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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345 Comments

  • Jason Shreve says on

    In the Bible, whenever we get glimpses into heaven (read Isaiah, Ezekiel, Revelation, etc…) the author tries their best to paint a picture of what they’re witnessing. They use phrases like smoke, and lightning, the crashing of thunder, thousands of voices, tumult of an army, roar of rushing waters, blinding lights… Think on this: If you don’t like loud noises, lights and fog, you might not like heaven. Pray about it.

  • Recently we attended the Toby Mac concert (on 3/30/2017) at the Sears Center in Chicago land. It has a world-class sound and lighting setup. I turned on the decibel meter app to hear what the levels would be like. It was mostly below 87 dbA. Only once did it reach 89 Db for a few seconds. It was an enjoyable experience for the entire family without having to worry about loud music damaging our eardrums. There was plenty of ‘boom boom’ but it did not hurt our ears. In contrast, the megachurch we attended (chapel.org), refused to turn it down and said they would keep it at 92 dbA and I had many arguments with them over why they chose to assault our ears. If Toby Mac and Sears Center can be sensitive to hearing damage and keep sound levels down, why can’t the average church?

  • I am frustrated by the hypocrisy of Christians that will yell and scream at the top of their lungs at a sporting event, but won’t put the same enthusiasm or volume into their worship. Who deserves more? God, or your favorite athlete?

    • @eric you miss the point completely. When fans yell and scream at a sporting event, there are no microphones nor powerful electronic amplifiers to boost their sound power to assault others’ ear drums.

      • Stuart Allsop says on

        @Anil Philip, you say: ” there are no microphones nor powerful electronic amplifiers to boost their sound power to assault others’ ear drums.”

        Because none are needed. Even as few as a dozen people yelling loudly can easily exceed the legal levels for workplace noise. See my comment above on how loud it really was at the temple site when the worship team led the people in praise.

      • I think people are misquoting the passage about not suing a fellow believer. In the passage, 1 Corinthians 6, “If any of you has a dispute with another…”, apostle Paul is talking of two believers under a common church authority. In that case, the procedure in Matthew chap 18 will be followed.
        When churches do not submit to the authority of the Bible (Matthew chap 18 etc.), it is permitted to sue them. Then they are no longer churches, but businesses masquerading as the body of Christ.
        To those who disagree, two questions; 1) suppose a Christian cheats you of all your retirement savings, house etc and you are now penniless. Will you report this fraud to the police and FBI even though he will be prosecuted in court? I think most will answer, ‘yes’. If so, you are going before the same ungodly unbelievers that Paul is talking about. You will be indirectly bringing a lawsuit against him.
        2) suppose your pastor or elder molests a child in your family. Will you report this to the police? Will you file charges against him – it will result in a lawsuit against him!

  • Irony is using the same condescending tone and disrespectful attitude towards those you disagree with that the secular world does. And then condemn them for attending a church that is “trying to be too much like the world” worshiping loudly.

    Very sad to see a discussion like this being done without grace and love.

  • I somehow get the feeling that 2 Chron 5 – When they all lifted up their voices and all the trumpets were blowing with the cymbals crashing and the instruments that all made one sound, some of you would’ve flipped your lid and missed seeing the cloud of the Lord that descended into the temple… You’d have been offended that the music was too load_

    • @mrmike In the temple there were no electronic sound power amplifiers to artificially boost the output to assault the worshippers eardrums. God Himself would have been against anything that abused and damaged His creation.

      • Stuart Allsop says on

        @Anil Philips, you say: “In the temple there were no electronic sound power amplifiers to artificially boost the output to assault the worshippers eardrums. God Himself would have been against anything that abused and damaged His creation.”

        Well, that claim is a little bit strange, seeing that no amplifier at all is necessary to make seven trumpets, an unknown number of cymbals, eight praise and worship leaders, an unknown number of choir members, and a multitude of worshipers of unknown size, sound loud. Really loud. Amplification for that would be superfluous.

        The Bible itself provides enough information to calculate just how loud it was:

        “When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the Lord, as prescribed by David king of Israel. . . . No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away.” (Ezra 3:10, 13)

        Do the math.

        What would you consider “far away”? Ten miles? Five miles? Two miles? Let’s assume that the writer embellished a little, and it really wasn’t that loud at all: Let’s say it could just barely be heard only one mile away.

        In order for a sound to be heard distinctly, it needs to be at least 45 dBC (note the “C” in there: all measurements here are in decibels, “C” weighted, as they should be for loud music). 45 decibels is about what you would hear as you sit alone in your living room, in silence, with nothing in the house making any noise. No radio, TV, phone, air conditioner, etc. Nobody talking. Just normal quiet background ambient sounds. It’s a reasonable assumption that the person “far away” who heard the sounds of worship, was in a similar ambient sound situation.

        So assume that somebody a mile away could just faintly hear the sound coming from the worshippers.

        In the open air, sound diminishes at the rate of 6 dB each time you double the distance form the source. And therefore, the level *increases* by 6 dB each time you *halve* the distance to the source.

        So work backwards, starting from a level of 45 dBC at one mile. At half a mile it would be 51 dBC. At a quarter mile, 57 dBC. Lets switch to feet and round numbers, to make it easier to understand. So at 1320 feet we have 57 dBC. At 660 feet = 63 dBC. At 320 feet = 69 dBC. At 160 feet = 75 dBC. At 80 feet = 81 dBC. At 40 feet = 87 dBC. At 20 feet = 93 dBC. At 10 feet = 99 dBC. At 5 feet = 105 dBC. At 3 feet = 111 dBC. Three feet is the standard distance for making acoustic measurements of things like loudspeakers, … as well as trumpets, cymbals, singers and weepers. It’s also roughly similar to the distance you’d be away from your neighbor in a crowd… or a Sunday worship service.

        So it is safe to assume that the sound pressure level among the people who were doing all this worshipping and praising of God, was at least 110 dBC.

        Loud, by anybody’s standards. Yet there’s no record of God rejecting that praise and telling the worshippers to turn it down… No record that he told them he would only accept quiet praise that meets some legal regulation or other…

        Assuming that the author of Ezra was reporting honestly, and the sound really was heard very distinctly “far away”, say 4 or 5 miles away, the level at the source would have to be around 120 dB, or more.

        So no amplifiers were necessary in the Old Testament to far exceed the sound levels that are commonly considered safe and reasonable in churches today. As I have mentioned several times on this thread, when I teach sound seminars for churches, I teach a reasonable level of 90 dBC and a maximum level of 96 dBC. To put all of the above in perspective, 110 dBC is eight times louder than that reasonable level, subjectively.

        And there is no record of God telling them to shut up.

        Don’t get me wrong: I’m not advocating for loud sound in churches! I’m merely pointing out the incorrect assumptions made by many about just how loud it was in the temple, and I’m saying that a level of about one quarter to one eighth of that is reasonable for churches today. That is a level that is safe, legal, and does not cause harm.

      • @Stuart,
        Your analysis of the temple is all wrong for the simple reason – you were not there and have no way of knowing what it really was like. The ancient instruments were not manufactured to our modern standards and were likely not as efficient nor loud. Shofar, trumpet, cymbal – these are not too loud and do not compare with your electric amplifiers and amplified drums, guitars etc. Again, I am certain of one thing. God would have seen to it that they NEVER played it so loud that his children (the people’s) hearing was damaged.

    • Mark VB says on

      And I’m fairly confident that when they all ‘lifted up their voices and all the trumpets were blowing with the cymbals crashing’ it wasn’t sustained for 30-40 minutes ..

  • My daughter, who is a pastor’s wife once told me, “People don’t leave a church because the music is too soft but people do leave a church if it is too loud.”

  • Most of the music in church is not inspired by the Holy Spirit and its lyrical content is basically six words used in different order for each song. That is, spiritually washed out, dumbed down, and meaningless. So we then have to bring in all the externals like a rock concert (lights, excessive loudness, etc.) to make an appeal to people. Why don’t we turn the sound level as high as possible. Then we’ll really be cool.

  • We as a family have been attending a large church in the Knoxville area. I am heartbroken because I cannot participate in worship due to the high sound level. It is oppressively loud and I fear my girls as they get older will have damaged hearing. My husband goes into worship and feels inspired while I sit in the lobby. I sit a while until another member comes with her husband who cannot tolerate the volume either. There has been unanswered emails to the question “Is there a spiritual reason for such a high volume?” and “can 1 of 4 services be not quite as loud?” The answer to the last question was “no, we want to draw the young crowd and here are earplugs” (which don’t work, especially when I feel I am thwarted by the violent vibration of the sound also which is extremely unsettling). I feel so isolated and depressed. There is no Christian compassion or give on the matter. I’m glad there is at least a website where I feel others can understand. For now I am just going to watch my sermons online, I am not truly a part of that congregation, nor do they care. It has been a long road moving from another state after starting a family and I would hope church could be a place that I might feel in the very least, less isolated.

    • Stuart Allsop says on

      Jenn, you say that ” I feel I am thwarted by the violent vibration of the sound also which is extremely unsettling”. If you can physically feel vibration in your body, then yes it is WAY too loud. It is likely over 120 dBC in order to be felt, and such high levels can, indeed, cause damage. You should leave that church, and encourage others to do the same.

      Even though I’ll be the first to defend reasonable levels that do not cause harm, I’ll also be the first to call this just plain stupid, and totally unnecessary. Talk to the pastor, and let him know that he is likely breaking the law if he has any paid staff attending those services, since he is exceeding the workplace safety standards for those staff. The congregations isn’t relevant from this point of view, since they are there voluntarily, but paid staff are legally workers, and their workplace conditions most conform to the standards.

      For your own good, find another church. Those levels are inexcusable.

    • Jenn, you are not alone.

      My husband and I are leaving a church that we’ve attended for three years, ever since it started. We even helped get it going when it was brand new.

      The sound has grown gradually louder and louder until I can no longer stay in the sanctuary during worship. I have to wait until the sermon starts before I come in and sit down.

      If you were in our church during worship, you could not hold even a shouting conversation with a person standing right next to you. Several people have told me they can feel the vibrations inside their body. I have felt that as well.

      And this isn’t an age issue, either. Although we are both in our early fifties, we talked to a younger couple that we had started to get to know, and liked a lot, who told us they left the church because it was too loud. There are several other people we know who have told us they feel it is too loud.

      As an usher, my husband is frequently requested by attendees to talk to someone about the problem. He has….and nothing has been done.

      I, too, feel heartbroken, unheard, marginalized. But I’m to the point where I’m ready to move on. I refused to stay anyplace where my concerns are belittled when I know that I’m NOT just a troublemaker and I know that I DO have legitimate concerns that should be addressed.

      There was one time where an older gentleman asked to have the sound lowered and the response to him was that it’s going to be loud in heaven. First of all, we aren’t going to have these bodies in heaven. And second, that idea does not change a thing about the fact that for now, we still have to live here on earth.

      I’m sorry to say that during that incident, there was laughing and joking about the issue among the folks that the gentleman tried to talk to. I was shocked, to say the least. I have never in my life seen such blatant disrespect coming from the leadership of any church I’ve been a part of.

      Jenn, I hope you and your family are able to find a church you love with a normal sound volume. Please don’t give up.

  • Personally, 90 DB seems super crazy quiet at times in our church. There are times we have pushed it to 100 DB. 75 DB in our church quite literally sounds like a little boombox from the 80’s sitting on the stage at mid level. You hear people moving around, coughing, talking to their children/family, you hear the click and cues from the bands headphones, etc. I mean, we have a fairly large sanctuary, but I couldn’t imagine anyone truthfully running 70-75 DB and it actually sounding … beefy enough. hahaha! JMI

    • You say 90 db is “super crazy quiet”??? I hope all you loud churches that damage the congregation’s hearing get sued and learn your lesson.

      • Stuart Allsop says on

        @Anil, you said: “You say 90 db is “super crazy quiet”??? I hope all you loud churches that damage the congregation’s hearing get sued and learn your lesson.

        Yes, Anil, 90 dBC actually can sound very quite. And no, that level will not cause hearing damage.

        Did you notice the “C” in there?

        If you think your congregation should get sued, then by all means go ahead and do that. The scriptures actually do have advice for you on how to proceed with that. I listed several relevant scriptures in a previous reply: you might want to look those up.

      • @Stuart Allsop
        One does not need to understand the decibel scale to know that ones’ ears are ringing and experiencing discomfort.
        Our bodies have a way of communicating to the mind when harmful effects are occurring.
        And by the way, from the verses you mention it is permissible to sue believers when there is no common authority that they are submitted to. Do an internet search for a Christianity Today article on the subject by a theologian.

    • Stuart Allsop says on

      @Bethany, you said “75 DB in our church quite literally sounds like a little boombox from the 80’s sitting on the stage at mid level. You hear people moving around, coughing, talking to their children/family, you hear the click and cues from the bands headphones, etc. I mean, we have a fairly large sanctuary, but I couldn’t imagine anyone truthfully running 70-75 DB and it actually sounding … beefy enough. ”

      Very true! That’s a fairly typical problem in large auditoriums with high background levels and poor coverage.

      If only people would understand how sound works, and what those numbers actually mean….

  • This is an interesting thread.

    I am a musician, and the topic of appropriate volume is one I have considered carefully for several decades.

    I have musician friends who have tinnitus and hearing loss.

    There is a differentiation in the views of those fortunate enough to still have normal hearing, and those whose practices have led to their partial deafness or the ongoing and maddening buzzing in their ears.

    1. 85 db in the audience is about the peak volume you want for safety, comfort, and effect. This is the standard maximum ongoing safe exposure accepted by industry and health authorities before resorting to hearing protection, and it also happens to be the approximate level in the audience of an orchestra playing forte in a concert hall. (Fans of amplified music usually consider 85 decibels in the audience as far too quiet).

    2.The human voice is the human instrument, and all instrumentation should be (and was until recently) made to balance with the volume of the unamplified human voice. This allows music to create the desired emotional effect on the listener.

    3.A Steinway D concert grand piano is made to be audible in a concert hall……but also to play almost inaudibly. Piano means quiet or soft in Italian, and the feature of the piano compared to early keyboard instruments is its ability to also play very softly. The most powerful sound in music is silence, followed by the soft sounds. Assaulting the senses does not touch the soul.

    4.Amplified music has arrived at a point where even cheaper systems can play at dangerously loud volume levels. If the people controlling these systems are not both highly trained and judicious, which is rarely the case, there is the risk of establishing volume levels in the audience that can cause at least discomfort and at worst, permanent hearing loss or tinnitus.

    5.Children and the elderly are most at risk, as children have much more sensitive hearing, and need their ears for many years ahead, and the elderly often have already experienced hearing loss through exposure and natural ageing, and besides being more fragile may have hearing aids that they sometimes do not turn off, for various reasons.

    6. A church is a place of worship, not a rock concert.

    Unfortunately, many people have come to accept high sound pressure levels as normal. This is due to many factors, including the soundscape of cities and industry, hearing loss at early age due to exposure, present day cultural norms, and of course, ubiquitous electronic amplification.

    Unfortunately, as much as the environment changes, the vulnerability of the human ear does not.

    85 db is still loud, and those who choose to ignore this fact and expose themselves (and unfortunately, others) to higher levels court the consequences of hearing loss and tinnitus.

    Education is part of the answer. Everyone needs to spread the word that high volume levels are not safe, nor desirable from a musical standpoint.

    But, unfortunately, it will take litigation to restore sanity. There has been some already, but we must arrive at a point where DJs and musicians are held to a safety standard with penalties for exceeding certain volume levels.

    I hope that comes soon. The last wedding I attended had a a DJ who played the music so loudly that many of us left the reception early. In fact, I was wearing hearing protection and it was still far too loud. Many young children were in attendance. Unaware (and unable to do anything), they were subjected to many hours of auditory abuse. I was the only adult who actually spoke to the DJ and asked him to turn the volume down. Of course, he ignored me.

    Finally, to those who feel my message is conservative or foolish, I do hope you are proven correct in your own experience going forward. Tinnitus and hearing loss are especially unfortunate for a musician. If you are content with that, please consider your audience.

    As Jimmy Hendrix once advised his audience before lighting up the Marshalls, “watch your ears”.

    • Stuart Allsop says on

      @Ken, I fully realize that your post was offered in a thoughtful and well-meaning manner, but you are repeating yet again many assumptions and myths that simply are not correct.

      For example, you said “85 db … is the standard maximum ongoing safe exposure accepted by industry and health authorities before resorting to hearing protection”. No it is not. That isn’t correct, and isn’t accurate. The actual OSHA standard for workplaces is 90 dBA constant level over a period of 8 hours, every day, repeated, day after day, week after week, month after month. That’s a far cry from what you said, regarding church worship!

      To put that in perspective; from actual health reports, about 10% of the population will suffer hearing damage when exposed to 85 dBA, all day every day, for 40 years! That’s an even further distance from what you said. Your intentions are good, but your information is wrong. OHSA standard area about life-time exposure in the workplace, every day.

      That is hardly comparable to a an hour of praise and worship, once per week.

      Hearing damage is not just about levels: it is about a level plus the exposure time. There is something called an “exchange rate” that is used to determine safe levels for louder sounds. The OSHA exchange rate is a reduction by 50% in the exposure time for each 5 dB increase in level. So if the level is 90 dBA, then the time limit is 8 hours per day, every day. At 95 dBA the time limit is 4 hours per day, every day. At 100 dBA, then the time limit is 2 hours per day, every day. Etc. Since a typical church praise and worship session is about 30 minutes to an hour long, it would be well within legal limits at 100 dBA. In fact, it would still be within legal limits at 105 dBA, or even 110 dBA, since the cumulative exposure is what matters in the specs, and it still less than the limits.

      OK, those are the LEGAL limits, established by OSHA for workplaces. Many doctors consider those too high, as do many sound engineers and acousticians (including me!). We prefer to use the NIOSH standard, which starts at 85 dBA (instead of OSHA’s 90 dBA), and uses an exchange rate of 3 dB (instead of OSHA’s 5 dB). So using NIOSH criteria: 85 dBA for 8 hours is fine, at 88 dBA it is 4 hours, 91 dBA is 2 hours, 94 dBA is one hour, and 97 dBA is 30 minutes. Those are much safer levels in general, and far more appropriate for churches in particular. At those levels, there is practically no danger of hearing damage. And once again, those are levels for continuous exposure, all day, every day, for many years. Once a week on Sunday morning is way less exposure.

      So your claim that “85 dB … is the standard maximum ongoing safe exposure accepted by industry and health authorities” is simply wrong, and misleading.

      Then there’s the issue of what you even mean by “85 dB”. Are you talking dBA? dBC? dB flat? dBD? Are you measuring that with fast response, medium response, or slow response? Transients or no transients? Those are all VERY different things!

      Saying that “a sound of 85 dB is too loud” is the same as saying “a speed of 90 is too fast”. What scale are you measuring that speed? Is it 90 miles per hour, 90 feet per second, 90 kilometers per hour, 90 furlongs per fortnight, or 90% of the speed of light? Vastly different things. There’s a massive difference in there, just like there’s a massive difference between dBA and dBC readings.

      The regulations specify dBA, which means that the meter is set to adjust the real reading that it took of the sound levels, and bend it according to the “A” weighting criteria, which pretty much ignores low frequency sounds, such as drums, bass guitar, the low end of keyboards, and several other instruments commonly found in contemporary church praise and worship bands. dBA tells you a lot about typical speech, office noises, factory floor noises, street noises, etc, but nothing useful about loud music.

      dBA is fine for typical office and working environments, but NOT for typical contemporary music. Smart sound engineers and acousticians use the “C” weighting scale for music, since it DOES take into account those low frequency sounds. Typical music that shows up as 85 dB on the “A” scale could easily show up as 90 dB or even 95 dB on the “C” scale, simply because “C” scale measures much more of the musical spectrum. It is a much more realistic representation of the actual sound level perceived by your ears, which is why people who deal with loud music and know what they are doing, always set their meters to “C” weighting… (except when the cops are knocking on the door: then it gets set to “A” again, since that shows a much lower reading, and is the legally required method for measurement anyway).

      So once again, saying that “85 dB is too loud” is simply wrong, unless you also specify which dB scale you are using. For typical rock music, 85 dBC is NOT loud, while 85 dBA really IS loud. Just the same as 90 kilometers per hour is not fast, while 90 miles per hour is fast.

      Then you also say “85 db … also happens to be the approximate level in the audience of an orchestra playing forte in a concert hall.”. Once again, that is simply wrong, no matter how you measure it! A symphony orchestra can play anywhere between about 40 dBC and 120 dBC peak, with the average for a typical concert being about 90 to 100 dBC: But that also depends hugely on the acoustics of the concert hall itself! The exact same orchestra playing the exact same piece at the exact same level could show 100 dBC when measured in a highly reverberant hall, but only 80 dBC when playing in the open air, at the same distance from the stage. Very different scenarios.

      So once again, the claim is simply wrong. Full symphony orchestras commonly play much louder than 85 dBC. A concert grand piano alone can play twice as loud as that, all by itself!

      Then there’s this: “A church is a place of worship, not a rock concert”. Well, that comment has nothing at all to do with sound levels, which is what the original article is about, so it is totally out of place here. Your comment is about worship STYLE, which is irrelevant to the sound LEVEL. Just because you don’t like rock music in church does not mean that you have toe right to impose your viewpoint on others. You have no business at all trying to dictate what worship style any church should use. The Bible does not do so, so what makes you think you can? The Bible instructs us to make “joyful noise unto the Lord”, and to do everything “decently and in order”, but imposes no limits at all on music style. In fact, based on the instruments used in the temple, and the descriptions of how they were used, it seems likely that something akin to rock music was rather common!

      If one church decides that they want to worship the Lord acapella, another wants a piano or organ, yet another prefers a classical orchestra, while a fourth prefers a full rock band, then who are you to say that any of them is wrong or right? The only thing that matters is that God is worshiped and praised, and that the sound levels are reasonable and not harmful in all of those cases.

      So that comment too is wrong, or at least out of line. Nobody has the right to dictate what style of worship other churches must use, any more than they have the right to dictate what style of preaching the pastor must use, or what color the walls must be painted.

      Later in your diatribe you say: “85 db is still loud,” Once again, no it is not. The measurement *method* must be specified, and the *room acoustics* must be taken into account. 85 dBA in a small reverberant room with a low ceiling might be perceived as deafeningly loud, while 85 dBC in a large venue with high ceilings and good acoustics might well be perceived as way too quite. A blanket statement such as “85 db is loud” is more an indicator of ignorance about music, sound, and acoustics, than it is an indicator of reliable knowledge, and should be ignored.

      “But, unfortunately, it will take litigation to restore sanity. There has been some already, but we must arrive at a point where DJs and musicians are held to a safety standard with penalties for exceeding certain volume levels.” Fortunately, that won’t happen. Due to the simple fact that the legal levels are established for *workplace employees* exposed to continuous loud sounds, all day every day, year after year. They are not applicable to audiences who attend venues voluntarily, and are only exposed to loud sounds very occasionally, for brief periods. While full-time employees who work at a night club or disco might well have a case against the owners or operators if they are not provided with hearing protection, you’d have a real hard time successfully suing a church sound engineer or praise and worship leader who plays at 95 dBC for a few minutes on a Sunday morning!

      Which is exactly how it should be.

      I do have to ask: do you REALLY want lawyers and the police meddling in religious services? Do you really want some authority to have the power to shut down your Sunday morning service because it didn’t meet some legal standard that they imposed on you? Think about that before you answer…

      Do you really think it is good that one Christian should sue another Christian, just because he is praising the Lord too loudly?

      “In fact, I was wearing hearing protection and it was still far too loud.” Then you were likely wearing unsuitable hearing protection! You should get better ones. Simple foam ear plugs (the good quality industrial type) are able to reduce overall levels by about 30 dB. Assuming the stupid DJ was playing at 115 dB (possible, but unlikely), your perceived level would have been 85 dBC, which is well within reason, and also well within even workplace legal limits.

      “Finally, to those who feel my message is conservative or foolish, I do hope you are proven correct in your own experience going forward. Tinnitus and hearing loss are especially unfortunate for a musician. If you are content with that, please consider your audience.”

      Your message isn’t foolish: just incorrect, misleading, deceptive, confusing, and ignorant. It is well intentioned, clearly, but based on ignorance of acoustics, music, sound propagation, and sound level measurements. Also, musicians and congregations are also two very different things, from the point of view of sound levels. Musicians usually want the levels VERY loud on stage, which creates problems for us sound engineers who are trying to get decent quality and reasonable levels in the sanctuary for the congregation: Most musicians are already partly deaf, so they really want very high levels onstage just to hear themselves. Which is sad, since it just makes their own situation worse, and makes the worship experience worse for the congregation too. If musicians would learn to use proper in-ear monitoring, instead of wanting massive speakers on stage for their monitor mix, things could be very much different. With in-ear, they can have the level as loud as they want, and get as deaf as they want, without affecting the congregation. Simply forcing all of the musicians in the church to switch over to in-ear systems, and completely eliminating the stage monitors, makes a drastic difference. It also enables the sound engineer to create a good worship experience for the congregation, with regard to sound levels and sound quality.

      That’s where your efforts should be focused: musicians are not the solution; they are the problem. Eliminating the extreme sound levels on stage greatly improves both the loudness and the quality for the congregation.

      So then, with all that being said, what is a good level for a church then? Once again, it depends on the size and acoustic condition of the sanctuary, but most small to medium churches (congregations sizes from a few dozen people to a few hundred) in typical venues, an average level of 90 to 95 dBC at the height of worship is neither loud nor dangerous. Of course, during the service that will vary from maybe 70 dBC in the quite times up to momentary peaks of maybe 100 dBC, but 90-95 is a reasonable level to shoot for.

      Apart from potential hearing damage, there’s another good reason to keep it under about 95 dBC: some research suggest that at a level of about 96 dBC, the “congregation” starts to turn into an “audience”, and the “service” starts to turn into a “concert”. That seems to be the level where people stop singing themselves, and stop participating actively in the praise and worship, and instead they switch over to observing the show. The louder it gets, the fewer people stay involved in worship. People seem to flip some type of mental switch in their heads at about 96 dBC, and now see the service as a concert or live event that should be listened to and watched, and perhaps sing along too, but they aren’t “involved in worship” as they were when the levels are under about 96 dBC.

      Curiously, that is roughly the same level at which the congregation itself sings, regardless of the music level, so when it gets louder than that, people cannot hear themselves singing anymore, so they stop.

      That’s probably the best reason of all to keep the levels around 90 dBC, since that is the real purpose of the praise and worship service: to have the entire congregation as deeply involved as possible in praising and worshiping the Lord. Anything that distracts from that should be avoided.

      When I run sound at live venues, that is my target. When I teach sound seminars for churches, that is what I teach. The results are self-evident. 90 dBC is good, 96 dBC is the limit: it is safe, reasonable, and achievable in most venues, and keeps the congregation focused on the very reason they are in the church anyway: to make a joyful noise unto the Lord.

      • Stuart,
        I am frankly amazed reading your reply. You want the sound levels to be at 90-96 dB and you claim to be teaching seminars to churches to do that??!! Are you so callous?

        What you and others do not realize is that there is likely no switch that suddenly flips and damages hearing after the “timeline” and that everything is fine until the last minute. That is not true.

        Our bodies are not digital. It is more likely that hearing loss is happening all through. I am not an audiologist but I think that hearing damage does not suddenly start at the 2 hour cutoff – it is gradual. So even after 20 minutes, there may be some loss.

        The fact that one experiences discomfort in hearing is a signal from the ears that something is wrong.

        At the church we have been attending, they have been keeping the sound at close to or just above 90 db. they are using OSHA studies to say that you need 2 hours of exposure to suffer hearing damage.

        Interestingly, no one mentions the presence of God in these arguments.

        When God spoke to Elijah on Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19), he was not in the loud noises of the fire nor the earthquake, but in the whisper.

        I do not believe that God is present in worship services where his children’s hearing is being damaged. Our bodies – including our ears – are the temple of the Holy Spirit.

      • Stuart Allsop says on

        @Anil Philip, you said: “You want the sound levels to be at 90-96 dB and you claim to be teaching seminars to churches to do that??!! Are you so callous?” Are you serious? Thinking you can call me out on an absolutely sound technical teaching, when you, in your technical ignorance, are perpetuating the exact same error I have mentioned NUMEROUS times here, that is frequently made by those who don’t have a clue what they are talking about?

        Read what I wrote one more time: I said that I teach seminars to churches where I suggest that a level of 90 -96 dBC is appropriate. Not “90-96 dB”, as you claimed, but “90-96 dBC”. If you knew what you were talking about, you would understand the huge difference between a level of 96 dB and 96 dBC.

        So instead of trying to appear intelligent by spouting off about numbers you clearly don’t understand (even though I’ve explained it a number of times already), you’d probably do better to spend some time learning about sound levels, to avoid looking so silly next time around.

        “I am not an audiologist”. Well, at least you are honest enough to admit that.

        “but I think that hearing damage does not suddenly start at the 2 hour cutoff – it is gradual. So even after 20 minutes, there may be some loss.” And you think totally wrong. If you would bother to understand what OSHA and NIOSH standards are all about, you’d discover that it is about lifetime workplace exposure. Not 2 hours. Not 20 minutes. But lifetime. Do some research….

        “At the church we have been attending, they have been keeping the sound at close to or just above 90 db. they are using OSHA studies to say that you need 2 hours of exposure to suffer hearing damage.” And they would be wrong. As are you. The chances of permanent irreversible hearing damage after 2 hours of exposure to 90 dBC is practically zero. It isn’t zero, of course, but is very, very close.

        “I do not believe that God is present in worship services where his children’s hearing is being damaged. Our bodies – including our ears – are the temple of the Holy Spirit.” Well, you are free to believe whatever you want, of course, but when Joshua and his men sounded their trumpets so loudly, and shouted with such power that they brought the walls down in Joshua chapter 6, I sort of think God might have been there, since He had commanded them to do that. Clearly, that sound level was well beyond the OSHA standards. And when the people rejoiced and wept at the same time, so loudly that it was “heard far away”, at the laying of the foundations for the second temple, in Ezra 3, once again I’d hazard a guess and say that God was probably there. And when the two choirs took their places in the Temple in Nehemiah 12, and sang and rejoiced greatly before the Lord with all the priests and all the people, so loudly that it was heard far outside of Jerusalem, I somehow suspect that God may well have been present there too. Just as he is in whenever His people praise him.

        So to answer your question: YES, I most certainly do teach churches that a level of 90 to 96 dBC (don’t forget the “C”) is about as loud as it should get, yet is still safe. And I teach that because it is perfectly true, and perfectly borne out by numerous studies, performed by experts who actually do know what they are talking about, and actually do know the difference between “90 dB” and “90 dBC”.

        I actually did explain all of this, very clearly, in very simple terms, in the exact same message you replied to. It probably would have been better if you would have bothered to actually read it and understand it, before shooting yourself in the foot by committing the exact same error that I mentioned several times: People using numbers and words without understanding them, in a misguided attempt to promote their own agenda, instead of first getting a clue.

        So how dare you climb on your “high and mighty” horse, pretending to understand a single thing about sound levels and they ways in which they are measured. How dare you judge me and others for promoting what really are safe, practical, and technically sound methods. How dare you think you even could.

      • @Stuart Allsop.

        The rude tone of your comments pinpoint exactly what the problem is – people like you have “…no Christian compassion or give on the matter” (see Jenn’s post).

        You said:

        “So how dare you climb on your “high and mighty” horse, pretending to understand a single thing about sound levels and they ways in which they are measured”

        “avoid looking so silly next time around.”

        “People using numbers and words without understanding them, in a misguided attempt to promote their own agenda, instead of first getting a clue.”

        Furthermore you are trying to drown out everyone else by repeatedly posting voluminous comments.

      • Stuart Allsop says on

        @Anil Philip. You said: “The rude tone of your comments pinpoint exactly what the problem is – people like you have …no Christian compassion or give on the matter”. So when you used an equally rude tone to me in your first post, while trying to pretend that you know something about what I do professionally for a living, and when you said “I am frankly amazed reading your reply. You want the sound levels to be at 90-96 dB and you claim to be teaching seminars to churches to do that??!! Are you so callous?”, … when you said that to me, well, that was OK and fine, and full of “Christian Compassion”? And when I reply in exactly the same tone, but from a position of experience, knowledge and understanding, pointing out why your comments are incorrect, there is somehow something wrong with that? So when you do it, it is fine, but when I reply in the same terms, it isn’t?

        Perhaps you might find some interesting reading at Luke 6:41-42.

        You also say: “Furthermore you are trying to drown out everyone else by repeatedly posting voluminous comments.” No, not at all. I’m a merely trying to correct all those well-meaning but ignorant people who offer their ungrounded opinions about sound levels, when they have not the least understanding of it, and would not recognize a decibel if one happened to jump up and bight them on the nose! (Yourself included).

        There is nothing wrong with being ignorant about a subject, but being ignorant about it then trying to pretend that you actually know all about it, is pretty bad. I am totally ignorant about many things in life, but I don’t climb on internet forums pretending to know all about it, and berating the actual experts when they express their knowledge.

        Many people on this thread have stated that sounds levels should be limit to XX number of decibels, or YY number of decibels, yet they clearly don’t have a clue what the term “decibel” even means, even less how to measure it. But that doesn’t stop them from deciding that they have the right to dictate the correct level, then threaten to sue their fellow Christians for exceeding that level. All of my responses have been to such people (including you), and all of them have been to correct their technical ignorance, and sometimes also the arrogance. Those are the comments I reply to, in order to correct the errors in what they say,.

        If you notice, most of those opinionated, ignorant comments fling around subjective remarks along with technically absurd statements, then add a specific number without any qualification of what that number means in the real world. For example, you yourself say that, at your church, the level is kept “close to or just above 90 db”, which is technically meaningless!

        That is exactly the same as saying you traveled down the highway keeping your speed “close to or just above 28 percent”. 28 percent of WHAT? That’s the issue. Decibels are a measure of the RATIO between two things. They are NOT a measure of absolute sound level. If you understood sound, you would not have made that glaring mistake. The fact that you didn’t even spell the term correctly (it is dB, not db) is another indicator that you don’t have a clue what it means, and are just flashing around something you heard of some place, pretending understanding when you don’t actually have it. The fact that you say it is “90 db” without specifying the subscript is equally telling: Is that dBA? dBC? dBZ? something else? Fast or slow response? What was the background noise level? How and where was it measured? Without clarifying all of that, there is no technical substance to your statement at all. “90 dB” could be deafeningly loud, or it could be comfortable, or it could be too quite to hear.

        If you did understand what a decibel is, you would have instantly picked up on my comments about dBA and dBC, and would have comprehended exactly what I was saying. Since those two terms do actually mean something in the real world, and do in fact represent actual sound pressure levels but measured on very different scales, you would have got the point. The fact that you didn’t understand, and didn’t get the point, yet you still felt qualified to berate me, is what triggered my response: You took issue with what I teach, as a trained and experienced sound engineer and acoustician, when I am hired by churches as a consultant to analyze the problems with their sound systems and sanctuary acoustics, and to train their musicians, sound engineers and pastors. You claim to know better than I do, when I teach that 90-96 dBC is an appropriate goal for peak SPL levels in the congregation during a praise and worship service, and you berate and insult me for asserting that truth, when in fact you clearly don’t even know the difference between dBC and dBA.

        That’s the issue.

        And then you claim that I lack “Christian compassion”? Puhleese….

        Do you also stand up in the middle of the service on Sundays and shout at the the pastor that he is preaching wrong, after all his years of seminary and experience?

        If he is explaining the true meaning of a Hebrew or Greek word from the Bible in his sermon, do you then yell at him and question his years of training, just because you didn’t happen to like the meaning of the word in English? Because that’s exactly what you are doing here: You are standing up and yelling in public at someone who has spent over 40 years in church sound, is a sound and acoustic consultant, designs acoustic spaces for a living, teaches, and also preaches, and you are telling me that I am wrong about what a suitable sound level is for a church, when you yourself don’t even understand what a decibel is. That’s what you are doing. And it is, indeed, exactly the same as standing up and yelling at the pastor that his sermon is wrong, when you didn’t even understand the point he was making, and hadn’t even read the verse he was talking about!

        I would suggest that you should do some research, learn what the decibel really is, what the various subscript reference levels are, how they are measured, what they mean, then go out to many venues where music is played, with a sound level meter in your hands, measure actual sound levels of the various types and genres of music, and playing styles while also listening and learning about the relationship between what you see on the meter, and what your ears are picking up,… when you have done that for a few years, and actually understand what we are talking about, then you’d qualified to come back and tell me again why the levels I suggested are not correct, and why Matthew 7:1-5 does not apply to you.

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