Since the day I started being involved in church music as a teenager, the volume of the music and singing has been a topic of many discussions or even arguments. In a typical worship service, someone in the room is thinking, “it’s too loud,” while someone else wants to yell, “crank it up!”
Just recently, someone told me that he thought the music in their church was too loud. “God is not deaf,” he said tongue-in-cheek. Ironically, I remember this same person listening to classic rock on his home stereo system a few years ago at levels that shook the porcelain knick-knacks on the bookshelves.
But their statement does bring up a good question: does the volume of our worship matter? Even more, does the God that we are worshiping care whether our singing, playing, praising, and praying is loud, quiet, or even silent?
The Significance of Music in Worship
On a physical or human level, it is certainly possible for our music and singing to be overly loud: especially if the decibel level is high over an extended period of time.
According to the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), being exposed to almost 110 decibels for four minutes straight can potentially damage our hearing — at least temporarily.
But those levels are not uncommon around lawn equipment, workshops, sporting events, movie theaters, and concerts, as well as most church services. The concern is only when those levels are pushed constantly and consistently.
And since music is typically dynamic (meaning it changes volume and intensity throughout the song), this is not often a concern, especially with modern music.
But the technical side of sound is often not the issue for someone that considers some music “too loud” (like the person I mentioned above). Instead, it is more about their perception and preference than actual decibels.
For example, one person that is unhappy with drums at 85db (the volume of a noisy restaurant) might be completely pleased with a symphony or large choir going over 100db (which they normally are). Our subjective perceptions and personal emotions tied to music make this subject of volume much more convoluted.
Speaking of perception and emotions, however, music and singing in worship that is too quiet can also negatively affect us in different ways. Not being able to hear someone causes frustration and even fatigue.
When the sounds of the crowd are louder than the person praying or exhorting, we get distracted very quickly. If the volume of the music (especially the bass or low frequencies) is too quiet, it will feel lifeless and not move us to be engaged.
If the music is too quiet, most people will not sing out for fear of others around them hearing them too much. So, in a very real sense, volume can affect our own personal worship and corporate worship.
Even more seriously, according to Paul Doty in his book, Faith Comes By Hearing, if someone cannot clearly hear the gospel truth proclaimed through song or sermon (because of the volume, the mix, or other factors), then they will not be able to respond to it.
This comes from Apostle Paul’s own words in Romans 10:17 when he wrote, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God,” and if clarity of the message is the goal, there are even more factors than volume to consider, such as acoustic environment and room size, type of audience, skill level of the sound engineer.
This leads us to conclude that the volume of our worship is not just about technical decibels and is far more than preference and perception; there is a legitimately spiritual side to it.
Does the Volume of Our Worship Matter to God?
We can clearly see throughout Scripture that God’s people often got loud in their worship and music, especially when a battle was involved (like before they attacked Jericho or when they brought the Ark of the Covenant back home).
It seems that the more difficult the fight was, the greater the victory, and the louder the celebration and praise (just consider all the exclamation marks throughout the Psalms!).
Some of the most common instruments used by worshipers in the Old Testament were rather loud: such as the trumpet, other horns, tambourines, and “loud clashing cymbals” (Psalm 150:6).
In addition, while the harps and lyres might seem like quiet alternatives, there were times that they, too, were played loudly and joyfully (1 Chronicles 15:16).
Another example of loud worship is in the Book of Ezra, when the priests struck up the band, and the singers stood up to sing praises to God after the builders finished relaying the temple foundation.
Their songs about God’s love and faithfulness were so loud that “the sound was heard far away” (Ezra 3:13). That sounds more like a home football game than a worship service, doesn’t it?
But it was also common for God’s people throughout the Bible to “lift their voices,” “cry aloud,” shout, and “weep bitterly” because of their great sadness or remorse.
Actually, in the same Ezra 3 passage, the praises of many in the crowd were mixed with the cries of others who remembered what the temple looked like when they were kids.
And while God did not always speak back to his people in deafening decibels (such as when he spoke to Elijah in the “still small voice” in 1 Kings 19), there were so many times throughout the Old and New Testaments that he spoke loudly and clearly through thunder (such as in Exodus 19). By the way, thunder from nearby lightning is typically 120 decibels.
So, does God prefer us to sing loudly instead of quietly? If increasing our volume means that more people can hear the truth, sing praises, and be engaged in worship, then yes! But again —that is more technical.
So spiritually speaking, does God hear loud prayers and songs over quiet ones, or does our shouting reach him better or quicker than quiet words of thanksgiving?
Because here is what I have discovered: it is our human nature to get loud when we are highly emotional. The greater our excitement, sadness, anger, grief, fear, thankfulness, and remorse, the louder we tend to get.
Of course, our upbringing may have taught us to be quiet and unexpressive, but there are still times that our nature shines through and we get loud.
Maybe it is when we are really angry at someone or something, we are really happy because someone bought us a nice gift, or we are really excited because our team scored the winning touchdown. Even the most reserved of us have our moments of loudness, don’t we?
What Does This Mean?
My point is that God receives and responds to our praying, singing, shouting, and playing music when it is heartfelt, humble, and honest (Psalm 51:16-17). If that is the condition of our hearts, then the volume does not really matter (as long as what needs to be heard can be heard).
But if we are quiet in our singing because we are concerned about others’ opinions more than God’s, if our prayers are quiet or silent because we are trying to hide our sins, or if we are not shouting praises to God because our hearts are more critical than they are thankful — then we have a huge heart problem.
And if we hold back and are reserved in our corporate worship yet loud and expressive on the football field, basketball court, or racetrack, then we can be sure that our priorities are not in the right place.
God’s people are worshiping people, and we are specifically singing people. When we sing “psalms, hymns, and worship songs” (Colossians 3:16) to God, we are not only unifying our voices with our brothers and sisters in Christ in the room but also with Christians around the world and throughout history.
In a way, we are “standing” and singing next to Moses, David, and the apostles. So, let’s not just sing, but let’s sing loud from the depths of our hearts and with all we have!
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Robert Hampshire is a pastor, teacher, writer, and leader. He has been married to Rebecca since 2008 and has three children, Brooklyn, Bryson, and Abram. Robert attended North Greenville University in South Carolina for his undergraduate and Liberty University in Virginia for his Masters. He has served in a variety of roles as a worship pastor, youth pastor, family pastor, church planter, and now Pastor of Worship and Discipleship at Cheraw First Baptist Church in South Carolina. He furthers his ministry through his blog site, Faithful Thinking. His life goal is to serve God and His Church by reaching the lost with the gospel, making devoted disciples, equipping and empowering others to go further in their faith and calling, and leading a culture of multiplication for the glory of God. Find out more about him here.