Worship with People with Hearing Loss

June 13th, 2011

Did you know that about 10 percent of the people in the United States have some kind of hearing loss? There are 30 million Americans who are deaf, hard of hearing, late deafened, and deaf blind. Chances are, you have some of these people in your church, and some may be missing what is going on. American Sign Language is used by approximately 1 to 2 million people, but most people with hearing loss do not use sign language; and for many, understanding worship can be a struggle due to the auditory nature of worship services. Here are some tips on how to improve access to sound for those who do not use American Sign Language:


  • Ask God for guidance, leadership, and resources for this ministry.


  • Establish a task force to study the auditory needs in your congregation and community.
  • Interview people with hearing loss, and learn what they need.


  • Install a quality listening system (FM and Infrared are the best).
  • Have the people with hearing loss test and approve these systems before the purchase is made.
  • Know how to work the equipment, and keep it regularly maintained.
  • Train ushers about the distribution of the headsets and receivers, and have spare batteries available.

Make visual

  • Print everything that is being spoken during the service (sermons, anthems, announcements, prayer concerns). Distribute the printed materials or project them using a video or overhead projector.
  • Real time captioning, computerized note taking, and C-Print can also be provided as a way of recording the spoken words of the service.
  • Use videotapes and DVDs that have captioning.
  • Make worship visually alive with banners, dance, drama, altar displays, art, clergy stoles, and PowerPoint presentations.


  • Get the word out about the auditory access you have in your church newsletter, newspaper advertisements, websites, and bulletins.


  • Empower people with hearing loss to serve in all areas of church life, and provide the necessary communication access.
  • Establish a support group for people with hearing loss to share access ideas and provide an accessible Bible study.
  • Use people with hearing loss to lead these groups, and encourage outside resources to come do presentations on the latest technologies, coping strategies, and pertinent reading materials.

Do you have a ministry with people who use American Sign Language? Many congregations across the United States provide sign language interpreters for their worship services. Here are some tips on recruitment of and support for sign language interpreters:

Qualifications of the Sign Language Interpreter

  • Employ someone who is in agreement with the beliefs of your church.
  • Be sure they are fluent in American Sign Language as well as in religious signing.
  • Encourage professional dress, timeliness, confidentiality, and dependability.

Establish a Sign Language Interpreter Personnel Committee

  • Invite deaf people and key leaders of the church to serve on this committee (including the pastor and a finance committee representative).
  • Draw up a contact that includes: salary, policies on vacations, procedures for hiring substitutes, and what to do if there are no deaf consumers at worship.
  • Have an annual evaluation and a quarterly meeting to discuss the ministry and any issues that arise.

Tools and Placement

  • Provide the necessary tools (Bible, hymnal, sturdy music stand, and flashlight if there is any reason for the lights to be lowered during the service).
  • Provide seating for the interpreter and deaf consumers in a well-lit area of the sanctuary (preferably in the front, close to the pulpit) with a plain background.
  • Provide worship materials ahead of time for preparation (bulletin, anthems, announcements, prayer concerns).
  • Be available to explain any difficult theological concepts.


Additional Resources:

Interpreting at Church: A Paradigm for Sign Language Interpreters by Leo Yates, Jr.

Signs of Solidarity: Ministries with People Who are Deaf, Late-Deafened, Hard of Hearing and Deaf-Blind by Nancy Kinsley, editor (available through Health and Welfare - GBGM - 475 Riverside Drive, Rm 330, NY, NY 10115

Deaf Ministry: Make a Joyful Silence by Peggy A. Johnson

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