How do you determine the optimal volume for the sound system during a service? If the answer were merely technical then we could quickly talk about average dB values and give you the ideal number and move on. But any answer of that variety would be playing into the consumerism that drives the culture around us and regularly tries to creep into the church. Because it would assume that the primary thing that people have come to church for is to be entertained. The answer is far less technical than it may seem. Determining appropriate sound levels actually requires taking a step back from the soundboard and considering what the church is actually doing. So first, let’s ask those questions and let them help us think through this topic in a way that is more helpful to the church.
What is the church actually doing?
Hopefully the answer to this one is clear. When we gather together it is to worship God. Unfortunately in the past few decades we have sometimes muddied the definition of worship by calling music leaders “worship leaders” or referring to the musicians as a “worship team.” But worship is far more than just the music. We worship God not just with music, but with prayers, with giving, and with faithfully preaching His word.
That means we don’t just turn the sound system up until church services are indistinguishable from concerts. If the church’s objective in a service is to worship, then the congregation has come to sing, and pray, and give, and listen. Not to consume.
What are the people behind the microphones doing?
I know, I know, the people behind the microphones are part of the church. So we did already answer this above. But let’s take a moment to consider the more specialized role of the members of your congregation that are behind a microphone during a service.
The preacher, leaders, and musicians are aiding in worship when they are in front of the congregation. They are not entertainers. The preacher is facilitating worship by focusing on God’s word and sharing the truth found in it. People lead the congregation before the throne of God in prayer. The musicians help us worship through song together as a unified body. In every one of these things the congregation is still an active – if sometimes silent – participant.
What is the soundboard doing?
Well, the soundboard and all the equipment that goes with it are gifts of modern technology to aid in what we’ve been talking about. If the volume is so loud during singing that the congregation looks like it’s taking part in a mass lip-syncing competition it’s probably too loud. Conversely, if it’s so quiet that the congregation gently mumbles the words of the song for fear of being heard above the musicians, it’s too quiet. Similarly, if it’s too quiet to hear the sermon or for people to comfortably say “Amen” to what was just prayed, then it’s too quiet and people aren’t actually praying with the person leading in prayer.
We want people to be encouraged to participate in all aspects of a service. And the soundboard can help encourage that or it can discourage it. By attentively listening to the congregation (especially in singing), we can appropriately use it as an instrument to aid the congregation. We want to use it to embolden the congregation to sing loudly without overpowering them.
Our Implicit Witness
The effort you put into what you do is usually indicative of the value you give it. Mundane tasks are often performed with a certain lack of enthusiasm because they are …mundane. In the same respect, we tend to approach things we are passionate about with zeal and determination. In school I generally did poorly in classes that didn’t interest me, but excelled in classes that did.
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