This 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Evangelical protestants dropped from 26.3% to 25.4%. This group (I am assuming) probably make up 90% of the Southern Gospel listener base.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)?
- 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.
- 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?