Is It Too Loud? Worship Accompaniment Vs. Worship Immersion Culture

A few years ago, after our worship gathering one Sunday morning, two very different people came to me. One was a young man in his late 20s, and the other was an older woman in her late 50s. After they spoke to me, I realized that there are two profoundly distinct “worship experience cultures” gathering in our churches today – and their diverse perspectives on worship are making the creation of effective gatherings a tremendous challenge.

The astute young man came to me first.

“I hope you don’t mind me saying this. The music is too soft. We can all hear each other singing, yes, but the energy has left the room. You guys are up there giving everything you’ve got, and the sound is at a level that sucks the life out of the music you’re making. If you notice around the room, many people aren’t engaging. When the volume is up, and the energy is high, the room rises. And that matters because people are inspired and stirred in their faith. Truth is, you guys seem like you’re hearing something different through your monitors than we are, which makes you act like there’s energy in the room that isn’t actually there. Your passion leads us, but the soft music is distracting. It actually separates us rather than bringing us together.” 

The second, an older woman, approached me and said:

“Can I talk to you? The sound is too loud during the worship set. I can’t hear those around me singing, and sometimes I feel like you’re trying to be louder than the voices in the room. I find it difficult to connect when the music is louder than us singing. Could you please turn it down?”

Who is right? Do these different responses simply have to do with the volume of the music in the room?

The truth is, over 25 years of worship leading, I think they both are. These two people represent two ends of a spectrum emerging over the last 40+ years of contemporary worship culture. One is Worship Accompaniment Culture, and the other is Worship Immersion Culture. Still other subcultures fall in between these two, but they represent the ends of the spectrum when it comes to the music of worship.

Worship Accompaniment Culture – Support Us With The Music

The first subculture within our congregations is what I call the Worship Accompaniment Culture. When the musical portion of worship is happening, either on a Sunday morning or at an event (everyone is more forgiving, it seems, at non-Sunday am events), they want to be accompanied and supported by the band. For them, hearing the voices of others around them, mingling in harmony or shared enthusiasm, is their ideal worship environment. Sure, they may have listened to the music “loud” when they were younger, but “loud” had a different meaning than it does today.

I’ve also noticed that this culture is often more “melody” driven – in other words, the more melodic, straightforward, and singable the song is, the better. It’s all about us, singing together. A president of a respected seminary in Canada is a friend of mine. One time we were sitting across from each other at a table at an award ceremony. He leaned in, and with passionate curiosity said, “Dan, please explain to us why so much worship music today lacks a memorable melody. I can’t stand it, but many of my students love it. Why? I can barely sing it with them!”

My friend represents the Worship Accompaniment Culture, in many ways. He wants us to sing together, and to hear each other singing as we do it. In some cases, this group can handle high performance moments, such as choirs, instrumentals, or other expressions that are less explicitly corporate in nature. But make a performance out of the 15-30 minute worship set, and even have some of it be inaccessible melodically? Then we have a problem.

Imagine this worship subculture in our churches gathered around a piano. This is their vision of what feels “right” in worship.

To some degree, I can identify with this worship subculture. I get it. I am drawn to very acoustic environments where our shared sense of comradery in worship is very high.

A good friend of mine, Jeremiah Carlson of the band The Neverclaim suggests that there is a significant transition going on between generations in worship environments, and it complicates how we think about worship leadership. There was a time when people were singing about God, and the great shift in congregations and individuals was that they began to sing directly to God in their songs. Enter the contemporary worship movement of the 70s (almost 50 years ago), 80s, and even 90s. While that was a precious and important shift, he suggested that something else is emerging with the younger set raised in the environs of the 90s, 2000s, 2010s, and 2020s (we’re almost there).

These people represent what I will call Worship Immersion Culture, and I strongly identify with this group as well.

Worship Immersion Culture – Surround Us With The Music

Worship Immersion Culture is not primarily drawn to sing about God, nor even do they always feel a need to sing to God. Rather, they are a generation that wants to sing with God. They want to participate in God’s life, and be propelled by worship encounters into a world that is begging them to live out their worship incarnationally – manifesting Christ’s presence in all aspects of life.

Raised to listen to their music in headphones and concerts, they want to be surrounded by the music in a corporate environment. In many cases, they don’t feel as though they must sing in order to engage individually – or even corporately. They are content to experience the beauty happening in the room – they want to feel the music and the lyrics in their bones. They feel close to others in the room when we are all sharing the same experience – when we are all surrounded by, and participating in/with, the music filling our shared space. (I might suggest that while many of my friends are critiquing this idea as malforming, even as they read this, I would suggest this subculture may ultimately be less “churchy” in their approach to Life Worship than preceding worship cultures.)

They appreciate melody it seems, but appreciate ambience, environment, groove, and texture just as much. Like standing under Michelangelo’s dome in St. Peter’s Cathedral or listening to a magnificent choir, they are content to be a part of something that requires reflection as much as it does an internal participation. They are content to be moved, as well as to move with the music.

Imagine this worship subculture, in contrast to the first, surrounded by the band. This is their vision of what feels “right” in worship. Us, together, in a room, having a shared experience with God.

We Are Formed By Our Worship Habits

Now, for this post, I am speaking to churches engaged primarily in contemporary worship practices. I am a fan of Jamie Smith’s Cultural Liturgies Series (some of my favorite worship work to date), and I understand the formation/malformation that is occurring when our service orders are minimally participatory, and not critically thought through in how they are forming us as real disciples.

I am also a great fan of patterns and liturgies, of the “expected,” “repeatable,” and the “extemporaneous” within liturgical formats. One of my dearest friends, Darrell Harris, is the Chaplain for The Robert Webber Institute For Worship Studies (IWS), and many of my worship leading peers have studied/are studying the riches of the four-fold service and the magnificent power of liturgy. In fact, I’ve taught courses on the historic four-fold service through Wesley Seminary (Indiana Wesleyan University) and St. Stephen’s University.

Yet I’m also a contemporary worship leader in the Vineyard movement of churches, and I know the transformation that can occur in people when they are given a long time to sing to God, about God, and to engage with God in a thoughtful, extended musical worship environment.

I’m not averse to the music playing a larger role in a worship gathering, even a dominant role, and to it being loud enough to move feet and hearts that welcome being surrounded by the music. And while the medium is the message, yes, I think sometimes our Worship Cultural paradigms are a lens through which we are seeing as we eschew another’s approach to worship.

The problem is not just our volume or song selection – it is also our approach to participation in our services.

Fixing The Problem Of Participation – When The Music Is The Only Opportunity

I’m going to contend that both worship cultures I’ve mentioned have a different vision of participation in worship, and neither is perfect.

Because many more contemporary church movements have removed highly participatory, few thousand-year-old worship elements from their weekly gatherings (Eucharist/communion, responsive readings, corporate prayers, passing of the peace, fellowship), the music must be everything when it comes to corporate participation in worship. The pastor will speak for 30-45 minutes, and people are starving to participate (in a non-personally intrusive way) when the dominant part of their gatherings is teaching – and long teachings at that.

Today, however, many of the Worship Immersion Culture ilk are excited to re-integrate a variety of more participatory worship experiences, from singing together, to experiencing beauty together, to weekly communion, to responsive prayers, to the passing of the peace, and much more.

They don’t need the music to accomplish all things participatory in the conventional sense of the word. They can be surrounded by the music in one moment, and breaking the bread together with a few shared words in the next. In fact, the aesthetics of the building, the type of art adorning the building, the fellowship spaces (cafe areas, etc.), and the missional spaces (food distribution areas, etc.) matter to them as much as the music. Buildings, for the Worship Immersion Culture, matter beyond their function. They are a part of the message being communicated about how we live, as friend James Bryant Smith and Renovare call it, the With-God Life.

We should all be asking the question: What are our opportunities for deep community participation on a Sunday morning, and are we discipling our entire congregation by our planning?

When we name our target group according to age or demographic, we must embrace that it means something for the way we handle the music – from the volume, to the presentation, to the way we host worship gatherings.

Getting Our Worship Cultures Out Of A Rut

I’ll shoot straight. When it comes to planning a Sunday morning, in my experience many pastors are not thinking much beyond the worship conventions with which they grew up or in which had their first encounters with God. I include myself in this; it’s not easy.

But if we’ll recognize various worship cultures exist in our churches (over time it does get more homogenous), care about how people are being formed by our worship habits, and tend to who God has called us to uniquely be as a community, we’ll find our local stride in leading people into worship places that are truly forming them in Christ-likeness.

If forming people in Christ is the business of the Church, then worship is the business of the Church. Let’s be about our business.


Question: How can we better handle, in our churches, the tension of serving both worship cultures mentioned above in our planning? Where do you fall between these two approaches?

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73 thoughts on “Is It Too Loud? Worship Accompaniment Vs. Worship Immersion Culture

  1. First I like the way you ended but did not follow the start. So was the first guy saying “it was so soft, we had no energy”? I am not sure that is what I seeing and hearing from the coming generation, but perhaps you are trying to get beyond it. After all, we don’t want the only model for worship to be like we all did in our teens with headsets filling our our ears with sound. We all know how terrible people sound when they cannot hear themselves but try to sing. OTOH when you talk about participatory and more than just music, I really connected. Even more when you talk about being formed by worship. BTW I am from the earlier generation, go to an Anglican church with a young congregation and recently went to hipster style church in Portland just the other week. In neither case was volume an issue, and yes worship takes on a lot more forms from listening to interacting and includes art and ambience… and is not 2 songs and a 50-60 min lecture either. It is really about being formed and being a community.

  2. This is really good Dan. I’m worship pastoring at an Anglican Church in Ottawa right now. We have two services: The morning w/ full band sound (immersive) and the evening which is stripped down acoustic, piano, hand drum (accompaniment). There is overlap between the two styles. But, that’s where they have primarily settled.

    What you’ve written has definitely expressed what I’ve come to know in the Anglican Church in the context of worship music. I’ll definitely be keeping this post as a resource.


  3. Thanks for the thoughtful article. Deliberately, I begin by acknowledging I am 72 years old. But, please do not typecast me with that small amount of information.

    When we explore ways to “improve” our worship, somehow those that lead need to consciously and consistently seek the infilling of God’s Spirit. Otherwise, what happens is “I’ve gotta do this; I’ve gotta do that ….” The approach becomes mechanical. Mechanical does not foster worship!

    Coming together in one space to acknowledge and exalt our risen Lord always requires the infilling of God’s Holy Spirit. I “sense” too much preoccupation with “getting this done” to the extent the moving of God’s Spirit gets hindered.

    When we gather for worship, regrettably, we already have our plans for afterwards. It seems to me that when we gather for worship, we should be fully yielded to God’s Holy Spirit such that we dare not have plans for “when this is over”! The matter of “diligently seeking the Lord,” is no longer a prominent principle of worship. I wish it were.

    I know it would make the kind of difference that nothing else would matter, including age differences. Our bottom line should be to seek and worship God! Don’t let energy levels become a distraction.

  4. wow… reading that was like taking a drink from a fire hydrant… amazing compilation of thoughtful info, enough fodder for an entire book, i would think…

    i know that i personally identify with the culture that values participation more highly than the “immersion into the environment”… this is probably because of personal worship experiences i’ve had where the entire congregation seemed to really be vocally joined in one accord… i always found these experiences to be awesome and inspiring… this is what seems to be missing from the more “modern” experience…

    one way i have found that can sometimes bridge the gap and create a blend of the 2 styles of worship is to create an atmosphere where both things happen at the same time… easier said than done for sure, but one method i have employed with some success is related to the sound mix…

    too often in modern worship, the instrumentation seems to be the primary focus of the worship leading band… so much effort is put into “matching” the cover sound of the original artist’s band – the exact guitar voice, the exact lead, the exact copy of the breakdowns and build-ups of the sound we all know and love from the radio or i-tunes…

    my suggestion is to (even when using the most modern of songs) bring the vocals out front a bit more than we might normally do… concentrate on melody and harmony lines, and do the songs in a key that does not require a professional singer to hit the high notes… (which brings me to another issue, that is something of a systemic “problem” – a problem for me because it annoys me, i suppose – and that is the “mandatory octave jump” that is written into just about every new song these days… i can’t really deny that it usually sounds cool to do it, but there is no quicker way to discourage a congregation from joining in to sing along, than to have the melody line of a song jump into the range where only dogs car hear it… yes, of course, “they can drop down” is the retort of the tenor worship leader who can hit the G above middle C with no problem – but who wants to drop down???… mostly that place in the song where everyone should be “all in”, is when 90% of the congregation is excluded, merely because they just can’t do it…. grrrr…. so annoying…

    anyway… my thoughts that might help to bring all the cultures together are:

    1…bring up the vocals, recess the instrumentals
    2…chose a singable key that allows maximum congregational participation
    3…worship leaders, come on… choose worship songs for worship, save the concert songs for concerts…

    love the post Dan… keep them coming!!

  5. Well done Dan! This is the best article I have read on corporate worship and the philisophical approaches to our Sunday gatherings! I’ll be sharing this with our team!

  6. I have read your article with great interest and sympathy. Having walked with the Lord for almost 38 years and have participated in worship leadership for many of those years in a decently-wide diversity of fellowships, while also being an attendee at large worship events led by personal friends. The stretch that you have portrayed is certainly a real one, and in response I want to add another dimension, that I propose might be useful to serve to reduce the tension a little, when speaking about the relationship between “experience” and “culture.”
    I note that your essay has carefully distinguished between a Sunday (or all-group, weekly) meeting and other expressions of the faith in regard to discipleship and spiritual growth, in light of “the job” of the church.
    Would it not make sense to distinguish also between “culture” itself and the realm of the Spirit? I take my lead from the excellent missiology book “Contextualization” by David Hesselgrave and Edward Rommen (Pasadena, CA. 1989, William Carey Library) where there is a quality to the exercise of God’s Word that the authors point out as “supra-cultural.”
    There isn’t much mention – by contrast to that book, I should say, of the scriptures in your article. Why not show what the Lord spoke in response to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well? Everything in any general meeting of the church should highlight that the Father seeks to worship, them that will worship in Spirit and in Truth, and that the Eternal Truth of the Living Word will and must absorb our thought-life, experience and our cultural expectations as well as our disappointments, as we bear with one another in Love – and that, whether here-and-now as our natural minds insistently plead, or in the gaps between “inner-man” and “soul” activities.
    As I see it, the addressing of differences between the people whose expectations don’t align programmatically with leadership planning is one that could usefully engage those same people in the program as spiritual partners, where “every joint supplies” the “mortar” of this Building. It is often a missing component of churches at both ends of the polar contrast you’ve rightfully pointed out, that the rightful role of gifted leadership to “katartizein” the saints through a deliberate synergy of the generations – in alignment with Scripture-as-lived. That is what both the apostles and the missiological teachers I cite are getting at, as it enacts the Holy Presence of the Lord with a righteousness not of man’s making, to set in our midst an unwavering plumb-line. Every platform needs to exalt the Word.

  7. Some great thoughts here, I had never heard of it approached this way. We are a younger Church with a hand full of older people and at times still find music ‘volume’ is an issue.

  8. Well presented! It is easy to lean into what one has experienced most and is their own strength. A challenge arises when the congregation’s vision/values are to be multi-generational. Homogenizing the two approaches is like managing polarities.

    I would suggest a third form as well: consumer worship. This is most commonly seen in the immersion version of worship, where people simply enjoy the surroundings of music and aesthetics but are not moving into genuine encounter with God. I lean toward the immersion style of worship (ie. I get ‘too loud’ complaints regularly) and am most at engaged in that context. However, I find if the people are challenged to understand and to grow in that context, they simply make it a worship ‘concert’ where they vicariously worship through others.

    This is a trend I have had to address in my own context as the pastor. I guess each wineskin has its weak spots.

    Thanks for the great thoughts!

  9. Great thoughts! Thanks for sharing. I’m almost 50 (I don’t feel or act it), and I like my worship music so I can “feel it”.

    Our church is currently struggling with the whole Worship Accompaniment vs. Worship Immersion thing, and it makes for some, ah… ‘interesting’ times.

    Not to get too far off topic here, and I don’t wish to come across as negative, but there’s one thing you wrote that I hope you will re-read and think over: “And while the medium is the message…”

    I have to pause whenever I hear/read this statement. I believe it is incorrect, especially in the church culture, because… the Message is the message.

    Keep up the great work.

  10. wow… you have just given me the words to describe what I’ve been feeling! As a 34-year old, I’m definitely in the Worship Immersion Culture where I want to sing with God – being surrounded by music and participating in an experience with God and everyone else. There is, like the young man in your post said, an energy to being immersed in an experience – which is not to say that we (the immersion culture folks) don’t like to sing TO God or hear the voices of our church family. It is just that we are on mission with Jesus and want to participate with Him in everything.

    One of the cool thing about the worship immersion culture is that, since we are not just singing, we can incorporate other none musical elements into our musical worship. Things like painting, sitting still and being, dancing, writing, etc. – all of which can fit within and even, dare I say, enhance our worship of God. For far too long I think the church at large as relied on music and signing as their only worship expression. It is time to add back in some of the more physical elements of worship while keeping the musical expression. To me, the worship immersion culture can do this as it is more than just loud music. It is, as you stated, about “participating in/with, the music filling our shared space.”

    Ah, good stuff to think about!! =D

  11. Great article, Dan. I served as a WL for 20 years in a church with a very broad age demographic. Volume was not our issue – musical genre was. We had some who wished for only hymns played on our pipe organ; some wanted the old scripture songs; some wanted Vineyard; some wanted Hillsongs. I finally realized people want to hear the music that was playing when they had a significant encounter with God. They want the music to take them to a place where they felt close to Jesus. So we tried to use a wide variety of genres, and because our people tend to really love each other, it worked out.

    Practically speaking, part of reaching many of our people is using singable songs. That means they have a memorable melody, lyrics that make sense and are theologically sound, reasonable rhythms that are not overly difficult to learn, and written in a range the congregation can sing. I believe we miss a huge opportunity, particularly with 40-somethings and up, if we don’t give them a chance to sing the songs and leave humming them. And I’m just crazy enough to believe we can accomplish this AND have a “Worship Immersion Culture” in which music plays a large role.

    Thanks again for a great exposition.

  12. Dan…good, good stuff. My friend, Paul Fowler, posted this and I’ll definitely be sharing this with my team. I haven’t ever classified anyone as wanting to sing “with God” but that is a wonderful descriptor of what is happening in some movements. One of my favorite worship scriptures is in Hebrews 2 where it talks about Jesus singing with us. It is such an encouragement to know our worship doesn’t happen alone when we gather.

    Thanks for the food for thought.

  13. You’re really smart. And balanced. We’ll never get it perfectly right on this side of the veil, but we have a God who loves our affection – our worship. He can hear His child’s loving heart sing above the roar of a band or in a quiet prayer closet. Our worship falls on gracious ears of the Almighty.

  14. Guys, all of these comments are great, and I’ve been praying for you and your congregations as I read. It’s a challenge we all face. Technology, concerts, and changing times all affect this. A respected friend said, in relation to this post, basically “Dan, sometimes people just think something’s to loud for them, or too soft for them, with no philosophical basis.”

    I agree on one hand, but on the other, we are children of our age. Smart phones, earphones, and current concert culture (I blame U2, Coldplay, and Sigur Ros for some of this) have changed us and our palate – and people operate out of unspoken intuitions.

    On the “Worship Immersion Culture” side, I paint the picture rosy, yes, and some may not be thinking that deeply about their reasons for liking something or the theology of beauty/worship that may follow. But is it not surprising that younger leaders today are often more incarnational in their vision of the church as these changes and intuitions are in operation? That’s not to say “Worship Accompaniment Culture” is not incarnational, but sometimes the sonic koolaid we love puts us in situations where values and other ideas are taught – changing us in one big circle of preference, experience, and teaching.

    In my view, the more environments we can create for worship, and the more understanding we have with those who lead gatherings, the better off we all are serving our community. Sometimes an equilibrium between these “cultures” is met, and sometimes it’s missed. Bless you. None of us want our preferences to become our prejudices. We must work to serve our communities in worship on all fronts.

    Again, praying for each you as we converse.

  15. Dan, excellent article. The “too loud” complaint can stem from so many factors in a service, from bad acoustics to bad playing/singing to poor sound equipment to… on and on. This perspective though really casts a truthful light on why different people want/need different things from their music in church. I will be borrowing some of your info for a message I’m preparing for our church, which is currently grappling with one of these “worship wars”. I’m praying that the simple truths you present here will pierce hearts and minds, and create an understanding of what our corporate worship/music is designed for. God, teach us to really worship you in spirit and in truth. I don’t think we’ve collectively made it there yet! 🙂

  16. What a great post! You have articulated well the “two profoundly distinct ‘worship experience cultures’ gathering in our churches today”.
    Plus, challenged us to look for more opportunities (other than singing) to participate in the service.

  17. I can appreciate both ends of the spectrum, I like it loud but I also like it stripped down! I also wouldn’t want either ends of the spectrum all the time. I have learned from experience that if the praise team is worshipping the congregation is more than likely worshipping, no matter the volume level of the band. If the praise team isn’t worshipping then it becomes a performance and sucks the life out of worship.

  18. There is an art form to creating variety in effective spaces for worship to occur within. I am drawn to patterns and rhythms, for example, as long as those rhythms leave room for the breath of the Spirit to lead us in moments that we aren’t always controlling.

    Musically, I have seen very immersive environments produce fruit, as well as very accompanying environments. But they have different applications, and the mark of maturity as a worship leader is to understand what contexts demand what.

    Jamie Smith’s book, again, helps us understand how we shape people through those choices.

  19. Very interesting article Dan. I agree that a disconnect is happening – I feel it most Sundays. I love the participatory ways that we can worship, with responsive readings, liturgies, etc. I love the variety and (ironically I think since they are in fact very old) ‘new’ ways to connect with myself and with God. I also love hearing others sing, but find it compelling to ‘lose myself’ in the music as well – it seems to help me shut of my thinking for a bit and ‘be’ in that place of worship. So I don’t really care about the volume except to say that both loud and soft, individual and corporate feelings in worship are important. So I don’t know that we are divided so neatly as you describe.
    What really drives me insane these days is the unpredictable melodies and even more, the wordiness of the songs. Many times I have to try and follow along on the screen, and with many ‘new’ songs there is no chance of picking up even the chorus during the time that song is being played – if there is a chorus. I find this engages my intellect vs engaging my heart, and then I have trouble worshipping from my heart. Also, the more words in a song the more chance I will not track with or relate to or sometimes even agree with the images in it…but that’s another story. I guess I should try the immersion thing during those songs. But still my brain has a lot of trouble listening and trying to make out words vs just standing there ‘immersed’. It is an important issue for sure, since if I can’t worship at church chances are higher that I don’t want to go. Worship with the full band etc. is one experience difficult to duplicate outside of Sunday mornings! I’m guessing I’m not alone in that…
    I think the comment about consumer worship was a good one – always a danger I think. And as others have said, if the worship team is so focused on singing and playing that they are not worshipping, that is very evident and hard to overcome as a worshipper in the congregation.

  20. Dan…great article! I was talking to my friend about this issue and mentioned that I had just wrote an article about it. So he sent me a link to your article.

    It’s really important for us to talk about these kind issues to help lead the Church through them in a healthy way.

  21. Jesus says that those that worship the Father must worship Him in spirit and in truth. Therefore it is imperative to connect with the Father in your spirit. It is not a ritual or a song. Songs and other manifestations can be an outflow of this relationship we have with the Father in spirit and truth. True worship is a relationship, a Devine connection through the blood of Jesus and His Holy Spirit. If you are connected with the Father and the body of Christ, you have to serve one another. Therefore we have to be sensitive to each others needs. To the younger person I would say: Is your worship in spirit and in truth, or is it just the music that is loud that fools you to believe you have a connection? Can you worship without the music? To the older person I would ask a similar question with a bit of a difference. Are you worshipping in spirit and in truth or do you like to think that if turn down the volume that you are worshipping in truth. We need to ask ourselves what it means to worsip. Is it music? I think not!
    Music can be a part of it Yes. The problem comes from satan’s plan with us as the church. Distraction!!! Get them to quarrel over those things that get their focus of worshipping in spirit and in truth. CHURCH!!! Wake up and turn to Jesus! Forget the newest and the latest trends and songs/church models. Nothing wrong with good scriptural and Holy Spirit inspired music, we need to go much further and much deeper. Connect with the Father in spirit and truth, and the volume will not bother you, either to soft or to loud. Remember though that we should serve one another. Thus to the young believer, listen and respect those elderly folks. Turn down the volume!To the older believer, try to understand in love and make an exception for one or two loud songs. We are after all the body of Christ and we shall be known to be His body by the love we have for one another.

  22. I think this raises an important aspect. We have often struggled with these 2 approaches and its often hard to know which to take as you will please one group and not the other and vice-versa. On the whole we probably try and combine the 2 approaches, [but not at the same time!]. I must say that I thought you had put what we all feel into words very well and appreciate your thoughtful approach to the subject. Thank you!

  23. We struggle with the same issues every Sunday. Thank you so much for your articulate assessment of the situation. We have settled on a few ways to blend the two styles and it’s working quite well for us. Now, each week, we see our youth engaged in worship and our older folks patting us on the back with encouragement.

    1. We eliminated “solos. All of the singers on the stage sing all of the time. We do all of the modern songs from Hillsong United, Young and Free, Crower…you name it, but we don’t ever have a “solo” part. we all sing in unison and it’s VERY POWERFUL! Our congregation never fills like they need to be quiet because the lead singer is doing his/her solo.
    2. We incorporate hymns with the guitar only as a tag onto the end of a contemporary song.
    3. We invite singers and musicians of all ages to be a part of our team. We have a 17 year old electric guitar player standing next to a 70 year old singer – it’s precious and encouraging for all generations.
    4. We have an acoustic set at least 1x per month. We call it campfire worship. We still do modern songs (check out the Hillsong United Acoustic album) but our Coloradans of every generation really love it.

    Looking forward to hearing how others deal with this.

  24. I think there is meant to be a Mix like you said.
    I do see though an increasing trend that we are worshipping separate from one another, that we are worshipping between us an God (vertical).
    And there is a tendency that we are less connected with those around us. I think this is a reflection on society as a whole. I believe that God wants to relate to us, but when we come as the body to worship we come as the body. There is room for both.
    I’m not sure in my setting the volume has any bearing, when we worship we still see and hear one another in worship. Great Article !

  25. I’m pretty sure that the most obvious answer is staring you right in the face, and it’s time to start asking much harder questions.

    Are two or more gathered in His name?

    Is the music (like scripture) God-Breathed or is it man-made?

    Is God real, or are you all just fooling yourselves? If two or more are gathered, and music

  26. …comes from God, as it should if you are gathered in His name, then the flow of the Holy Spirit would be sufficient to render any human stylistic or volume desires null and void. A person could be banging on a garbage can lid (if that is how God inspired) and all would be overcome with God’s presence.

    Start asking the hard questions, and demanding real answers. Soon, you will find your way out of this life of lies. I did.

  27. I’m fascinated by the different ways many of you are carrying this tension, and seeking to serve your communities. It’s not easy, and involves all the Worship and Arts media leadership walking in humility, passion, and with a strong sense of mandate for who we are serving. Both/And in this case is a challenge, and I believe that some are called to primarily serve one group or the other. This is all good. We simply must all be at our post, for all the right reasons. It will involve sacrifice, both ways, but I am loving how many of you are fighting to serve God’s people in a self-absorbed society.

  28. This was a great perspective on Worship. thank you for putting a label on it as I have struggled with how to best name the divided groups. I always referred to it as going to a concert to hear others worship or traditional all sing along with band at low volume.. LOL Seriously though, what I struggle with is I think there should be a balance of both and can be. I have played on worship teams for 40 years and Lead worship off and on for almost 20 of those. I also am a sound technician engineer and Media operator, and my thing with all of this is how its being presented from the Mega church’s. They have the funds for bringing in that awesome sound, lighting and stage production. They have the facility to handle loud volumes at a controlled state, but also to allow for that immersion. They also have the musicianship that probably most are paid to be on that stage and if not are drawn to it because of the quality of players there with. Because of all this the Mega church’s are able to produce albums and basically set the standard of what a modern church should look like. Don’t get me wrong, I love the immersion style worship, I love playing as a musician and or running sound to make it sound and feel great. However because the room is dark the band is loud, are the people really worshiping or they just being entertained. God calls us all to be worshipers, to sing a new song unto him. Then that’s another issue as mentioned are we continuing to overwhelm the congregations with new songs every weekend because we want to keep up with the joneses. I am one who likes the newest and greatest songs coming out, but we also need to pace ourselves on how much new material is introduced to the congregation or again it becomes entertainment rather than worship. I digress, but because the Mega church sets the bar high in immersion style, the smaller church feels they need to do that as well, but don’t have the resources or highly gifted musicians or sound Tech’s to bring that quality, so then in turn you have the result of it’s to loud or to soft. Like someone else mentioned a lot of it has to do with the sound mix. I think if you get the right mix, you can mix both cultures. I find that if the band is strong and loud enough for me to sing along with and yet feel like I am in a choir you are Immersed but also a participant or accompaniment. Also to add its not just the old people who don’t like it loud, I have heard complaints from 30 something’s which totally confuses me since they might of just went to a Brad Pasley or Coldplay concert..:) There are a lot of factors that come into this with music, sound, atmosphere and song choice that make or break a congregations experience, but if done right the spirit of the Lord will be felt and none of the production of it all will matter.

  29. Dan-

    Dude. You have just dropped the mic.

    I am a pastor who spent years touring with a worship band running sound. We noticed this exact same thing (around 10 years ago) and constantly had to explain it to people who asked about the volume we ran. I love how you are talking about volume building an environment and pulled in Jamie Smith. Your articulation of this cultural shift was/is excellent. Thanks so much.

  30. Wonderful article! This is a most persuasive account of the two visions — lower-volume, more singalongable, more participatory singing / higher-volume, more listening-grooving-reflection moments — that I’ve seen in one place.

    I’d love to see a second article that talks about two things he doesn’t mention in this post: sustainability (that is, playing music at a volume that doesn’t erode your ability to hear that music in following years — something that is a very real problem at one church I frequented recently) and portability (that is, putting into the memory music that *could* be done sitting around with a keyboard or guitar in a non-concert environment). Of course, you can’t replicate stained-glass windows in a non-cathedral environment, either; and, by extension, concertlike live experiences draw people to worship these days, giving many people the only live music they experience regularly. I don’t think there are two sides to the sustainability story, but there are to the portability one, and I’d be interested to see his thoughts.

  31. I’d also love to see a more historical discussion. After all, the sheerly participatory experience has come and gone and come and gone, and the more reflective-grooving-basking experience has too. Leipzig, for instance, brings to mind chorusmasters (Bach among them) who navigated the waters of singalongability and basking in a virtuosic representation of heavenly beauty.

  32. One of the things that bother me about some advocates of this “worship immersion” is the lack of concern or sympathy for physical pain or hearing loss. Sometimes “too loud” is not just a little quibble about worship style. It’s a cry that for those who haven’t already destroyed their hearing by “listening to their music in headphones” it is just plain aircraft runway level too loud. As in “this physically hurts so badly I think my ears are going to start bleeding”.

    Back in grad school I actually quit going to the College/Singles worship services at my church for this reason… and I had been a member of the praise band just the year before. So I know what mixer board settings we used to use, and what they started using with the new team.

    So unless the WI folks are already stone deaf, they can be “immersed” at some Sound Pressure Level not documented to cause ear damage… but instead seem to want to cause the rest of us to join them in permanent hearing loss land.

  33. Great point made about the volume and hearing issues. I don’t have a problem with volume except when it pains me physically. And yes, that happens more often than the younger set might think. I was recently in a service where the treble made my head buzz. It was pretty difficult to worship, immersion notwithstanding! Immersive worship shouldn’t damage your hearing, and I know I sound old when I say that, but it’s true. 🙂
    This past Sunday, btw, I tried to just go with the immersion experience rather than get annoyed at a lengthy and very wordy new song…I tried…sigh…but reading the whole thing off the screen as I listened (it was impossible to learn enough to sing along in three repetitions) just wasn’t very heart engaging…and it wasn’t scriptural, just all someone else’s metaphors…sigh…but I tried 🙂

  34. Very interesting perspective, thanks. The issue isn’t primarily about the volume of the music, although that’s an important factor to consider. So just wearing earplugs doesn’t solve the problem. I can appreciate the idea that there are other ways to participate in worship besides singing, but it seems wrong that it is often not *possible* for those who want to to really sing along. This is mostly because the songs are in the wrong keys – they are pitched so they sound great in the worship leader’s high tenor voice, but the rest of us are dying. Well, we just stop singing and start mumbling an octave lower. So the worship leader isn’t really leading worship, he’s acting as a soloist. The other problem is that the songs are too awkward to sing, too syncopated, with too much ad libbing going on.

    Personally I love to sing, and singing as part of worship is not optional for me. And while there’s a time for just closing your eyes and immersing yourself in the atmosphere, I’m not convinced that that’s healthy as the main worship diet. But…I’m a Baby Boomer, so what do you expect. 🙂

  35. I thought about what you said happened, and believe there is a middle ground. A balance according to the mix of congregation.

  36. I am a 57 year old lifelong Pentecostal who pastors a “contemporary” church of people of many ages and many backgrounds. Our music style is more immersion mostly because my worship leader came to Christ in his 20’s and that is what he has always known. He doesn’t know the hymnal songs. For him, “old school” is songs written in the ’90’s. In conversations I have with those who are my age and older, I often say, “The songs of our youth become the songs of our life.” I encourage my age group to actively give the church to the next generation. My iPad is full of the songs I grew up with (both Southern Gospel and Southern rock), and I listen to them often. Those songs were implanted in me when life was still in front of me. I am strong in the faith now. If I never again attend a service where everyone sings from the hymnal, my relationship with God is secure. I can give up some preferences to make sure that the generation coming after has the same opportunity to have the music that resonates with them be implanted into their spirits so they can be prepared for the challenges that lay ahead. When I present it this way; that they are not losing their church, but being challenged to willingly give the church to the next generation, most of my folks understand and embrace the idea of giving. After all, there was a time when the hymns were contemporary and controversial.

  37. What clarity! Thank you. As an immersion style worship leader, who grew up with walkman headphones as loud as they could go, the idea of community and togetherness is a bit outside what I had thought about during worship which was more individual & God focused. However, this calls out to me why so many in the other style of worship pull away- they WANT community, togetherness; the sound of their collective voices raised IS their worship; even the practice of grabbing a hand next to you to sing the benediction- cherished by some, railed against by others, is part of this difference of opinion over what worship should be…

  38. In regards to volume, it is literally impossible for hearing damage to occur from the volume of a worship band. In most typical churches, peaks of volume happen around 90-92 decibels, while the normal volume is usually in the mid to high 80’s. Even if a band is much louder than this, permanent damage simply cannot occur, it is a physical impossibility. This link show’s OSHA’s acceptable decibel level limits, and the time a worker can be exposed to these volumes. Consider that these decibel levels are considered ok as a constant for the time periods listed on the chart. If something is hurting someone’s ears in a church, there is either something physically wrong with the P.A. equipment, or it is being run incorrectly, or the person experiencing pain needs to get their own hearing checked. I completely appreciate and accept people’s opinions of how loud they think is too loud, everyone is entitled to their own opinion and to make their own choices as to what they want to listen to. But please, don’t bring hearing damage into the conversation about church music volume. It is a fallacy.

  39. About volume: A huge consideration in the church I served was the PERCEPTION on the part of the older folks that “the music is too loud”. We intentionally limited volume to just below 90 db, and it was still perceived as too loud. We were totally unwilling to discount this perception because we valued the people who held it.

    But the story has a happy ending. We brought in an expert who realized that the way our system and room were tuned, we were overdoing some frequencies that made the sound level seem higher than it actually was. This guy monkeyed with the EQ, and soon we were running louder than before, with zero complaints.

  40. Yes! IMO, Kelly’s ideas and solutions are 1000% dead on! Perception is HUGE – and it HAS to be addressed for the wonderful people who think they are experiencing pain/discomfort/damage. Tuning the room and getting solid training for your tech team is WELL WORTH THE PRICE! 🙂

  41. I don’t understand the concept of worshipping “with God”.we are the created He is the Creator and worthy of our praise and worship. Who is God praising and worshiping? Certainly not us, the created. Is He worshiping and praising himself?
    thanks for a great article. Not sure I agree with all of it but it certainly helped me understand these differences that I find quite frustrating and I must confess discouraging at times.

  42. Much of the discussion here seems to center on those elements that surround worship, not worship itself. In most of my spiritual/Bible study teaching environments, I ask participants to tell me what worship is to them, and amazingly they either cannot articulate any definition, or they speak of things that have to do with fellowship; the idea seems to be “I know it when I see it.” Their descriptions really do parallel the notion that “The medium is the message.” The idea that one enters worship with the hope of entering into the magnificent presence of God and prayer to Him is mostly absent; perhaps most church environments now seem to promote the adoption of popular culture to put one in contact with the Divine. As for music, it seems that the idea of learning theology through lyrics has mostly been abandoned. But there are some hopeful signs. A significant number of our young new Anglican members come from strident evangelical and pentecostal backgrounds where they have grown quite tired of worship carried out by the seat of one’s pants. I enjoy contacting new churches to try to ascertain what they’re about. And the script they use has grown quite standardized now: informal worship, praise & worship or rock music, t’s and dungarees standard dress, I take well the comments about worship cultures; however, I’m a bit skeptical when a church only offers more formal worship at very early hours and emphasizes contemporary worship for the remainder of the sabbath day. One last comment: I recently attended a large, well-financed, well-known, denominationally-based evangelical church in my area of the city. The sanctuary was configured as seating for the congregation and a large high-tech stage lighted by electric blue lights shining out into the congreation. During the service, there was no prayer, not a verse of scripture, and the sermon consisted of the pastor and his wife playing ping pong and talking about successful marriage. It was a fairly cultish experience without, I recall, any mention of our Lord Jesus Christ. May our Lord through His Holy Spirit lead us to more transcendent experiences with Him.

  43. Hi Dan…I am working on a concept for the Tulsa Churches. We want to consult them regarding the level of worship. One must first have a heart for worship bringing in the presence of the Lord. But I see churches who have their worship more than 95-105dBSPL that does not allow the singer to be heard (I am a singer/soloist and Audiologist) when they try to sing along with the songs. Have you taken an iPhone out to get a basic understanding of when worship is too loud for the participant to hear him/herself? Do you know those numbers?


  44. This is a great article and helps to synthesize thinking in this area.

    Having been in the church nearly all my 60 years, and in music ministry for about 45 of those years, I would say that I have noticed the sound levels in different parts of a room are a key factor in the cultures. I find sitting front row center with the speakers shooting the sound overhead into the congregation the best place to soothe my “aging” hearing and allow me to hear those around me. Other parts of the room where the speakers are aimed, even 50 feet from the stage in our auditorium, are so loud my ears hurt and I can’t hear the people around me singing. So maybe an easy solution might be to have people at either end of the spectrums try sitting different places in the room because I have found worship experiences to be quite different in different parts of the room.

  45. I am going to approach this from an unmentioned and unusual angle-

    I would rather go without music in a church; there are few reasons for this-
    -usually, the musicianship is so low, that it becomes hard to bear and is distracting.
    -more times than not, the mix is terrible and can be distracting.
    -the CCM songs are all the same and can be boring.

    the irony of this?
    I am a P&W musician and a good one at that. the only time I want to be a part of the music is when I can participate in making it.
    corporate activity isn’t easy for an introverted private person; I would rather worship God at home or go for a walk and talk with Him then sing at church on cue beside some guy who is singing at the top of his lungs and cant sing and is distracting.

    I want to hear the Word when I go to church.

    having said all of this, I realize I am a very small minority.
    it does bless me though when I look out to the congregation from the stage and see people throw themselves into worshipping the Lord as if no one was watching. I wish I could be that free.

    I worship God best on my instrument; I can express myself in ways that I cannot in words and that is the way God made me I believe.

    you cannot please everyone in church but I have to say-
    some of the old standard hymns are tough to beat; they need to be played for generations to come.
    I think that a lot of the irritation that some folks perceive as loudness can be eliminated through better mixing and better musicianship.

  46. Well said. What a great question regarding how we might better accommodate both subcultures and those individuals somewhere in-between. I wonder why not accommodate all groups with worship in both styles? Before the sermon it can be more immersive, to set the tone and experience the loudness… Then after the sermon have a few songs where we as a congregation respond together in a softer style.

  47. Dan, thanks for a great article. You did a great job of describing the different worship needs (participation/immersion) of the different generations.

    I myself am a singer, songwriter, keyboard player, and sound engineer in my early forties. I guess I would fall more into the immersion camp, but I still think many churches are excessively (actually dangerously) loud.

    As an engineer I have to say that, there is no objective answer for “How quiet is too quiet?”. The answer really depends on if you prefer participation or immersion.

    However, there is a definite scientific answer to “How loud is too loud?” Sound Pressure Levels (SPL) above 80 decibels (A weighted) are considered harmful. How fast harm occurs depends on the length of listening time and the volume. You can safely endure 85 decibels for eight hours before sustaining any hearing loss. For every 3 decibel increase the length of time gets cut in half. This means you can endure 97 decibels for half an hour before hearing less sets in.

    However, even these calculations do not show the whole picture. Hearing loss can occur cumulatively, only showing up years later. This means that repeated exposure to sound levels anywhere above 85 decibels may cause long term hearing loss. So a half hour song service at 90 decibels once a week may cause hearing damage.

    (By the way in the United States OSHA regulations require hearing protection for work places with sound levels at or above 90 decibels. In parts of Europe the level is 85 decibels.)

    So to every pastor, worship leader, and sound technician reading this, please go buy a sound level meter. Then find the loudest spot in your church (probably directly in front of the speakers) and measure the sound pressure level. If it’s significantly over 85 decibels than you’re possibly harming your congregation. Turn the volume down until it’s safe.

    I know that some of you immersion style worshipers will suggest ear plugs. However, that really does not address the problem. If a participation style worshiper wants to hearing the people around him/her then ear plugs will not make that happen. More over just because some people like dangerously loud music, does not mean the church should provide it. That’s a form of enabling.

    Regardless of our own preferences we need to be good stewards of our own hearing and the hearing of our congregations.

  48. This is a great article. Another thing to keep in mind – It’s well documented that those loud decibel levels harm our hearing. (And I speak as someone who’s hearing was damaged because of loud praise team music.) Any audiologist will give you facts and figures. So my question is – Does God, who gave us this amazing gift of hearing, really want us to damage his gift in order to praise him?

  49. PLEASE remember, the decibel levels listed above are SUSTAINED listening levels. Not just peaks! I have never encountered a band associated with worship/church/etc. that played at those levels for a sustained period of time. If it’s up around 95-97 decibels several times in a worship set for a minute or so, this simply will not harm your hearing. If your worship team is playing speed punk or screamo for an hour at full volume, maybe you’ll have a reason to use ear plugs. Or leave the room. 🙂 Otherwise, it is just a comfort level thing. Not an issue of safety.

  50. So as an Audiologist, I felt compelled to reply. Firstly dB (decibels) from an OSHA standard starts at 85dB at a level of no issue to hearing. At 90dB you can sustain (for most people) 8 hours without damage, every five dB up is a halfing of the hours. At about 120dB it can only take about 2.5 minutes.

    The doubling effect of dB IL (power of what engineers use inside of their electrical circuits) is 3dB up, 6dB for dBSPL (sound pressure level) for just sound about you, then the brain has another level of doubling at 10dBHL (hearing level). If you pick up an iPhone app or a sound level meter it reads at dBSPL.

    Now as to how loud 95dB is that would be four hours like we said. But any worship leader or band member has been exposed to that over a long period of time for practices at the church, worship times multiples per week, and in his or her garage honing one’s craft. If you are playing drums, the levels hit 110dBSPL on a consistent basis. I was inside of a drum concert and it hit 115dBSPL on an A weighting/slow weighting.

    I am searching for a level of being at worship that allows the singer to hear himself/herself without covering up one’s voice. I believe that is no more than 87dBSPL but I have no real proof of that reading. Most of the modern worships are for seeker friendly churches when they reach beyond 100dBSPL but they have a danger zone for their people (staff and worship people).



  51. Dan,

    Excellent article! I really get blessed ready your thought provocative articles and especially the wider sense of it.

    The question near the end of this post on the “Participation” aspect of the deeper wider community and training is kind of where I am trying to initiate our community more and more. James Torrance’s book, “Worship, Community and The Triune God of Grace” has had a profound impact on my life. He says that; “Worship is the gift of participating through the Holy Spirit in the incarnate Son’s communion with the Father.” How do I draw a fine line between the two sub cultures you mentioned above with a definition like this? After all, isn’t it a grace iniating welcoming and participating invitation? Curious to what you think about this and how it would help me further to help our local congregation into a deeper participation with our creator God.

    Thank you once again for your post, I so appreciate you and the blessing that you are.

    Jim G

  52. Respectfully, I think you are missing the point that the 50-year old woman tried to raise. Volume should never be so loud that it hurts people’s ears. This has nothing to do with worship style. No one has the right to damage the hearing of others. And worship teams need to be cognizant of the health of their brothers and sisters in Christ.

    The 20-year old talked about preference. The 50-year old talked about health and hearing damage.

    When people say their ears hurt, they can’t even hear themselves sing, have to yell to someone next to them in order to be heard, their ears buzz, when people are told by the church they should wear earplugs – or worse yet, they provide a basket of earplugs at the door – those are pretty good signs the music is too loud. Has nothing to do with style. Or desire to worship the Lord.

  53. SallyMJ brings up a good point. Prior to about 2000, it was common to try to balance the sound so that all were comfortable as much as possible. This is specific to each congregation and the venue of course. What I started to happen is that many pastors and congregations began to believe that they were losing the next generation. Their belief was that they had to cater to younger tastes. It was almost a point of desperation. So when older members brought up the volume, it was often not well-received.

    I know that we had a very incredible musician with great legacy in the secular as well as Christian music world came in. BTW I actually played with him on the worship team. The volume was set loud and ear plugs provided. It did not help that there were some acoustic issues. We struggled for years. Some people even some younger members left over the years due to the volume and the lack of inclusion. I have to admit that even though I love music, when it got really loud unless I was on the rotation I would delay going into the congregation until afterwards. I loved the music style just not the volume. Finally in 2011, we felt released to go somewhere else. We ended up at an Anglican church where our worship style is more blended. Even more important, we strongly believe congregation based worship rather than band centric. It is a delight that we can have older Christians that can barely go up the aisle or do so in a wheelchair for communion. More than that our congregation is young and the idea of cross-generational worship is very important. We are a family and try to be considerate of each member. My thoughts are to know your congregation. You may have members that are suffering and may really be engaged in worship. They may see their role as supporting the cause even though they really don’t enter into the worship music. I am not trying to be prescriptive, but I think the encouragement is “know your congregation”. Also consider that it is the supernatural presence of God that many of us came into the Body of Christ during 70’s. Music is close to my heart but in the end only a vehicle to worship and experience God.

  54. SallyMJ brings up a good point. Prior to about 2000, it was common to try to balance the sound so that all were comfortable as much as possible. This is specific to each congregation and the venue of course. What I started to happen is that many pastors and congregations began to believe that they were losing the next generation. Their belief was that they had to cater to younger tastes. It was almost a point of desperation. So when older members brought up the volume, it was often not well-received.

    I know that we had a very incredible musician with great legacy in the secular as well as Christian music world came in. BTW I actually played with him on the worship team. The volume was set loud and ear plugs provided. It did not help that there were some acoustic issues. We struggled for years. Some people even some younger members left over the years due to the volume and the lack of inclusion. I have to admit that even though I love music, when it got really loud unless I was on the rotation I would delay going into the congregation until afterwards. I loved the music style just not the volume. Finally in 2011, we felt released to go somewhere else. We ended up at an Anglican church where our worship style is more blended. Even more important, we strongly believe congregation based worship rather than band centric. It is a delight that we can have older Christians that can barely go up the aisle or do so in a wheelchair for communion. More than that our congregation is young and the idea of cross-generational worship is very important. We are a family and try to be considerate of each member. My thoughts are to know your congregation. You may have members that are suffering and may really not be engaged in worship. They may see their role as supporting the cause even though they really don’t enter into the worship music. I am not trying to be prescriptive, but I think the encouragement is “know your congregation”. Also consider that it is the supernatural presence of God that many of us came into the Body of Christ during 70’s. Music is close to my heart but in the end only a vehicle to worship and experience God.

  55. You are a bit off. People today want to sing about themselves. Some of it is to God, but much of it is self-focused. It may be about how much God loves them, but it is still focused on themselves.

    I find it very ironic that many want to worship in a crowd but not hear any of the crowd. What exactly is the point of that? They could get the same experience alone at home cranking up the speaker’s as loud as they wanted.

    We seem to no longer belong to a group, but want to edify self as much as possible. That is not likely to be very productive over the long run.

  56. This has been such an interesting discussion! I agree wth “Shelley” but my Pentecostal pastor who suggested “we, give it up to the young people” will realize that a lot of financial support comes from the older, hymn loving folks, and if they leave, the church will be in a bind. I’m Pentecostal and there is nothing wrong with incorporating hymns to satisfy and bless ALL as we worship our Lord. I am not sure our young Worship Leaders really know hymns, or how to play hymns.

  57. Thanks for this Dan, you’ve given me a lot to think about.

    As I read the scriptures, I keep finding exhortations for believers to sing together. As I read modern research, I keep finding articles on the benefits of singing, and particularly of singing together. As I teach children in schools and lead my local congregation, I see the benefits and the joy that comes from singing together, I see how singing together can bring connection and build unity across cultural distinctions. And so, as I guide my music team, I often come back to the question: are we helping God’s people to sing together?

    I guess this puts my priorities and focus very much in the “accompaniment culture”. It’s not a way I’ve thought of it before. I think of the whole congregation as the “worship team”. “Accompaniment” is a useful musical term but there’s a musical whole we’re aiming for.

    We should be creative and smart in our use of music, and we should recognise and respond to the cultures we move in. Singing together need not be our only musical activity or goal.

    Yet I would be concerned if I found that what we were doing was undermining the opportunity for God’s people to sing together – something we are exhorted, even commanded to do, something of great importance and value for our sense of community and our sense of joy.

  58. Two thoughts on the thread. I am not sure I like the term “accompaniment” fully. I am definitely in that camp but largely because I see worship not as an act of observation but of participation where I acknowledge my allegiance, my appreciation, wonder, recount in praise great deeds and God’s faithfulness. It is the perspective that both the modern word English “worship” comes from the notion of “giving worth” or Greek/ Hebrew notion of worship/ bless as bending the knee, bowing, etc. It is also the belief that we as a family want to do this as a congregation with love and consideration for each.

    The other thing is in response to the idea that the young leaders don’t know hymns, my experience is that it is the boomer and buster leaders or even older congregation members that hinder the hymns. It is based on the consensus that developed around 2000 that we were losing the younger generation, that we need to suck it up, make it rad and even if some could not hear or participate, let of build the kingdom by holding on to the youngsters. My experience is that younger members feel less need to “not be religious” and respond passionately to the richness of classic hymn or to retuning them in ways that all can participate but update the sound. My son lives in Portland, Oregon, and when I have gone to church with him in some of the growing congregations, they are not afraid of hymns or contemplative silences. My son in NC who knows Dan and served as a Vineyard worship pastor for 6 years actually found more pressure to not do older music from his older members.

    So let us know sell short those that are younger in their ability or interest to integrate hymns.

  59. Yes, it often is too loud. I can measure 100 dB (and often more) with a meter on my music stand almost any Sunday morning. During special programs I’ve seen the meter limit at over 110. “Energy in the room” is just that. Nothing more. If you can control it with a sound board I doubt that it’s worship. There was only one time in scripture when worship wasn’t loud enough. You can find the story in 1 Kings 18:27

  60. It does not seem like a consensus will be reached on the subject any time soon. If it is to loud for ‘me’, I leave the service, which happens most of the time. I no longer complain, comment, or debate; just leave. Why not find a church with a different service? Because those in my area are all alike in this regard.

  61. I am frustrated by the hypocrisy of Christians that will yell and scream at the top of their lungs at a sporting event, but won’t put the same enthusiasm or volume into their worship. Who deserves more? God or your favorite athlete?

  62. Very thought-provoking article. I would add that the design of the space you are in definitely can influence how people experience the immersion or accompaniment approach. For example, our church meets in a “multipurpose room” that can seat up to 700 people. It’s not really designed to elevate congregational singing. When the room is not completely full of people, it’s impossible to soften the accompaniment to a level where the “swell” of congregational voices will rise to the forefront. The room just isn’t built to elevate the sound of congregational singing. Thus, it basically needs to lean toward an immersion approach if there’s going to be a truly meaningful experience. An opposite could be true… a cathedral that is acoustically designed for choral or acoustic ensembles is not going to be a good place to try and mix in a contemporary, immersive band sound… you’ll have acoustic mud! What I mean is that once a space is designed a certain way, the congregation that lives and worships within it will have to cooperate with its limitations and strengths, regardless of the preferences people may have about immersion or accompaniment.
    Also, someone has mentioned that the immersion preference lends itself more toward consumerism than the accompaniment preference. I disagree. I have been to hymn-sings where it seems as if people are there to sing “the old standards,” or to enjoy the sound of congregational singing, without much regard for us gathering in the presence of God to worship and adore him. One can be a consumer of congregational singing just as one can be a consumer of an immersive experience, just as one can worship whole-heartedly through both.
    This is helpful and good material for discussion in these questions of how we approach our congregational worship together.

  63. Interesting post. No doubt there is a huge difference over the years. I find it has a lot to do with the purpose of worship.

    “Worship Immersion Culture is not primarily drawn to sing about God, nor even do they always feel a need to sing to God. Rather, they are a generation that wants to sing with God.”

    Sounds dangerously close to another one’s wish – and he got kicked out of heaven for it.

  64. It seems that God’s children sit at a crossroads when they gather to fellowship and worship.

    To the left we have participating in the celebration that makes them feel they are singing WITH the congregation. Their focus is on those around them. The experience is more horizontal than vertical. The goal is to connect with their brothers and sisters.

    Then, to the right, there are those who shun corporate participation because they feel they are not focusing on God enough. They sit / stand there and TRY to connect with God. Their motive is not to move with the music, but to be moved. Not participation, but reflection. More often than not, the only person they connect with is themselves. By trying to reach out to God, their mind (and flesh) races in overdrive, while their spirit is left knocking at the door, trying to get their attention. In telling their soul to “be still,” their brain is far from it. Doing is stressed over being, accomplishing over communing. The harder they try to “get” to God, the more they feel you have failed. It gets to be a vicious cycle.

    The path straight ahead is one few experience. We walk it’s path when we actualize Paul’s words, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27) and “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). When we understand God, not as some far off father figure that exists in a distant dimension, but as indwelling companion, we realize then that God is not so much transcendent from our worship, but is immanent in it. Immanent, because He lives in us. We emphasize the Father and Son a lot in our worship, but it is the intrinsic, abiding Spirit of God in us that worships WITH us.

    For those who long to feel a connection with their brothers and sisters around them, don’t neglect to feel a connection with a special Brother who sings WITH you. The Spirit of Christ that is closer to your soul, the real you, than the one sitting next to you on Sunday.

    For those who feel they have to try to connect with a distant God on Sunday morning and move Him to come and make His presence known, you will realize His presence when you stop using your feelings and start using your faith. You don’t have to get God to grace you with His presence. He was the first one in the building this morning (as He is every morning). By faith confess that He is with you, and by that confession, grace Him with your presence.

  65. Good comments – the first noting this significant difference. I am both immersive and supportive, because it can be done. I design churches for sound and acoustics, objectively. The answer is rare and it is acoustical. An immersive room can do as you suggest, but it must be a bit live, support reflection & limit all echo. This means the band will sound a bit louder because the room adds to the band. But it is not necessarily loud, and the congregation can worship and sing together with room support that pushes them more to sing in ensemble. Most rooms have not be professionally designed to do this, and most churches don’t understand how to plan for this when the room is builts. Hire an acoustician, (not a sound system salesman). Room acoustics both support and immerse and define this, not headphones.

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  67. There is a physics/biological aspect that even the secular advisors are warning young people about. Any sustained “noise” over 80 decibels for 15 minutes is damaging to the auditory system. Anything 100 decibels is potentially damaging within a short time frame. I have taken a meter to worship services and recorded volumes near 100 dc. At this level my internal organs are vibrating in a way that causes physical sickness sensation. At 80 dc earplugs work. At 100 I have to leave the environment.