In Durham, North Carolina, in an article dated January 13, 2013 on ABC13.com, nine families living in The Hills at Southpoint subdivision filed a lawsuit against the NewHope Church who refused to run down the music after they talked to the church about it. The neighbors said the church performances and practice sessions at the church are “akin to rock concerts.”
Police cited the church under Durham’s noise ordinance for sound considered “unreasonable and disturbing.” The church claims it’s tried to work with its neighbors by soundproofing walls, lowering sound levels and changing worship times. These changes were apparently not enough for neighbors who live near the church. They claim the church leaders have been hostile to their complaints and continue to pump out music levels that invade their homes – affecting their ability to sleep and enjoy their neighborhood. They are seeking a restraining order against the church and punitive damages.
While performing a Google search on the words “church noise complaints,” it resulted in 8,330,000 related results. Case after case could be cited in this blog article about the spreading tide of church noise, but we think you get the picture of what is going on in many cities and neighborhoods.
Some people have taken to the world wide web to make complaints against particular churches.
Here’s a church noise related post from an irritated neighbor on a website called, Ask Meta Filter.com:
“We live right across the street from a very loud church in the Hayes Valley neighborhood of San Francisco. At first we thought it was kind of nice being near a place of worship, but now we’re kind of fed up. There are very loud services with singing and all sorts of instruments that are probably amplified, as well as random drumming practices. It goes on for hours (they’ve been playing for at least 4 hours just today), and it’s on weekdays and weekends. The services seem to be kind of irregular; it’s not like we know it’s going to be bad 6-8pm every Wednesday. I work from home, and it’s nice to work in cafes, but I hate the feeling like I can’t enjoy my own home. Plus, not being able to relax in our living room on Sunday evenings can be kind of a bummer.
What is the best way to approach this? We called in a noise complaint once – it was 10pm on a Sunday and they had been going at it for 3 hours (plus they had a van idling outside for 40 minutes). But, the cops weren’t that helpful – they said they weren’t going to disrupt the church service (but that’s when it’s noisy!) and they were trying to stay on good terms with the churches. It’s also a gentrifying neighborhood, which may make things more complicated…”
Church Noise Decibel Levels
Typically, it is up to the church to decide what decibel level to play their music. Reach Communications Systems Engineer Marc C. Brown wrote a technical white paper report titled, “Measuring Acoustic Decibel Levels in Worship Services with Economical EPL Meters.” He recommends louder and more energetic worship service range from 95-100 decibels, a more sustained energetic worship service range from 90-95 decibels and formal music levels for a few minutes of about 80-90 decibels. In comparison, decibel levels at a rock concert can range from 120-140 decibels and sometimes higher. So church music noise can be substantial.
The term decibel is used for a wide variety of measurements in science and engineering, most prominently in acoustics and electronics. The decibel (sometimes shown as dB) is a logarithmic unit. You cannot add and subtract decibels like ordinary numbers. An increase of 3 decibels is a doubling of the “strength” of the sound. An increase of 10 decibels means the sound is 10 times as loud. For example, 70 decibels is 10 times as loud as 60 decibels. Sounds above 90 decibels of loudness or strength of sound vibration, may cause vibrations intense enough to damage the inner ear, especially if the sound continues for a long time.
The following are some typical decibel level comparisons of musical instruments sometimes used in modern day church music:
The Right Soundproofing Measures Will Work
More complex architectural designs commonly found in churches and places of worship normally require a systematic approach to soundproofing and acoustics. There are many acoustical soundproofing products available in the market today that can reduce church noise in the design stage and in existing buildings. In any sound reduction application, the entire interior surface area should be treated to be completely effective.
The voice of the church leader, the devotional music and instruments, and the collective fellowship and noise of hundreds of people contained within a place of worship all produce sound waves. Sound waves are like any form of energy. They will follow the course of least resistance to escape when they can. Noise and sound will infringe into the lives of your neighbors if it is not blocked, absorbed or deflected. Noise containment in churches and other places of worship requires attention to floors, walls and ceilings.
Ideally, soundproofing products should be specified into the design of a new church (see photograph above), however you can also add soundproofing materials to an existing church structure.
The benefits include:
· Reduction in overall levels of church noise
· Reduction in level of high decibel music noise that often escapes outside the church walls
· Improvement in the quality of sound for listeners in the church
· Reduction in background noise levels inside the church. The congregation can hear the messages clearer.
· A decrease in echoes provides higher quality sound when talking or having conversations
· Reduction in noise complaints by nearby neighbors.
Complaints, unhappy neighbors, law suits, legal fees, citations for nuisance issues, and a lack of peace of mind…these are not things that are typically associated with churches. Perhaps you may hear some new terminology thrown into your church leader’s standard vernacular: “Stand up and sing your praises mildly between 60-70 decibels. Or perhaps, dear God, give us strength and possibly even a sound level meter to help in our efforts of keeping the peace with thy neighbors and avoid violating and receiving citations for local nuisance ordinance 32.786.654.”