The Noise is Deafening and It’s Not My Fault!

This past weekend, some of our music and worship team from Ivy Creek led the music for the large group corporate worship times at the Georgia Baptist Women’s Ministry Spring Event at Stone Mountain. We had a blast meeting new folks and getting to connect with women of ALL ages from all over the state. The women were very encouraging about the musical offerings we presented and the variety of congregational songs we chose to lead, but do you know what the number one comment of encouragement was? “Thank you for not having the music SO loud that we didn’t get a headache.” OR “we could hear each other sing and yet the music was still energetic and supportive.” Don’t think that it was just older women either…no, it was folks from all ages.

Now, I’d heard these volume comments before (some good and some not so good), but they made a deeper impression this weekend because I’m constantly looking for ways to alleviate distractions in worship so the Father is highlighted and not what I am doing. Decibel levels matter, my friends. Prolonged, heavy vibrations in the ear drums can cause hearing damage. So, today 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 

  1. 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)
  2.  With the advent of car radios (especially as stereo and bass technology has risen) one can be literally “enveloped” with sound
  3. Churches have tried to mimic the feeling of a rock concert to increase the emotional and physical experience

A FEW ARGUMENTS FOR LOUD VOLUME

  1.  The enveloping of sound is a perfect way for non-singers to feel “safe” to sing uninhibited
  2.  We can feel and hear the energy of the music
  3.  Non-Christians are more comfortable hearing/and seeing music like what they experience at concerts/radio, etc.
  4. 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

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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?
  4. Loud decibel levels can distort text or make articulation incomprehensible. Pretty sure text is what sets worship apart from any other musical experience.
  5. Oversinging may cause vocal damage
  6. 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 the 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.

Changing Things Up Can=Baloney!

One of the things that surprises me time and time again is the “one size fits all” approach held by churches, educational systems, and other such types of organizations. What works for some doesn’t always work for others. However, often trying to emulate the successes of others seems to be the norm. Recently, I had a conversation with someone whose church is trying to reach younger families in their community. This is a noble goal. However, this church leadership(from the description given to me by the person with whom I was talking) decided that adding a “modern” service would do the trick. Familiar story, right? OR, another familiar theme is “let’s change things up because I think things are getting stale.” Again, not a bad idea if there is purpose behind it, rather than simply changing things up so people don’t get bored. This mentality is rampant in the entertainment industry…push the envelope, tweak this and that so people aren’t bored and you (as ministry leadership) look like you are “doing” something productive for the Kingdom. Baloney!

Pragmatism is the nuts and bolts, but Philosophy should be the wrench. Rather than trying to make a bunch of changes in one’s church based on the successes of others, it is infinitely more important to capitalize on the strengths and weaknesses of YOUR church. Use all generations in your church. Don’t be afraid to use varied types of music. Be authentic; be real. But let the philosophy of “we’re better together…we value ALL in our faith family” resound! Remember intergenerational ministry/worship is not something you DO, it’s something you ARE. It’s a guiding principle…

I’m in the process of getting ready to teach two similar seminars in the next couple of weeks on intergenerational worship. The first is this weekend for the annual Georgia Baptist Women’s Event at Stone Mountain. Some of our music team and I will be leading in musical worship and I will teaching a class on music in the intergenerational church. The following weekend, I’m heading to the Baptist Church Music Conference in San Antonio where I’m also teaching on intergenerational worship.  Last night I was talking with one of my 14 year old sons about what I was doing the next few weeks. He pointed out that my audiences will be vastly different. He laughed that I’ll be teaching a bunch of women this weekend and mostly men the following weekend. It is a fair assessment. We also talked about how important the women’s conference is (mostly laypeople-perhaps choir members in churches throughout the state) because these women are leaders in their church—they are the participants. The next weekend, I will be speaking to colleagues—to leaders in music ministry. I HOPE that the conversations from this coming weekend will help continue shape what I bring to our leaders. Granted, most of the leaders I will speak with next weekend believe in the intergenerational philosophy, so I hope to bring some ideas of how those leaders can strengthen their approach (philosophy) to reaching our next generations, as well as keeping all generations active and present in ministry. Both great opportunities, but I must alter my approach based on the culture of the situation. We church leaders should do the same with our churches…consider the context.

How different would our churches be that would truly embrace the multi-generational atmosphere of their churches by finding ways to capitalize on the strengths of all? How different would our churches be that didn’t constantly look to music as the MAIN tool for reaching the de-churched and un-churched? Because seriously, how much as contemporary worship music evolved in the last 30 years? Musically? not much. Textually? There have been some great strides in this area. But, in all? Not so much. Those churches who’ve found their niche (think cowboy church or mariachi church in certain locales) are the ones embracing who they are. We’d be much better off to focus on building intergenerational relationships, discipleship ministries, and having all generations involved in worship and other service ministries (not just music).

Pray for our team this weekend as we sing, share, and inspire.

Lots of Music Readers in Your Choir Doesn’t Translate to Learning More New Music.

Assumptions are often not all they appear to be. It seemed logical to me that if I had lots of music readers, I would be able to conquer more new music than the church down the street that learns everything by rote. However, that’s not entirely the case. Here is some interesting related data I collected on choirs that I think are interesting:

  1. Number of music readers does not affect number of new anthems learned in a year.
  2. The largest choirs in my study learned the most anthems; the smallest learned the fewest. While one could assume this was due to the music readers more commonly found in larger choirs, I think this data is more likely a financial decision. Larger choirs more often have more money to spend on new anthems and smaller choirs in smaller churches.
  3. Choirs that used printed scores only learned far fewer new anthems than those who just use projected media in worship services. This seems almost hard to believe since it seems that having the printed score means the song could be learned quickly. However, these churches using printed scores only in worship are usually smaller—thus, the financial piece in number 3.
  4. There is no correlation between age of leader or dominant generational cohort that affects the number of anthems learned in a year. So the reasoning is not philosophical, but pragmatic.

With this information in mind, here are some other factors that can influence the number learned:

  1. The church has a limited music budget. This factor overwhelmingly drives how much music in learned in a year. Unfortunately, the reality is many churches are limited on budgets and new music is reserved for Easter or Christmas, with maybe a new collection here and there.
  2. Rehearsal time. A 1.5-2 hour rehearsal definitely gives any choir more opportunities to learn music over an hour rehearsal.
  3. Fail to have music readers in every vocal section. There are plenty of choirs who have one (or two) sections that cause the rehearsal to lag because so much time is devoted to bringing a non-reading section along.
  4. Leader does not desire to learn lots of music. I’ve spoken with several colleagues that are against picking up a song in a week or so of rehearsal and then singing it. They believe that much time is needed for the choir to internalize the text and the artistry of the song.
  5. The choir uses full orchestra and one part (choir or orchestra) may have a much harder part than the other. I’ve personally had this issue. Some songs are very difficult for either the choir or the orchestra and so more time is required for one or the other parts.
  6. The choir takes breaks in the year. While most choirs take some time off in the summer or after Christmas, there are some choirs that only sing 2-3 times a month, thus limiting how many new songs may be learned in a year.

I’m sure the list could go on and on. My best guess is the financial piece and the rehearsal time drives most of the decisions on how many anthems are learned in a year. What else would you add to this list?