[Guest Post from Robert Naylor, Jr. with his take on volume levels]
This is a challenge for all church sound people to consider your volume level and how it may be impacting your worship services. This is not a discussion of specific SPL levels, or contemporary versus traditional worship. I want to speak in more general terms and consider some real world examples that show how volume can affect worship.
At times I have been in a worship service where the sound person was, shall we say, a bit timid with the levels. Immediately, I lost some of my enthusiasm for the service. Instead of being inspired to participate I felt like being quiet because the volume of the music was so low. Then, I looked around and noticed that others were not participating as enthusiastically as they had at other times when it was louder.
Clearly the lack of sufficient volume was having a negative effect on the worship service. This is not what we want as church sound people. We should be using our equipment to assist the congregation to a have an inspiring, exciting worship experience. When the volume is too low it can stifle their participation.
I have also experienced things on the other end of the volume spectrum. The following example did not happen in a Sunday worship service, but it could have. I once did FOH for a concert at our church for a very powerful gospel group. After a few songs, I saw some people move back a few rows. Then, I noticed a friend’s wife walking out of the sanctuary with her hands over her ears.
After the show he came back and told me the volume had been hurting her ears. He thought the music was great, but really loud, like the time he saw Def Leppard. Those three things plus the ringing in my ears convinced me that I had run the show too loud.
Another friend had a similar experience at his church where he does sound. One Sunday the worship team was in fine form, and when they launched into one of his favorite songs he decided to crank it up a bit more. Just then a new couple came in and sat right in front of his mix position, and it did not take long for these newcomers to feel uncomfortable.
The woman turned around and stared at my friend, shocked. After a while the man asked if he could turn it down and my friend said, no, he was within the range that he and the worship leader had set. Not surprisingly, my friend has never seen that couple at his church again.
If the volume is too high, it can hurt worship. People will be distracted and instead of focusing on the words and worshipping, they will think about how loud it is and that their ears are hurting, or leave. I know it is impossible to please everyone, but as church sound technicians we do not want to chase people away or cause hearing damage because our services are too loud.
We need to guard ourselves against the fantasy that we are mixing big rock bands at Madison Square Garden. What we do is not a rock show, it is a worship service for all – from the very young to the very old. So then what exactly do we want? I think an analogy would be helpful to illustrate what we might strive for.
Have you ever been in a room with music playing softly in the background? People are talking, working, but nobody is really paying attention to it. Then someone turns the music up to a more attention getting – but still comfortable level – and it starts to sound really good. Then what happens? They start snapping their fingers, tapping their toes, bobbing their heads, singing along.
I think this is what our worship services should have: sound that is not so low that we cause others to feel self-conscious and hinder their worship. Still, it should be loud enough that they feel inspired to participate, snap their fingers, tap their toes, bob their heads, sing along, maybe even dance a little. Wouldn’t that be great?
There should not be anyone running for the exits or leaving church with their ears ringing like they have just been to a Def Leppard concert. No offense to Def Leppard of course. I saw them myself back in the day and they were quite good. A bit loud for church though.
It’s a Wrap
So what’s the volume like at your church? Is it low? Is your congregation still and unenthusiastic? You may be hindering their worship. Try turning it up some and watch what happens. You may help them to participate more in the worship.
On the other hand, do you sometimes get complaints the volume is too high? Have you had people leave the church because of this? Have you had your hearing checked lately? You may be hurting the worship. Try turning it down some, maybe some new people will stay, and your young people will grow up and be able to hear normally and no one gets tinnitus from church music.
Robert Naylor, Jr. has worked for over 15 years in pro audio and broadcasting building, maintaining, and sometimes designing sound systems and broadcast studios. He also mixes live and recorded music for Christian and secular artists, and has served in the Audio Ministry at his church for many years.
The Next Step
For Chris’s take on volume levels, check out the following: