The Changing Religious Landscape And Future Of Southern Gospel Music

PF_15.05.05_RLS2_1_310pxThis week, the Pew Research Center released a new study/poll looking at the changing religious landscape in the United States.  The news actually hit all the media outlets and discussions were had on right-wing blogs and left-wing blogs.

I wanted to bring this study around to how it may affect the future of Southern Gospel music.  This study was compiled by Pew Research in 2014 and was the first study of its kind since 2007.  First, a few key points about the study.

  1. In a matter of seven years, those who identify as Christian in the United States dropped from 78.4% to 70.6%; that equates to roughly 5 million people.  These are individuals who may have once identified as Christian and now classify themselves as unaffiliated.
  2. The unaffiliated group consists of atheists, agnostics or those who consider religion ‘nothing in particular’.  The largest demographic to classify themselves as unaffiliated are millennials (those born after 1985).  It was also noted that more men than women are also part of the unaffiliated group.  This group also skyrocketed to second among all groups, surpassing those who classify as catholic or mainline protestant.  The unaffiliated group is now second only to those who classify as evangelical protestant.
  3. Evangelical protestants dropped from 26.3% to 25.4%.  This group (I am assuming) probably make up 90% of the Southern Gospel listener base.
  4. Forecasts are that another study in seven years could move unaffiliated individuals to be the largest group in the United States and those who classify as Christian to drop even further from the 70.6% found in this current study.

So, how does this effect Southern Gospel music?  Let’s take a look.

  1. As I mentioned above, those who classify as evangelical protestant probably make up at least 90% (if not more) of the Southern Gospel listener base.  Continued declines in this group will directly affect the number of individuals there are to attend Southern Gospel concert events.
  2. As demographics shift and the baby boomer generation passes, this could be the death knell for Southern Gospel music.

Is there anything artists can do to appeal to a wider audience (beyond the evangelical base)?

  1. Absolutely.  Bill Gaither has already been successful at this with his Homecoming events and his constant TV exposure.  For anyone that has ever attended a Gaither event, you know the audience is made up of more than just the evangelical denominations; as catholics and mainline protestants also attend.
  2. Artists can get back to the music/entertainment aspect of Southern Gospel music and allow the words to speak without all the ‘whipped up spirituality’.

Thoughts?  How do you see this shift in the religious landscape of the United States affecting Southern Gospel music or do you believe it will have any affect?

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One thought on “The Changing Religious Landscape And Future Of Southern Gospel Music

  1. I know this is probably not going to be a popular viewpoint; however, I too was a huge lover of southern gospel (and still am to a point). I was one of those weekend warriors in a tri-state band. The reason I started branching away from SG is simply the lack of talent of the “performers”. I am not saying that there are not decent singers out there, but, in my opinion, the SG genre is loaded with singers that are mediocre at best. There are a few singers who are power house singers and can showcase their obvious talent and can actually sing on pitch. But those are the anomaly and do not represent the typical SG singer. Most of the SG “artists” are very much the singers that I would expect to hear on Sunday morning in any church across America. The only difference is that these people expect to make a living at doing what they don’t have the talent to do. Unfortunately, I do not intend to pay the price for an album or a concert ticket only to hear moderate singers who many times struggle to even stay on pitch….even on their albums!
    SG is on its way out, in my opinion, not because of the decline of church attendance (although that may be a part of it), I believe SG is on its way out because of the lack of vocal talent. I wont even speak to the point of having to pay to listen to canned music. Gaither has saved SG music in my opinion, but if SG does not start showing real solid talent, then Gaither only postponed the inevitable. If SG doesn’t wake up from the coma of talent less participants then the only thing left is to pull the plug. Sorry if I offend, but reality sometimes hurts.

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