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How Loud Is Too Loud?

by Tom Kraeuter

I am often asked about sound levels in churches. Exactly how loud is too loud?

Before we get to specifics of actual sound levels, let's consider a more foundational perspective first. In many of His parables, Jesus talked about stewardship. He refers to us as stewards and that God has entrusted us with His possessions. If you understand the full ramifications of this, then one of the things over which we are to exercise stewardship is our physical bodies. The Apostle Paul elaborated on this idea when he said, "Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple" (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). Paul also shared the same idea in a bit different way later in the same letter, "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price" (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

From an honest scriptural perspective, our physical bodies belong to God and therefore, as stewards, we are required to take good care of them. As a result, more and more Christians today are recognizing the need to eat properly and to maintain a healthy lifestyle. These are obvious things when we recognize that our bodies belong to the Lord and we are to be good stewards of them.

The flip side of this should be obvious. As Christians who recognize our mandate to be good stewards of God's property, we should not smoke three packs of cigarettes a day for the rest of our lives. Medical evidence demonstrates that this is extremely unhealthy. We also should not eat only foods that have little or no true nutritional content. Again, this is verifiably bad for us. From a scriptural perspective, it's all about stewardship.

Unfortunately, one of the areas that often is missed in understanding stewardship is an area that is relatively easy to maintain: our hearing. According to the latest medical reports, of all those who have experienced some measure of hearing loss, between one-fourth and one-third are a result of over-exposure to high levels of sound. Worse, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) more than 30 million Americans are exposed to hazardous sound levels on a regular basis. These are tragic numbers, and ones that are easily preventable.

Let's be clear. Certain volume levels of sound will do damage to hearing. Sounds louder than 80 decibels are considered potentially dangerous. Both the amount of noise and the length of time of exposure determine the amount of damage. The higher the volume, the less time is necessary to damage hearing (see chart below). It's not a matter of "maybe" or "perhaps." These findings are scientifically verifiable.

It seems obvious, then, since the Lord calls us to be good stewards of our physical bodies, we need to be careful with the volume levels to which we subject ourselves and others. We dare not damage our hearing and/or the hearing of others simply because we like loud. Such a scenario would clearly demonstrate a lack of good stewardship.

So, to the point of how loud is too loud for church music, I recommend investing in a sound level meter (decibel meter) for your church. You will then be able to monitor the level of sound and thereby be careful with the volume.

So let's get specific. According to the chart below, with each increase of 3dB, the time necessary to cause damage is cut in half. That means if your music spikes to 130dB for just one second, you can do damage to people's hearing. Could anyone honestly equate such a scenario to being a good steward? I know I can't.

Once, when I shared these thoughts at a church, they assured me that their musicians always wore earplugs while performing. "That's great," I responded, "but what about the congregation? Is it somehow acceptable to not be good stewards of their hearing? Is it okay to cause hearing loss in them while protecting yourselves?"

Up to a certain point this issue is about personal preference. Some people like louder music than others. This is no different than my preference for chocolate-fudge ice cream over strawberry banana. It's personal taste.

However, at a certain level, when damage is being done to hearing, it then ceases to be about personal taste. It's all about stewardship.


Continuous dB Permissable Exposure Time
85 dB 8 hours
88 dB 4 hours
91 dB 2 hours
94 dB 1 hour
97 dB 30 minutes
100 dB 15 minutes
103 dB 7.5 minutes
106 dB 3.75 minutes (< 4 min)
109 dB 1.875 minutes (<2 min)
112 dB .9375 minutes (<1 min)
115 dB .46875 minutes (<30 seconds)
With each increase of 3dB the time
necessary to cause damage is cut in half.

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