A letter to church leaders:
“So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” –Romans 10:17
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, “approximately 17% of American adults report some degree of hearing loss”. As an example, for the Christian population in the United States, that would equate to around 48 million individuals with hearing loss. Personally, I identify with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS). Translated to the LCMS population, over 340,000 members likely have some degree of hearing loss. At my home church in Springfield, Missouri, it is estimated that 136 people of the 800 members have hearing loss (whether diagnosed or undiagnosed, treated or untreated). Hearing loss can range in severity. Some types of loss can be very mild, causing little interruption to everyday communication and interactions, while other loss is more severe; making all words sound muddled and jumbled. Unfortunately, regardless of the severity of hearing loss, simple amplification (turning the sound up) is rarely an effective solution in a church environment.
Churches are notorious for beautifully reverberant environments that enhance organ acoustics while destroying any chance of understanding the soloist. Add in a few other necessary disruptors—the person behind you fiddling with their bulletin, a person’s cell phone vibrating across the aisle and a baby crying at the front of the church—and even the normal hearing member struggles to hear the words from the pulpit. How can you, as church leaders, ensure that members hear the word of God without removing hymnals, banning cell phones and sending all the kids to the nursery?
A hearing loop is an assistive technology that connects a listener directly to the sound system of a church. It involves a physical wire being installed underneath flooring in order to encircle the room. This wire allows for sound to be transmitted
electromagnetically. Once this wire is installed, a hearing aid wearing member simply presses a button on the back of their aids to connect to the loop. The hearing aids just need a T-coil (about 80% of hearing aids have T-coils) to be compatible with the system. [Note for hearing aid wearers: ask your audiologist if your hearing aids have a T-coil. If so, ask them to include a T-coil program, which will allow you to connect to all public spaces with a loop installed. Spaces that are loops are identified with the symbol to the right.]
When the member enters a looped environment, they can enter the T-coil program by pressing a button on their hearing aids allowing them to connect directly to the sound source. So instead of their hearing aids amplifying everything in the environment (bulletins, kids, cell phones), it connects directly to the sound source (pastor, reader, soloist, etc.). Non hearing aid wearers can also use the loop, connecting through a receiver with headphones.
As stated in Matthew 10:17, “He who has ears, let him hear.” A loop is simply an assistive technology that is allowing the entire church population to hear the word each week. Just as you provide large print bulletins, hymnals and bibles to those with visual impairments, the loop is an important step to making sure people of all conditions are able to equally access the word.
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” –Matthew 10:17
The loop is not free, it does cost money based on the size of the church or space. Below are some resources to begin researching the costs and benefits of installing this type of assistive technology. If you are a church leader, assess the needs of your congregation. If you are hard-of-hearing, reach out to all organizations and activities that you frequent. If you attend church weekly, advocate for a better way to hear God’s word. If you are a patron of the local arts, request their consideration of a hearing loop. In some states and cities, there are accessibility grants available for these types of requests.
If the loop is not an option available to your church at this time, consider other ways to include your hard-of-hearing members:
- Consider printing off a script of the sermon and making it available at the beginning of the service.
- Avoid holding Bible classes in gyms or largely reverberant areas (as echoes can be really challenging for the hard-of-hearing to decipher).
- Reserve front rows (not a problem in Lutheran churches) for individuals with hearing loss to be closer to the pulpit, allowing for them to better see the pastor’s face and be likely further from the kids’ section.
- Keep areas well lit and face the person you’re talking to. We all use a lot of facial cues to fill in any auditory holes we miss.
- Minimize background noise and find ways to make the church less reverberant.
Thank you for your prayerful consideration of a hearing loop in your place of worship.
Although hearing loss varies for each individual, there are a number of hearing loss simulators to give the normal hearing a glimpse of difficulties individuals with hearing loss experience.
For more information about installing a hearing loop in your place of worship, speak with a local audiologist. In addition, there are a number of resources available online to begin your research: