[notice]Hugh Wetmore is a songwriter and student of worship trends. He invites you to join the worship conversation by commenting on his monthly column.[/notice]
Gateway News reported (September 6, 2013) that dozens of ‘noisy’ churches have been closed down in Cameroon. The measure began to be implemented on 23rd August, and targeted the Pentecostal churches, which are not officially recognised. God’s people worldwide must stand solidly in condemnation of this infringement of the right to religious freedom. It seems Cameroon is using ‘noisy worship services’ as a pretext to shut down churches which God has birthed in those communities.
Yet even in South Africa with its entrenched right of religious freedom, we’ve heard of communities objecting to the excessive noise from some churches, a noise which disturbs the public peace. Insensitive churches can turn people away from the Kingdom, instead of attracting them.
Since the advent of electronic amplification, relatively small congregations have ‘the power’ (pun intended) to mega-magnify their “joyful noise to the Lord” (Psalm 100:1), to decibel levels beyond anything previously imagined. Others, maybe in reaction, inscribe “Be still and know that I am the Lord” (Psalm 46:10) above their pulpits. They prefer a quieter awareness of the Lord’s presence in worship. So, quite apart from government provocation a la Cameroon, the question continues to be debated: “How loud should our Worship Music be?”
Two memories contrast themselves in my own mind: Firstly, as a child on holiday with my grandparents in Robertson, they would take me to the “Meeting” where, in an austere black-curtained room, hymns would be sung so softly, slowly and drearily, with no musical accompaniment whatsoever, that I longed to escape from the gloom of such worship! Then many years later, as the guest preacher at a packed service in Soweto, I had to sit in the front row – with the sound-speaker blaring at me from 2 metres away. The music was at maximum decibels. The bass pummeled by chest. My ears ached with pain. I screwed up pieces of the church bulletin and stuffed them in my ears. Again, I longed to escape from the torture!
So ~ “How loud should our Worship Music be?” The Bible gives an answer, from God’s classic instruction on Congregational Singing: Teach and admonish one another as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Col 3:16). The Volume should be such that the congregation can hear one another singing. If the stage-amplified singing, and music, prevents this happening, it is too loud. If we can hear other human voices singing around us, then the volume is just right.
Train the sound-desk operator to listen to the congregation singing, and adjust his knobs and slides accordingly. And try to avoid instruments on stage that use their own independent amplifiers. Rather route everything through the sound-desk.
Be blessed as you sing to one another in the presence of the Lord. Enjoy singing to the Lord in the presence of one another.