logical basis for selecting a worship volume. Are there other good motivations out there to consider when we think about worship and volume?

  • I enjoy being part of corporate worship. I love it! Hearing my voice lifted in praise with other believers thrills my soul. It helps me feel part of the community. It reminds me that I have brothers and sisters who feel the same way about God that I do. When the instruments are loud, I notice that the worshippers begin listening instead of participating. I notice that I can only hear myself when the music is loud, or sometimes, I can’t hear myself at all. I don’t go to church to watch a show, I go to glorify God with my worship. Please! Save the 95 decibels and above for when I am going to watch musicians who are there to put on a show…

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