When praise bands rock, some choose to roll... away.
Melbourne, FL (Florida Today) -- Just as the Bible says in Psalms 98:4, baby boomer Judy Bunn is all for making a joyful noise unto the Lord.
But her auditory adulation stops when church music is so loud that she starts to worry about its damaging effects — and when her complaints "fall on deaf ears."
Similar concerns are reported by U.S. churchgoers from coast to coast, especially as houses of worship add or enhance services geared toward younger people.
That's bothersome to Bunn, who has walked away from worship in Brevard and in her previous home in North Carolina, where she once attended a church that offered earplugs at the door.
"Given the frequent concerns that are expressed about the loss of hearing that the younger generation is now experiencing, it's sad to think the churches may be inadvertently contributing to it," said Bunn, who now — earplugs in place — goes to a church in Melbourne.
"It wouldn't be so bad if this was only occurring in one or two churches but, unfortunately, the problem is widespread."
So just how loud is too loud when the hymn is for Him?
If earplugs are in a basket by the door, that's a strong clue the volume needs to come down, said Tom Kraueter, executive director of Training Resources in Hillsboro, Mo.
Kraueter's Christian ministry includes traveling nationwide to offer sound-level advice to churches of diverse denominations.
And some of those churches really do have an earful of problems, said Kraueter, who suggests that all churches who play music invest in a decibel meter and use it.
Sounds louder than 80 decibels can potentially be dangerous, he says, especially at extended periods of time.
For comparison, back in 1972, the Guinness Book of World Records named Deep Purple the "world's loudest band" after a concert in London was charted at 117 decibels, leaving three fans unconscious. That's almost quiet compared to a 1984 show by metal band Manowar, charted by Guinness at 129.5 decibels.
Simply put, the higher the volume, the less time it takes to damage hearing.
Just as denominations are diverse, so are worship styles and preferences. How do churches balance the need to appeal to one and all while not losing the universal message they’re trying to deliver? By Craig Rubadoux, Caroline Perez, Britt Kennerly.
Those who've studied the phenomenon, including Kraueter, agree that whether church music is joyful or painful can, to some degree, be a matter of personal taste or age.
Younger churchgoers aren't as likely to be shouting "Turn it down." Bunn, who's in her 50s, admits that she was not a concertgoer as a teen and doesn't care for loud music.
But when real damage to a congregation's hearing is possible, Kraueter said, the conversation should be about stewardship, not taste.
"As Christians, we are to be good stewards of everything God has given us and that includes our eardrums," he said. "Putting people on the pain threshold — that's just wrong."
Technical issues, experts agree, can play a huge role in how music is received and perceived.
Even if the speakers are great, one Brevard minister said, the sound coming from them might be controlled by people who are enthusiastic but have no experience in determining suitable music levels.
Often, "the most important news in the world is going through the worst sound systems," run by people who have "absolutely no idea what they're doing," said the Rev. David Jahn of Advent Lutheran Church of Melbourne.
Jahn, 58, has an unusual take on what's loud vs. what's acceptable at his church, where six different services are geared to divergent music and worship styles, from rockin' to refined.
For 10 years, Jahn toured with a Christian rock band as a bass player (he plays lead guitar now, too) and he is also a former electrical engineer who specialized in sound.
That comes in handy at the 9:30 a.m. service called The Ledge, which "incorporates Christian rock music with Lutheran grace to create an atmosphere where people can feel free to come as they are."
The technical team at Advent "knows quite accurately what sound levels will be a problem," Jahn said.
"We have a lot of elderly folks who just can't stand it when it's loud," he said. "The interesting thing is, at the 9:30 service, the average age is probably in the mid-30s. But there are a couple of dozen senior folks who love that service."
For some, music is a big part of feeling in the presence of God, Jahn said. And while very formal, classical music and formal liturgy would be an "absolute turnoff" to some; for others, it's "absolutely essential."
"We really kind of cover both ends of the spectrum to make worship acceptable to as many as possible," Jahn said.
"If they come to the 9:30 service and don't like loud music, they probably won't come back. It's edgy. It's pretty loud."
Several other Brevard churches say they, too, check decibel levels to assure they're not damaging anyone's hearing.
Sound is taken "very seriously" at Calvary Chapel of Melbourne, said Melody Glover, senior director of communications and church development.
"We have the level of our sound set to balance the energy of the music, so we don't lose its effectiveness and message but not so loud as to generate a lot of complaints," Glover said.
"On the occasion that we do get a complaint we offer areas in the sanctuary where the music is not quite as loud. In addition, our Sunday 8:30 (a.m.) service sound level is run at a slightly lower volume."
At New Shiloh Christian Center in Melbourne, band members arrive at 5:45 a.m. Sunday to prepare for morning services that start at 8 a.m. said Johnathan Gordon, leader of the music ministry.
Two saxophones. Drums. Guitar. Keyboards. Organ. While other church members are still sleeping, the musicians check vocals. Mikes. Sound levels.
"When you have an elderly crowd and young people, too, the young people want it higher and the elderly want it lower," Gordon said.
"So finding that balance is very important, but you're never going to please everybody."
And at Shiloh, there's no distinction between "modern" and "traditional" services.
"For us, we just kind of have church," Gordon said. "We're watching the flow, the dynamics of the room, to be prepared for anything."
Bunn just wants a place to sing praises where she can listen to the music without earplugs, or feel the bass thump in her chest, or see church members of any age grimacing.
Explanations given Bunn for loud volume have ranged from "We need to play it loud so that we can attract the younger generation" to "The congregation won't sing if they think the person next to them can hear them — consequently, the music must be loud enough that no one can hear each other sing."
She hopes more churches will hear the message that sometimes, a joyful noise is just that: noise.
"I don't see young people not coming to a church because music's not loud enough," she said.
"But I do see older people, whose hearing might be more sensitive because of damage they've already suffered, not attending a church because it's too loud. A church that welcomes young people is wonderful, but if they're excluding older people by doing it — there just has to be a middle ground."