When is Your Worship Too Loud?

Orginally published on Monday, January 14, 2008 at 8:03 AM
by Todd Rhoades

It's a contentious issue in many churches today. You have a small group complaining that the worship music is 'too loud', while another group wants you to crank it. Who do you listen to? And when IS the music too loud? Here's a synopsis of some great points from Rick Muchow's The Worship Answer Book that can help you out...

This synopsis from BiblicalWorship.com.  Read more here...

1.  The music is too loud when the volume distracts from worship.  Muchow relates about a service where the congregational singing was wonderful until the organist got to the last verse.  At this verse the organist did a showy demonstration and greatly increased the volume of the organ.  Muchow said everyone began to take notice of the organist and the attention was no longer on the text of the song.  He says “the volume of the music is just right when it is not noticed.  Our bodies should feel the music, not notice the volume.”

2.  The music is too loud when it is no longer musical.  Muchow says that “high volume is not a synonym for excellence.  Beginning musicians often try to use loud volume to make up for a lack of accuracy and practice - as if the louder they play, the better their musicianship will sound.” Muchow also shares about the plight of other musicians on stage when one instrument is too loud - they also turn up their volume to hear themselves.  Muchow suggests that musicians should seek to have varying dynamics in their music.  “When the music is only one volume, whether too loud or soft, it becomes less musical and has less impact.  Using dynamics is a great way to improve communication.”

3.  The music is too loud when it causes hearing loss.  Muchow states that “repeated exposure to loud noise can cause permanent damage and hearing loss.  If people need to shout to be heard above the music, then the volume is too loud.” Muchow uses a decibel meter at his sound board to monitor the level of the volume in rehearsals and services.  He believes the volume limit should be at 96 decibels (similar to a hand drill or spray painter or bulldozer).  A typical conversation is at 60 decibels while rock concerts are normally at 130-140 decibels.  Muchow says that “it would take continuous exposure to sounds at 100 decibels - such as a very loud worship band and an energetic teacher with a microphone - for about one to two hours, the average length of a church service, to cause permanent hearing loss. Church musicians are at more risk than the rest of the congregation because they are closer to the sound and are exposed to the volume longer.

What do you think?  How do you determine how loud your music is?

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  There are 26 Comments:

  • Posted by Peter Hamm

    The music is too quiet when NOBODY complains about the volume, though. Is is one of those things that “ticks some people off”?

    Those are good points!

  • Posted by Adam McLane

    We too use a decibel meter. The musicians hate it because we use it to cap the db level at 93ish.

    The congregation likes that we’re measuring because even if they feel it is too loud, they know that caring people are making sure their hearing won’t be damaged while we rock out to the latest Crowder song.

    The funny thing is, if the quality of worship is very good, those complaints aren’t that frequent. But when the quality is poor, even 70 db is too much. smile

  • Posted by

    I always have to laugh when I see things written on sound and being to loud. I have been a sound engineer now for over 30 years, and one thing I have learned is you will NEVER EVER please everyone. No matter how soft it is, it is going to be to loud for someone. No matter how loud it is, it will never be loud enough. I gave up a long time ago trying to please people. The only one I try to please now is God, and those over me in the church.

    There are so many different things that contribute to it being to “Loud.” The acoustics of the room is one of the main contributors. A propoerly designer room, functioning with the proper speaker system can make a worlds of difference in how things sound.

  • Posted by

    Danny has a good point.  Loudness often does not have as much to do db level as with good sound mixing.  95db mixed poorly (bad EQ especially) in a bad room can sound much louder than 95db mixed well in a good room.  A db meter is a good place to start, but it’s just the beginning of the problem in most church’s.

  • Posted by Mike Utech

    We are a portable church that meets in a high school auditorium. we also use a spl meter and our worship time target range is 90-105 db on the C scale. Depending on the song and the reaction of the congregation we will raise and lower as needed. I also have a number of individuals who sit in various spots in the auditorium that I look to for feedback. Typically you can also see peoples reactions - if the guitar comes in and everyone leans back then it is too loud. The biggest thing is keeping your ‘systems’ separate - I have a 10-15 db drop when I mute my PA and just have stage volume - on stage I try to keep the overall level under 90 for the musicians.
    If there are complaints they aren’t getting to me.

  • Posted by

    I feel I would like to add my $.02 here. Could I ask that anyone considering using a sound level meter as a means to achieve peace on this issue, please dont do so at the expense of the mix. As a musician, sound engineer, etc, I find it tragic to see a person mix with their eyes (on the meter) than with their ears. I agree that the level has to be controlled, however, I have heard so many moments of potentially beautiful music lost because someone was not learned in the ways of sound dynamics and simply squashed the mix to keep the db meter happy. Ok, now I can step off my soapbox and move on.. Thanks!

  • Posted by Dale

    I would just add that it is less about db and more about EQ.  Often it seems louder and hurts the ears more when the highs are being pushed.  Anyway, we are a louder service (about 100db tops) so we always offer earplugs at the front door.

  • Posted by Brian

    If it’s to loud your to old......I sometimes think it is to loud :(

  • Posted by Eric Joppa

    Your worship is too loud anytime there is someone with a hearing aid in the room, no matter how many instruments, voices, drums no drums...all it takes is a hearing aid and it’s too loud.

  • Posted by Jermayn

    When it comes more about the music than worshiping God. When/ if this happens, you ditch the musicians and just focus on worship…

    Why do musicians think its about them?

  • Posted by Peter Hamm


    With all due respect, the volume an audience hears has (usually) no connection to “musicians thinking it is all about them”. The musician on stage is not the one setting the volume in the house.

    And I’ve found it is VERY hard indeed to judge whether a musician actually thinks it’s all about them. Hint: It happens less than most think, imho.

  • Posted by

    God’s awesome!  I am convinced that He is listening to our hearts, not our music, voices, words, emails, blogs etc.

    When I lead worship, I am pursuing and expecting the “presence” of our living God!  I take it very seriously - spiritualy speaking - to be the one leading the congregation there… This involves prayer, fasting, connection with the people in the body (know who you are serving...)

    Music, loud or soft, can impact the emotions.  Dynamics add a lot.  However, many “seasoned” believers see through that stuff, straight to the heart.

    I’ve had scores of older congregation members say plainly, “I’m not as much into the “style”, but I’m 1000 percent behind your heart!  I can see you love Jesus and that floods into the congregation.”

    That rocks!!!

    I love watching God change us musicians into worshippers!  It makes all the difference in being able to lead “annointed, inspired, awesome worship”, rather than simply great music…

    Shaun Paul Wilson

  • Posted by Dave

    Sometimes I like it loud, sometimes I don’t.  This is one of those horribly subjective issues…

    For the congregation’s sake - loud enough for (most) everyone to hear, loud enough to drown out small distractions, loud enough to keep people awake - quiet enough to hear yourself think and an usher yell “fire” to the crowd if need be. lol…

  • Posted by

    I’m laughing at myself a bit.  This last Sunday I was visiting another church and we straggled in as worship had already begun.  My first thought was “Wow! This is loud!”

    As the service went on and I engaged in what was happening I lost that immediate thought.  Others were engaged too, and that had a direct impact on my ability to draw near to God without the “loud” aspect in my thoughts.

    I think that may be the key… when we let God, and worship, He takes out the distractions.

    I think “too loud” happens, in my experience, when the congregation begins to watch and not engage.  I’ve seen that happen.  The worship leading becomes a concert venue, then loses it’s purpose.

    Side Note:  As to hearing aides, this is really true.  They ring and buzz at certain tones, and nothing the artist is doing is at fault.  I think sometimes we just need to tell the wearer, to turn down their own volume.

    I was singing in a concert with my friend, and she was singing this song that kept building, and ultimately ended above high C and this poor woman in the front row was sticking her fingers in her ears, to block the ringing from her hearing aide.  A funny moment, but probably not for her smile

  • Posted by Matt Heerema

    Totally agree that the volume should not distract from worship (music, sermon, group reading, fellowship, etc...)

    Tricky point is that music being too soft can also distract!  It’s far more subtle, but music that sounds “attenuated” feels distant and is easy to disconnect with.  Music that is too loud can be painful or even disorienting.

    Mix, context, quality of the sound system, room acoustics, and skill of the band all play together in this.

    We run our evening college services at around 105 dB on average (peaks can get up to 110...) but our band and sound crew is very skilled, our sound system is excellent (we meet in a rock club...) and our congregation is primarily college aged.  It helps them to feel at home.  They are used to rock clubs.

    On Sunday morning, where the congregation is older, room acoustics are not well designed, and sound system isn’t as good, we run between 95 and 100 dB with minimal complaints.  (Totally agree with the bro above who says there will always be complainers.)

  • Posted by Peter Hamm

    I JUST had someone this week complain about the volume when it was between 88 and 92 with peaks up to 94. I told them we were WAY under what she considers too loud and tried to be as loving and sensitive as possible. This individual probably had some hearing damage and chances are her ears were super-sensitive to the most annoying frequencies. I’m going to start providing ear plugs I think, because turning down much more will be, as the above poster mentioned, just as distracting, if not moreso, than if it’s too loud.

    if it’s too loud, you’re too old. wink

  • Posted by

    I just sit in my car till the music ends, then go inside.
    My age is 32 , so I am getting up there! Ever since we changed buildings, it’s just bad acoustics.

  • Posted by kevin d.

    i have a question for mike u tech… (i added a space “for effect")… IS THAT REALLY YOUR NAME??… wow, what a great name for a “sound guy"… smile anyway… i agree with those who said that it’s often more about the mix and the sound system than it is about db’s.... i great way to demonstrate this is to take a cheapo boom box, and play a CD on it at 90 db’s… then play the same CD at 90 db’s on a good sound system… in most cases, the boom box will sound too loud, and the good system will sound not loud enough

  • Posted by Mike Utech

    kevin d.
    yes that really is my last name. and not only am I a sound guy I am also a network security engineer for my day job.

  • Posted by

    We play pretty loud, even for me.  I find that as a worship leader if I’m tapping into what’s happening in the room, you begin to tell if people are able to connect with the Presence of the Lord.  I can tell when people are struggle from the sound because I watch them “unplugging” in worship. 

    The key is the right eq settings on the instruements and spending the money on trained sound professionals whenever possible. Bad eqs with distortion will hurt your ears and sound pretty aweful at any volume.  Crystal clear sound can be cranked pretty loud before people complain.

    HUGE SUGGESTION: Even if you can’t hire a professional to run your services, bring in a professional once a month/quarter to set your eq settings, then tell your volunteers to leave them alone. You’ll get a lot of bang for the buck and your congregation will love the worship experience.


  • Posted by AllPraise

    In all my years of being a worship leader and consultant, THIS is the #1 complaint we hear from staff members and congregations. Truth is, volume is relevant. Even Muchow’s comments about it being too loud when it distracts from worship is too subjective to be a legitament point to make.... I see young kids worshiping at a level that would give headbangers a headache.  It all boils down to two things: (1) how well you know your “audience” (congregation) and (2) how well you play.  Anything less than excellence deserves a volume of Zero! Junk in, is junk out, at any volume. Talk to your lead pastor and make sure the music, volume and style are targeting the same lost generation and the same demo that he is targeting. Do that, and volume wont’ be an issue.

  • Posted by

    Hmmm..I love loud music, metal, secular, whatever. There is a huge difference in the complete lack of getting it in worship music. The sound in most mega churches suck, I’d rather be in a quality concert, and leave with my ears ringing. Turn it down in church!!

  • Posted by David

    So as a worship leader, here is the antithesis of the question....when is the music not loud enough? I have a great band and 6 singers on stage. I get comments on the music is too loud every now and then, and in the same week I will get comments like “I couldnt hear the singers” or “the piano is not in the mix”. When we turn up the singers...the overall volume is too loud because we are boosting the 1k-3k range by 6 people. Getting a good mix at an acceptable level is the result of everyone working to the same goal. I have to remind my singers to sing at the same level for every song, not get louder in the ones they know the best or like the most. I have to remind my band to play dynamically and together so one instrument is not battling another for volume.
    It is very difficult to manage sound volume with many people on stage. The number of people in the seats also is a factor.  An empty room always is louder than one with bodies to absorb sound. 
    For years I have heard “its too loud” with “it sounds great” by the next person I talked with.  My advice to any worship leader is ask the person specifically what it is they are hearing that is too loud. Usually it is one thing like a voice or lead guitar..try and fix the issue and be sure to find that person at next chance to ask how it sounds now after you made some changes.

  • Posted by

    Those were excellent words!! Thank you!
    For me, it’s usually the instruments drown out all the vocals...thanks again!

  • Posted by

    Buy a professional sound meter to monitor the levels and read up about what levels of music and sound cause hearing loss. If you are in charge of the volume, it is your responsibility to provide a safe and comfortable volume level for everyone.

    I would personally error on the side of being conservative. It’s more of an issue than simple personal preference, despite what many people might tell you. If you are too loud, you could be causing hearing damage to members of the congregation.

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