The day I was assaulted in church

First, let me say that I am no wimp when it comes to loud music. I lived through the sixties. I operated farm equipment for years without using earplugs. I’ve attended many, many concerts.  I’ve played electric guitar in a band, before we used things like drum cages. I typically stood close to the drummer, and had to crank my amp up to be heard over both the drums and the vocal monitor, which was cranked up to be heard over the drums. My wife claims I’m losing my hearing.

And yet, I felt that I had been physically assaulted by sound waves last Sunday during worship. I kid you not, the sound levels were incredible. I should have asked what the db levels were.  The only thing I’ve experienced anything louder was when I took my son and his friends to a Thousand Foot Krutch concert.

The Story

We have recently started attending a local church that we really like. We know several of the people (which helps) and the pastor seems to have a very strong grasp on grace. We were looking forward to going to church. But then, we walked in the door. I spent about a minute in the sanctuary, then went back out into the lobby, my ears already ringing. The sound was so loud, you had to shout to the person next to you.

My wife, who is more sensitive to sound than I am (remember, I have hearing loss), spoke to one of the ushers. He replied that several people had already complained, and that the pastor and sound guys had been told. My wife even spoke to the sound kid (early 20’s, wearing a red headband), who replied somewhat arrogantly that “he was a professional sound man, and no one had spoken to [him] about the sound.” I had heard one gentlemen yell as he walked out, “Can you make it any louder?”

A couple of times I ventured in and looked around. Most people were not singing along (you honestly couldn’t have heard yourself anyway). One guy in a red shirt played air drums.  It was not a corporate worship experience. If anything, it was a concert, and people responded accordingly (although this is not a “dancing” church).  The worship band was even applauded during the announcements.  The pastor praised the lead guitar player. Granted, they were good. I would have enjoyed hearing them, under better circumstances.

I wanted to leave. We waited in the lobby until the music was over, then went in.  The guest speaker was fine, but by that time I was in no mood to listen to anything (my ears were still ringing). When the pastor got up to close the service, his mic was so loud it sounded like he was shouting.

Again, I am no sound wimp, but this was terrible. I really don’t know if I risk going back, unless I know who’s doing worship (even acoustic sets have been too loud at times).  If anything, I may start coming at 11, after the worship is over. But, I realize that this means I’m not really a part of the church.

The Problem

The main problem is a complete lack of understanding of the nature of corporate worship. I should mention that I have been a worship leader as well as having been the sound guy in a couple of churches. Doing sound for corporate worship is not the same as doing sound for a rock concert; the two experiences are not even in the same category. The only similarity is that both involve music.  In a concert, everyone realizes that the band is the focus. That’s why people come, to hear the band.

However, worship is a corporate experience. The worship leader(s) are there as servants, to facilitate a corporate worship experience.  There are 2 key words: worship, and corporate. Music is actually optional; recall Matt Redman’s The Heart of Worship.

Years ago, while I was sound man at a Vineyard church in San Diego, I recall reading an article by Todd Hunter, who was then the President of the Association of Vineyard Churches. He made a very simple point: If you can’t hear the people around you singing you aren’t having a true corporate worship experience, and the music is too loud.

And, consider this: Putting the focus on the music and worship band is actually stealing worship. Worship, after all, is about focus.  Remember, “He must increase, I must decrease.”  You can’t be a worship leader if you aren’t first a part of the congregation, and you aren’t leading others into worship if the attention is on you. The worship leader should be loud enough so that everyone can hear and follow along; that, after all, is their purpose.

In operating a church service, one of the things we must be aware of is the old Marshall McLuhan concept of “the medium is the message.” What we do and how we do it speaks volumes—perhaps more than what is often said (way more than what many contemporary worship songs say.

Other Problems

Then, there’s the attitude problem of the self-identified “professional” sound man. The sound team in a church should be part  of the worship team. They should understand the purpose of worship, and understand that they play a servant’s role. The sound man is perhaps the 2nd most important person on any given Sunday morning. He or she have the power to make Sunday morning a worshipful experience, or an abusive one. It takes maturity and humility. It takes an understanding of what it means to be a Christian. Am I expecting too much?

There also seemed to be an honesty issue, as the sound kid told my wife no one had spoken to him about the sound levels, although it appeared that others were indeed complaining to him. Perhaps this was just a communication issue—I can imagine that no one really heard what anyone was saying as the music was too loud.

Other problems, not specifically related to this church but certainly including this church, involve the ability of the worship leaders to choose songs which appropriately create a corporate worship experience. If this is merely a concert, that’s not important. However, songs that reflect a personal attitude or an emotional state do not make great corporate worship songs. Again, it’s a matter of focus. “Jesus, I love you” is a pretty weak worship line. It says nothing about Jesus, it merely reflects the writer’s emotional state.  I’ve often sat through these worship songs thinking, “does the worship leader have the slightest clue about what this means?”  Bottom line, emotions change, truth does not. Sing truth, let people have their own emotions.

The Buck Stops Where?

Someone has to have responsibility for creating a corporate worship experience.  In the early days of the Anaheim Vineyard, the pastor, John Wimber, approved the worship list before each service. Some may call this having control issues, but seriously, someone has to take responsibility. A mature worship leader – of which I’ve known a few – can do this. Most, honestly, can not.  Again, what is done on a Sunday morning – including which songs are sung – speak more about the church than the sermon.

So yes, last Sunday I felt not only like I’d been assaulted, but I felt like I had been abused and that I simply wasn’t important.  It’s too bad.  I’ll perhaps try this church again, but not without some good earplugs.

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10 Responses to The day I was assaulted in church

  1. me says:

    Mike, I meant to tell yo that I really appreciated your comment. I know you meant it as humor, but you do make a good point.

    I almost renamed the post, “the day the music died.”

  2. Fred says:

    He who has ears, let him hear.

  3. me says:

    For comparison sake, the Cinema Ad Council states that movie ads should be between 82 and 84 db. And you know how loud they are.

    A loud rock concert is about 115 dbs. Pain begins at between 120 and 125. I’m guessing Sunday was at 110 or over (btw, db numbers increase logarithmically) .

    This professional recommends churches peak at no more than 80 db.

  4. Fred says:

    According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), sounds louder than 80 decibels are considered potentially hazardous.

    Just saying.

  5. Shielded Drummer says:

    95-105 dB is what we have been running all Sunday, every Sunday.

    I know I have hearing loss from 12 years of worship drumming, concert drumming, marching band, jazz band, etc…

    Knowledgeable sound people utilize their equalizers more than their main fader!

  6. Simon says:

    Maybe the sound person couldn’t hear anybody saying it was too loud. A few years ago when Jars of Clay played on the river front I had to leave with my daughters it was too loud and you know my ears hurt a whole week after that. Now granted I’m in my 50’s but years past in another life I attended all the rock concerts. Jimi Hendricks, Cream, Doors, Pink Floyd even Janice Joplin sometimes I was close to the amplifiers and they didn’t play as loud as Jars of Clay. Its very insensitive and dangerous to others to play that loud I would have walked out to protect my hearing too and talked with the pastor.

  7. me says:

    Hey Sound Babe, I thought of you as I wrote this. What they called loud 10 years ago is nothing compared to the levels I routinely hear today. Maybe the sound guys are all slowly losing their hearing.

    btw, it seems we’re heading your way in mid-August…

  8. Robin says:

    As an actual professional sound babe (I can say that, I’ve been paid for my services and I’m actually on a few albums as an engineer), I agree! In general, no bleeding eardrums when leaving your event. It’s even more so important during worship time.

  9. Fred says:

    No microphones. No guitars. No drums. No sound system. No trashed ears.

    I like my church.

  10. I heard Satan laughing with delight.

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