Sometimes I walk into a church service and can’t help but feel disappointed when the music starts.
Dim go the lights.
The first song kicks off with a loud beat or powerful guitar strum. The sound races to find every corner of the room.
Dark sanctuaries, spotlights on musicians, and loud music influences the service. The decibels and the darkness does communicate certain things, often times unknowingly, to those gathered for worship. I want to share three observations about what the lighting and the volume of music communicate and offer praise for lights and (moderately) quiet music.
1. Loud music and dark rooms means I can’t see or hear the people around me.
I show up physically in a church building at an appointed time so that I can gather with other believers. The lack of lighting and volume of music, however, physically restricts me from the people surrounding me. Audibly and visually. I can (barely) see them. I can (hardly) hear them. Usually my wife’s voice — all of 18 inches away— barely whispers above the band.
I understand that the music at the beginning of a service is not intended for fellowship. I don’t intend to have a conversation during the songs. Rather, I find the fellowship of music in the lifting of voices together. Yet, the concert level sound of the instruments make it impossible to hear any voice not amplified.
If the situation results in an inability to hear or see anyone in the room I am singing with, then why bother coming to the first twenty minutes of service? I can sing along to Christian music in my car. Or better yet, I could continue sipping coffee in the foyer…
2. Loud music and dark rooms means I can’t hear my own voice.
I like to sing. Alone in the car, in the shower, and dancing around the living with my son — the usual places. But church has always been one of my favorite places to sing. As a churchman who loves the music of the church, I don’t really care if my neighbor thinks I am flat (note: I didn’t not say ‘fat’. I might care about that).
The loud music (and even the dim lighting) changes my ability to hear my own voice. Whether I open my mouth or keep it closed, I have the same sensory experience. It tempts me not to sing at all, since my best vocal efforts drown in the flood of mic’d musicians and surround sound.
Internally, something changes for me when I can’t hear my voice. I don’t think it’s narcissistic to say the inability to hear my voice impairs my worship.
3. Loud music and dark rooms dis-invites me and others from participation.
A worship service traditionally serves as an invitation to the gathering saints.
An invitation to the Table. To the Word. To worship.
An unlit room and forte music can wield the opposite effect, practically dis-inviting the worshipers from participating. The band on the stage with the spotlight is the only music and voice heard. Don’t try your voice — you can’t hear it. Don’t try listening to the cry of your brothers and sisters as they worship — because their voices are also overwhelmed by the speakers. In fact, try identifying those sitting around you. Their faces fade into the shadows, nearly unrecognizable.
Rather than receiving a call to worship, we are compelled to refrain. You can’t see us, you can’t hear us. Why bother?
The structure and setting of a worship service does matter. I can receive a call to participate through the face and voices of those surrounding me. Or lured into obscurity and observation when the dark lights and powerful music prevents me from anything else.