As someone whose hearing hasn’t exactly been helped by exposure to loud music at Christian rock concerts in my 20s, I have a special interest in today’s topic. It started with a Tweet by Kyle Idleman, who apparently visited Pete Wilson’s church in Nashville last Sunday, and noticed the availability of earplugs at the door. Kyle likes his music loud, so he was excited at the prospect of extra decibels. His wife thought they were packages of breath mints.
Is this common, we wondered? (The earplugs, not the confusion with breath mints.)
At Vertical we like our music a little louder than a lot of churches. How loud? Loud enough that you can sing out and not feel like everybody around you is listening to you (and all of the people who can’t sing said “amen”!). We have great sound technicians who work hard to ensure that our sound is full and consistent from week to week.
One of the things that is difficult about music volume is that people’s opinion is subjective and personal. Not everyone likes their music the same volume and with that in mind we have made the conscious decision to let the volume of our music be defined by the people we are trying to reach. This means that a few people thinking it is too loud is not reason to turn it down in such a manner that it affect our what we believe Vertical Worship sounds like. Our worship to Jesus is alive, loud and vibrant. With this in mind we decided to make earplugs available to anyone who feels that our music is too loud.
emphasis in original
Evidence of the widespread use of earplugs turns up in articles like this one “And don’t offer me any of those blasted ear-plugs; I shouldn’t have to wear earplugs in church! I should just like what is being played and how it’s being played.” The topic also appears on discussion boards like this, “if they handed out earplugs to me it would be goodbye time;” or, “It seems to me that earplugs would be the bandaid, not the cure.” (Link broken as of this morning.)
The earplug phenomenon has been around churches long enough it seems that it’s already fodder for blog satire. “Handing out ear plugs says to the congregation ‘The volume is as low as it’s gonna go'”
The question churches need to ask however, is this: “Is providing earplugs sufficient to avoid potential liability issues resulting from hearing loss?” I’m willing to wager that the average visitor isn’t expecting rock concert volumes at a church service. Last summer, we attended a youth service held in a former nightclub on the east fringes of Toronto and I was reminded firsthand of the volume levels that have no doubt contributed to the loss of high-end sound definition I sometimes experience. Really. Isn’t. Necessary.
And it’s not just the music. A while ago we carried this excerpt from a bulletin at North Point:
“This service contains flashing lights which may cause problems for people with photosensitive epilepsy.”
There’s no doubt in my mind that excessive volume levels simply puts people at risk and exposes churches to liability issues, but all of this is simply another example of the modern church using youth ministry models to guide what takes place on Sunday morning. I doubt the early church house meetings in any way resembled what megachurches do on the weekend, nor would they even recognize those gatherings as religious in nature if they simply walked into the back during the worship set.
I also believe that handing out earplugs is an admission that something is not right. Furthermore, there are all types of contextual issues at being presented with a rock concert at a 9:00 AM service versus the same band, same volume at 6:00 PM, at least for this writer.
I like my music loud enough that I can sing out, even try some harmonies, without feeling intimidated. I love the energy. I love the passion.
But it isn’t supposed to hurt.
Upper Image: Browns Bridge Church story at Church Stage Design (click to link)