Over at Christianity Today, John Stackhouse, Jr. expresses his thoughts on the volume of worship teams in an article called, “Memo to Worship Bands.” He gives five reasons why church music teams should tone down the volume.
1. Cranking up the volume is just a cheap trick to add energy to a room.
2. When your intonation is not very good, turning it up only makes it hurt worse.
3. The speakers in most church PA systems cannot take that much energy.
4. Consider that you might be marginalizing older people.
5. Musicians—every one of them, including the singers—are accompanists to the congregation’s praise.
After saying that musicians “should be mixed loudly enough only to do their job of leading and supporting the congregation,” he ends with this:
Now, I like Palestrina and I like good Christian rock. So, church musicians, if you want to perform a fine song that requires advanced musicianship, by all means do it. We will listen and pray and enjoy it to the glory of God.
But when you are leading us in singing, then lead us in singing. And turn it down so we are not listening to you—or, even worse, merely enduring you. I know that is not what you want to happen. But I am telling you that’s what is happening.
I think Stackhouse makes some good points, although I’d nuance a couple. Playing loud isn’t always a “cheap trick”, and most PA systems now, especially in newer churches, can handle louder volumes. I’d go on to say that there are times to turn up the volume and times to turn it down. I’ve been in churches where the group up front is so quiet that they can hardly said to be “leading” anything. You can’t even hear them, and that causes its own problems. Other times I’ve found it impossible to hear myself singing, much less anyone else in the crowd.
I can think of a few times when the volume of the band (and vocalists) might be raised.
- when the congregation is listening, not singing
- when we’re teaching a new song
- when the church is singing loudly and passionately
- when the band is setting the tempo
- when the leader is giving directions.
But the sound of the musicians shouldn’t consistently dominate or overpower the congregation. In the New Testament the predominant sound when the church gathers is the singing of the congregation (Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16). They constitute the real worship team.
Monitoring the volume according to the situation is something both the sound engineer and the band should be aware of. The band should play less or more, louder or softer, depending on the situation. It’s also a good idea to check your volume by listening from out front, or asking someone you trust (who’s not at the sound board) to evaluate it for you. And keep in mind that it may be too soft as well as too loud.
We’ve also found that factors like poor EQ (which can make a band sound loud), where someone sits in the room, and people’s tastes and preconceptions can all play a part in what constitutes a “loud” band. Obviously, each of those situations requires a different response.
The issue of volume is something we discussed in my old church for years, especially as it relates to how it affects hearing. If you’re interested, here’s a document we gave to people when they had questions about the volume of the band. It addresses the concerns for hearing damage more specifically.