“What?” “What??” Standing directly next to my wife and at near shouting levels, I could not hear what she was saying to me.
Did I mention we were at church, in a worship service?
I should have known; on my entrance to the the rather large building, I could hear the bass, some 25 yards out into the parking lot. It was loud outside... deafeningly loud inside.
To verify, I pulled out my iphone and clicked on a decibel meter app. Inside the building, during the worship, the volume during reached a whopping 107 decibels. 107!! And was consistently in the high 90s and low 100s.
How loud is that? Here are some points of reference.
Normal conversation...60 decibels
School children in noisy cafeteria...80 decibels
OSHA recommended limit for workplace exposure...85 decibels
Blow dryer...100 decibels
Car horn....110 decibels
Rock concert ...115 decibels
Prolonged exposure at 85 decibels can cause hearing loss. Regular exposure at 110 decibels for 1 minute can cause permanent hearing loss.
"What? I can’t hear you!"
Really! Hearing is a problem already for me personally. I wear hearing aids so that I can hear (by the way, they were turned off at the above-mentioned church). Oddly enough, I am one usually wanting more volume, not less.
And that brings me to the flip-side of this conversation. Some churches I have visited seem to be wanting to save electricity; they have the amplified volume so low that not only can I not hear but my normal-hearing-wife seated next to me, when asked “what did he say?” responds back, “I couldn’t hear him/her, either.”
All of this simply is to point up the importance of getting it right...not too much and not too little. The Bible says, “faith comes by hearing.” If guests are assaulted by shirt-shaking volume in worship or they are left in near silence to lip read the preacher’s sermon, don’t look for them to return.
With that said, here are some practical suggestions:
Be sensitive to the full range of hearing considerations among those attending your worship. That includes young and old, including small children, even infants. Not everyone is a rocker; and, yes, some are put-off by high decibel (irreverent, by their definition) worship. There are also lots of people in between.
Evaluate the sound levels in your building during your worship service. Assume nothing! Music, preaching, announcements, audio and video, etc. should be reviewed. Opinion gathering on the subject may yield sketchy results; lots of people will not tell you what they think (too loud or too soft) for fear of being viewed as negative. I suggest you download a decibel meter to your phone (or multiple phones) and check the volume in your space(s) during worship on Sunday. You might be surprised by the results.
Study the decibel charts available online (Google “decibel level charts”); understand volume requirements and volume excesses. Be objective; a sound tech’s personal tastes for volume levels should not be the measure of proper levels for everyone. Have a specific church-determined decibel setting be the measure for appropriate sound levels during worship. FYI, some churches have different decibel levels for their different worship styles; but all decibel levels should be deliberately determined.
Check different locations in your worship space. Just because the sound is right directly in front of the platform (or the sound booth) doesn’t mean it is right in another part of the building.
Encourage congregational participation in singing. Can you hear others singing at your church? Or is the congregation an audience? Certainly, the goal of worship leadership ought to center on encouraging worship, first and foremost. So, identify the optimum volume to engage the congregation in the worship experience and avoid the congregation being mere specatators/auditors.
Be aware of competing sounds. A recent experience involved a soft-spoken female addressing the congregation; unfortunately, background music from the band on stage drowned out what she had to say.
Be alert to worship transitions; change from one worship segment to another can yield too much sound or too little sound.
Train your platform speakers to correctly use mics. This is especially important in smaller churches where people not usually on the stage, not usually in front of a crowd, not usually speaking with their voice amplified, shy away from getting close enough to the mic for it to do any good.
Work with your sound booth (AV) personnel to ensure that the sound issues are being properly addressed. “Work with” includes providing adequate training on equipment, creating awareness of the sound specs for the services, testing sound levels, etc.
Raw sound is viewed both objectively (measured in decibels) and subjectively (measured by personal preference); Sound is what it is... too loud, too soft, or ahh, just right. And when it is in that sweet spot, it contributes dramatically to worship.
So, make your worship volume decisions wisely. My thoughts? be safe; be audible. Worship.
Keep the conversation going. Add your comments below...