Not Hitting People with a Wall of Sound

On most recordings of congregational worship songs that you find these days, every upbeat song starts with the entire band playing all at once. There might be a measure or two of an electric guitar or drummer on his own, but eventually, the whole band kicks in at full blast.

This sounds great on a CD. And it can work well on a Sunday morning. But sometimes it can be compared to hitting your congregation with a wall of sound.

One minute the pastor is welcoming people and opening the service in prayer. Then when he’s done and it’s the worship team’s turn – KABOOM! – the song starts.

I’m not against starting songs this way. But I’ve found that if you’re going to hit people with a wall of sound, it’s not so jarring if you do that kind of introduction when there’s some level of sound (i.e. people talking and fellowshipping) already present. I might start a song like this after we’ve encouraged people to turn around and greet someone they don’t know and then there’s a buzz of noise in the room.

But when you’re coming out of a moment in the service that’s quiet (i.e. the pastor finishing an opening prayer or an 8:00am service) and there’s no sound in the room except for the air conditioner humming or kneelers clomping against the church floor, it might work better to ease your way into the song, and arrange it in such a way that you’re gradually adding more energy and sound before you eventually kick it up the level of KABOOM.

I did this a couple Sundays ago with Tim Hughes and Nick Herbert’s song “Jesus Saves”. We were coming out of an opening prayer, after which there was relative silence in the room. Instead of hitting people with the wall of sound that the recording starts off with, I decided to come into it a bit more gradually.

Here’s how Tim Hughes’ live recording does it, starting a few measures into an electric guitar riff:

And here’s how we adapted it.

When you’re leading your congregation in an upbeat song, think about whether you should come into it full blast or ease your way into it. Get comfortable enough with it that you and your team can make it your own. Move bits and pieces around and experiment with ways to help your congregation engage with God and celebrate, instead of reeling from the sudden onslaught of noise.

Be sensitive to your congregation and to the Holy Spirit’s leading, and if coming in at 100% seems to be the best fit, then go for it. But if you think it might serve them better to start off at 50% and slowly increase power, then I would encourage you to trust your instincts.

One thought on “Not Hitting People with a Wall of Sound

  1. Jon Las November 18, 2010 / 1:03 pm

    This was true of my team leading all of our denominational convention’s worship times in Banff very recently. We initially planned a full band and team service for the early morning prayer session. Our drummer (who didn’t show up– fell in love with his bed, which is a different) failed to show up and so we had to mellow down the arrangements which turned out for the better.

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