By Steven Reed
One of the greatest challenges for churches around the world is volume. Why is it so loud? For many, the answer to finding what level of sound to use is based solely on preference; that of the pastor, the band, the sound person, or those that write letters to complain. Unfortunately this war of personal preferences will continue to rage until you discover and communicate that volume actually has a purpose – to lead people to worship with all their heart.
Participating with all our heart is the foundation of worship. When asked, Jesus said the greatest commandment was, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ Luke 10:27 (NKJV) and any time God would correct the church about worship He would say something like, “‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me,” Matthew 15:8-9 (NKJV). God does not want half-hearted worship; He wants us to participate with all that we are.
Getting people to do that, however, is fairly difficult, especially when it comes to using music to lead people to worship God. The main reason is that most people in your congregation do not like to sing or are at very least, self-conscious about the quality of their voice. In short, your average person will not participate with all that they are if they feel like other people can hear them. They need some help and volume is the tool for the job.
So how loud should it be? The ultimate answer is whatever volume it takes to lead people to sing with all their heart – anything more is too loud and anything less is too quiet. While that is a very spiritual answer let me give you some technical help to achieve that desired result.
1. Use a Decibel Meter
It is basically impossible to know how loud the music is service to service without the use of a decibel meter. You simply can’t rely on your ears because they are affected by your mood, level of sleep, and personal preferences. A decibel meter objectively measures the level of sound and translates that into a ‘db’ number. These are available for free on smartphones and tablets, or you can always purchase a stand-alone device. So even if you just got done working out or just woke up, the decibel meter will help you achieve consistent volume week to week.
We usually recommend running your services in the 90-95 db range (C weighting and slow response), keeping in mind that the level will go down 1-3 db when the room is full, as we humans absorb sound. On the high side there might be moments during the loudest parts of your service where you would hit 98 db which is fine as long as you don’t stay there for more than a few moments. Each building is a bit different so you will have to experiment to lock in the number that is right for your church.
2. Loud vs. Quality
It’s extremely important to know that your average person cannot tell the difference between ‘it’s too loud’ and ‘I don’t like it’ so you have to ask them to clarify. We naturally want the sounds we don’t like to be turned down (fingernails scraping on a chalk board, etc.) and conversely we want the things we like to be turned up (favorite song, etc.). If you know you are at a reasonable decibel level but are still getting requests to turn it down you may actually have a quality problem instead of a volume problem. Quality and volume are two different issues and the first will allow you to have more of the other.
3. Lead Your People
Most people have no idea why you do what you’re doing as a worship leader. A few moments of instruction from you or your pastor can be a tremendous help to you. I have had many a person come to me after a service and with tears in their eyes thank me for helping them understand why it’s so loud. Once they get it then they are willing participants instead of frustrated onlookers. It’s not something you can say every week but on a regular basis I would give your people some insight into what you’re doing.
Lastly there will always be spots in your sanctuary where the sound is different just by the nature of each room and speaker configuration. Hot spots where the sound is louder or brighter, dead spots where it’s quieter, places near the walls or in corners will always have more bass, and sometimes the quietest spot in the room is in the front – which is totally counterintuitive. I would encourage you to use your decibel meter and your ear to find where the sound changes in your room and use it to your advantage – lead them to worship by leading them to sit in the right spot.
Using a decibel meter will help you consistently set the volume loud enough to not hear those around you and yet quiet enough to hear your own voice so that you can worship with all of your heart.
Steve and his wife, Shawn, travel full time to serve the body of Christ in the area of worship. They lead worship, compose and record, provide personalized on-site training for teams and churches, and teach on the subject of worship in English and Spanish.