“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord,” says the Bible.
But when that noise is more painful than joyful, when the noise is an ear-splitting worship band and the decibels are raising the roof rather than the spirit, sensitive Christians are hurting and complaining.
Tauranga Hearing Association manager Jo Sykes says noise levels are damaging worshipers' ear drums. Photo: Tracy Hardy.
“People are asking if this is going to make us all deaf?” says Tauranga Hearing Association's resource co-ordinator Jo Sykes.
“They say it's like being at a rock concert every Sunday.”
Once upon a time, churches played the sedately pipe organ, choir and hymns, but today it's guitars, keyboards, drums, vocalists – all electrified and amplified and potentially damaging.
Congregations are loving the new music but some aren't coping with the volume. They are complaining and they are moving.
“Churchgoers come in to the hearing association to buy ear plugs and others say they're looking for a new church to go to because they can't handle the noise,” says Jo.
Ironic because as Christians, their bodies are God's property and they're just trusted stewards of their bodies. But by damaging their eardrums are they being good stewards?
Churchgoers are telling Jo their ears are ringing when they leave church on a Sunday. “That is a sure sign your ears are freaking out because they have been damaged.
“It seems to be the trend; many churches are all doing it.”
And while the ears may recover from a short burst of sound, over time they won't, says Jo.
“The threshold is 85 decibels. Anything over that is going to cause damage and church once a week for one hour is enough to cause damage.”
It's a global phenomenon. Churches everywhere are cranking up the sound to appeal to the young.
“But they're going to be the next generation to need hearing aids,” says Jo. “We are out there educating teenagers about the damage they're doing by listening to their iPods at 100-plus decibels.
“And at the same time many churches are out there compromising that good work.”
Joyful or painful is a matter of taste and age. “Most of the people coming in and complaining are older; 50-plus.
“But while they love the music because it's more lively and interesting than traditional church music, it's too loud and it could be doing damage.”
Jo has heard one church in the city is issuing ear muffs for children. “What does that tell you?” Good for the soul, bad for the ears.
So why hasn't the hearing association raised the issue with churches. “Well it is our role to educate and so I suppose yes, we could,” says Jo.
It also suggests something called Party Plugs. They are ear plugs that have a filter which attenuates harmful levels of sound. Wearers can stay in church, hear everything but the damaging stuff is filtered out.
And they're selling them for $30 a pair.
Parishioners could also measure the sound on an acoustic analyser and if it exceeds 85 decibels take it up with church authorities. “Say: ‘Hey! We should do something about this because we are damaging our hearing',” says Jo.
And while pulling the young punters with loud contemporary songs of praise, churches might be driving away the mature faithful.
“In peace I will lie down and sleep for you alone Lord” is the verse of the day at Bethlehem Community Church.
But there's no sleep at 9.30am Sunday, when the church's band – a couple of guitarists, a keyboard player and drummer – strikes up.
“We are very conscious of sound levels,” says a spokesman, who did not want to be named. ”We try to make it comfortable for people and we are certainly not loud, loud, loud.”
This congregation likes to enjoy music rather than being bombarded.
The community church has a congregation of babies to the elderly. “And we aren't in the business of blowing them out of the room.”
In fact, the Bethlehem Community Church claims to be an oasis – people driven from other churches by excessive volumes of worship and praise are gravitating there.
Moderating sound is good for business.