Decibel levels matter, my friends. Prolonged, heavy vibrations in the ear drums can cause hearing damage. I submit that not only are our musical choices important to connect generations together in worship, but the volume of that music is important too.
Any concert or church that hands out ear plugs (and there are MANY) before the music starts says to me, “I’m not concerned with your aural health enough to lower the volume to a healthy decibel level. Accept this small token to alleviate the painful noise because I seemingly care about you. But, those younger folks here, perhaps your sons and daughters that came in with you, they can tolerate the higher decibel levels (even if it damages their hearing long term).” Really??? But I digress. I do believe understanding some possible reasons WHY decibel levels have gotten out of control may help us understand why it’s important to be cognizant when considering volume levels in the intergenerational church.
SOME REASONS VOLUME HAS GOTTEN LOUDER
- The advent of rock music (and specifically its live performance) is predicated on the feeling (vibration) the music brings to the listener/enjoyer (music coursing through your veins—literally)
- With the advent of car radios (especially as stereo and bass technology has risen) one can be literally “enveloped” with sound
- Churches have tried to mimic the feeling of a rock concert to increase the emotional and physical experience
A FEW ARGUMENTS FROM THOSE FOR LOUD VOLUME
- The enveloping of sound is a perfect way for non-singers to feel “safe” to sing uninhibited
- We can feel and hear the energy of the music
- Non-Christians are more comfortable hearing/and seeing music like what they experience at concerts/radio, etc.
- Not having music that engulfs us makes the music sound anemic
In these arguments, and there are plenty of others, there’s not one that I can tell that could not be achieved with a reasonable decibel level. Perhaps not at the same degree though. Certainly it is more challenging to “feel” the bass when it’s not thumping.
SOME REASONS TO FIND A REASONABLE DECIBEL LEVEL IN WORSHIP SERVICES
- Music that is so loud and piercing limits creativity to some degree. Dynamics, vocal harmonies and the like, are harder to distinguish and achieve. I’ve heard “softs” that still had high decibel levels
- If you are going to have multiple generations in your services, multiple studies have shown that something physiological happens the older we get…the ear inside our ears gets stiffer as one ages causing our tolerance to certain decibel levels to decrease
- We need to hear each other as we sing together because of the biblical command to admonish and teach one another through singing songs of worship (Ephesians 5:19). Pretty hard to do that if you can barely hear the person next to you. Where’s the community in that?
- Loud decibel levels can distort text or make articulation incomprehensible. Pretty sure text is what sets worship apart from any other musical experience
- Over-singing may cause vocal damage
- Loud decibel levels over extended time may cause hearing loss
To be clear, I’m not targeting modern worship music or bands that play a certain type of music. I love all types of music! I am specifically targeting the decibel level of ANY type of worship service. I’ve heard organs that have literally moved me physically with the vibrations and caused me to hold my ears.
I submit you: Extremes in volume (decibel level) may be polarizing relationally in the intergenerational church.
Finding balance is key in your own situation. Sometimes sitting in certain places in a worship center can yield a different sound. I know there are places in our worship center that are louder than others. I encourage folks who mention they can hear too much sound/cannot hear well to move around until they find what works for them.
Even as we consider this issue, there will be people in our sphere of influence that will never be pleased with volume levels because their preferences are so extreme. That’s okay; we in intergenerational churches are used to having to remind our folks that we are guided by the philosophy that we are better together, guided by the Word and the Holy Spirit, and always looking to find practical ways (volume included) to achieve the best balance for our church culture and context.
Side note: you’ll find recommendations for sustained decibel levels for worship from 75-95 db. However, OSHA recommends hearing protection for anything over 85 db for sustained periods of time (8 hours) and 95 for up to 4 hours. In my opinion, 95 should be the limit with great care to keep between 75-85 generally in worship.