I have been leading worship at Abundant Life for nine years. The sound for the weekly service is always a topic of discussion for me. As a media professional, it is always a frustration that I cannot be in the sound booth and on the stage at the same time. Obviously there is not a one setting fits all with the preferred volume level or song selection of a service because every room is different and every setting is different. When you go to big mega-church worship service, they are sometimes running at 110 decibels or higher without any issues – but they are also mixed professionally.
It is real easy for people to have an issue with a mix at 95db when it is mixed poorly and painful to the ears whereas that same individual may not have any issue at 105db if mixed properly – especially if the given song is one that they like.
I’m not at all interested in a concert style worship service. However, there is something to be said if the volume is loud enough that you can’t hear your neighbor sing. This helps those who are tone deaf not be worried that others will hear how bad they sing. It also helps many to feel more free to belt it out without concern that they will be heard by all.
Like many worship leaders, I also want to be able to hear the congregation singing. I am usually very intentional to provide times where the various instruments cut back, or out, with the purpose of boosting the congregational singing clarity.
When I enter the discussion of “what decibel should be the target for a worship service,” it often is followed by the other person implying we have “gotten away from the heart of worship” or something similar to that. As a media professional, I fully understand that every room is different and every band, board and sound man will play, function and hear things differently. If OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is capable of stating standards for health safety to a specific decibel, then why would we feel that the church is incapable of at least setting some reasonable goals to work around?
Many worship leaders are not very versed in sound and as such, this topic is simply not discussed. It seems that one of the more typical difficult relationships in the church is between the worship team and the sound man. Perhaps if the worship team had better understanding of sound, this might not be the case.
The congregation where I serve is multi-generational and multi-cultural. We run between 150 and 200 in the sanctuary Sunday mornings. Like many, I have fought the typical fights of hymns vs new songs. I am very intentional to include at least one hymn in every service and to not go overboard with newer songs for a number a reasons. Typically, the young people on the worship team don’t recognize the theological depths of the hymns. The melodic values are not as emotionally moving to the younger generation (who didn’t grow up with them) as the new songs. The younger ones also seem to prefer the volume at higher levels. They regularly talk of being able to get into the music much more when they physically feel the kick drum and the bass guitar vibrate their body. I can understand this and it makes complete sense. It incorporates one more of the senses by adding feel to seeing the words, hearing the music and of course singing themselves. The younger worshipper still needs to recognize that the worship isn’t for them.
However, I serve the entire congregation including those who prefer the hymns and would like the sound quieter. To these individuals, I have to help them understand the young person’s side of the debate. I also work with these individuals to understand that the songs they grew up listening to are no more sacred then the songs that are new today. The main difference is familiarity. These individuals may simply be complaining because they do not like the song selection. I believe that there are times that the levels are equally hot during a hymn with no complaints.
I know that it doesn’t seem very spiritual but the technological aspects of a worship service are equally important as the quality of ones voice on the stage or the lyrics that are being sung – well, almost as important as the lyrics. In order to have excellence, it requires being intentional. Education, research, and focus on the physical elements that comprise a typical worship service in America is part of the process.
What often happens in smaller church worship teams is people tend to think everything they have is junk. I cannot count the times someone has implied “this” or “that” stinks and we need to replace it with “First Church of X” has. Being intentional about the physical aspects of a worship service is not focusing on what we do not have by comparing what bigger budget churches may have. It is focusing on being the most faithful we are capable of being with what we have already been made stewards over.
I don’t care for the seeker friendly or trendy settings. I am interested in pointing people to Christ and doing whatever I can to lead people into worship.
My initial question was simply intended to get a pulse for what others do. It sometimes seems like there are more who are “too spiritual” to focus on practical elements like sound quality. Of course, David didn’t struggle with a sound system and Jesus never had to use a Countryman microphone or worry about feedback. This doesn’t mean that those things are less spiritual than if we were to simply chant acapella or have a biblical style harp as our only instrument. They also didn’t use the printing press to print the scriptures they would read and they didn’t have a projector to display the words.
Let’s talk about this stuff. These are my thoughts. Let me know yours.