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The Psychology of Volume in Worship

Kevin West says the volume music is played at can have a direct result in how engaged a congregation is in worship.

I have noticed a shift that has taken place musically over the past 30 years, which greatly affects us as worshippers — since it affects us as worshippers, it greatly affects us as worship leaders.  I can’t speak for every church and every denomination, however I feel confident this affects most churches that have a “contemporary” style of music.
So, let me tell you my observation and then I will try to back it up with some examples.  The volume music is played at can have a direct result in how engaged a congregation is in worship.
I’m cringing even as I type that.  Volume shouldn’t have anything to do with how engaged we are in worshipping the One who gave His life for us.  However, in my experience, for this generation it does.

My Experiences

About 8 years ago my wife and I were visiting a fairly large church (in people and building size).  We were singing the songs trying to engage in worship.  The worship leader started to lead a song I was pretty familiar with and really loved so I began to sing the song loudly.  Just then the worship leader began “making the song his own” — he zigged when I zagged.  I ending up singing the wrong notes pretty loud, embarrassing myself.  Instantly, I reduced my volume and looked around to see who noticed my wrong notes.  It was in that service I realized a few things:

  1. I, like so many, get embarrassed when I sound awful in front of people
  2. Because the volume in the church was low and everyone could hear me, I began to sing softer
  3. Because I’m not the only one who does 1 & 2, the entire congregation was singing softer
  4. As a result of singing softer, I was more passive and less engaged

Let me give you another example.  I was talking with a friend (who is in his 20s) who recently started attending a new church.  He was telling me what he enjoyed about his new church home.  One of his comments was, “I love that the music is loud enough that no one can hear me singing.”  I found that comment fascinating and began to ponder it in light of my own experiences.

When there is no fear of embarrassment, people tend to sing louder.  When people sing louder, in many cases, they become more actively engaged in worship.

I want to be clear that I’m not saying the music has to be loud in order to worship through singing; volume is not the issue.  The bigger issue is how this generation is connecting with God. I believe there is something in us that wants to sing with all our might (no matter the volume of the music), and when we are not able to do that, we become more passive as worshippers.

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