Dare I suggest the volume of your worship leader could be detrimental to the worship environment? Yes, yes I suggest that very thing. Overall audio volume level discussions are common between sound techs but I submit to you, my friends, that the overall volume isn’t nearly as much of a deal-breaker, mood-killer, worship-ender, as the volume level of the person leading the song.
My wife is a wonderful singer (of course!) and has spent a good amount of time singing on a worship team or two. She also has a good ear for what is and what isn’t a good worship environment. Regarding worship environments, one of the most useful comments she ever said to me was, “when the worship leader’s vocal volume is so high that people can’t hear themselves sing, they won’t sing.”
Let’s dig deeper into that statement…
“When the worship leader’s vocal volume is so high that people can’t hear themselves sing, they won’t sing.”
First of all, she isn’t saying that we have to hear ourselves sing because we want to hear our own voices. It’s much more of a psychological issue. And let’s make this psychological issue one in which you might be able to relate. Place yourself in the middle of the congregation during the worship service. Next, imagine the worship leader’s volume is pretty high. You want to praise and so you start singing. You will naturally, without thinking, start singing at a higher volume level so you feel your voice is present as part of the body. When your vocal volume has to exceed your brain’s “internally acceptable personal volume level” then you start feeling self-conscience. Then you lower your voice. You might even stop singing.
The church sanctuary is a place where you and I should feel free to raise our voices as loud as we want. But for many people, the human psyche places a limit on what is acceptable. You might have grown up in a church where everyone sang loud. You might have grown up in a reserved church where you softly sang hymns and were looked down upon if you sang out louder than any others. We should want to lift our voices but the honest truth is that most people have a volume level which, when they cross, they feel self-conscience and their spirit of worship fades away.
Setting the worship leader’s volume level
You might only have the worship leader as the lead singer or it might vary from person to person. No matter who it is, you need to find a way to set a proper volume level.
There are three criteria I use when setting the lead singer’s volume level;
- Out-front on new songs. Any time the worship team is singing a new song, the congregation needs to clearly hear the lead singer. This isn’t to say the lead singer’s vocal line covers up everything else. It’s like walking through a crowded shopping mall and following someone else. They don’t have to be 20-feet tall but they need to be tall enough that you can easily follow wherever they lead you.
- Lower on known songs. The church body should feel like they are collectively lifting their voice. Let’s stick with the crowded shopping mall analog. You don’t need worry about the location of the leader because you already know where you are going and how to get there. But they are the leader so if they divert into an unexpected shop, like the “Sing-the-Chorus-Once-More Store,” then you can still follow along.
- Always rising above. This would be the “you’ll know it when you hear it” criteria. One of my favorite worship CD’s is Yahweh (Live) by Hillsong. It’s a live CD but I can hear the audience singing along. The lead singer’s voice rises above the unified voice of the congregation but it’s still a part of the overall sound. Imagine worshiping in song, as being one with the congregation and the band. Imagine then that you stop singing and listen. You hear the voice of the congregation but just above that is the lead vocals.
The Take Away
The volume level of a singer can make or break a worship environment. You should keep in mind three criteria when setting their volume level; louder on new songs, lower on known songs, and always rising above. If you have a good relationship with your worship leader, then take a page from my playbook; recommend new songs get a “special music” treatment wherein the band plays and the words are displayed on the screen but the congregation isn’t asked to follow along. Using this process, the first time the congregation is asked to sing along, they are comfortable with the flow of the song and much more likely to focus on worship than focusing on singing the melody the right way.
UPDATE: Volume levels, even with the lead singer, can vary from one congregation to another. In some cases, the congregation might prefer the lead singer to be significantly louder. Therefore, use the information presented above as a basis for your work but only you know what works best for your congregation. Just don’t be afraid to experiment as you might find they like something better.