American Evangelicalism And The Future Of Southern Gospel Music

evangelicalOn January 12, 2017, I put up a poll asking my readers to choose the evangelical denomination with which they associate.  Some of you may have thought I have forgotten about that, but I haven’t.

The reason for the poll coincides with a periodic year-long commentary on American evangelicalism and the future of Southern Gospel music.

The next post on this commentary will take a look at the roots of American evangelicalism.  From there I want to approach how out of this religious culture, what we now know as Southern Gospel music was born.

I will take a look at how the Southern Gospel industry went from a wholesome Christian entertainment industry to the use of the ‘ministry’ label for artists to market themselves.  This transition occurred in the late 1960s, early 1970s.

I will close the commentary by discussing the American evangelical landscape in 2017 and how its loss of cultural influence will ultimately hinder the future of Southern Gospel music, unless the industry re-brands itself.


  • Baptist Affiliated Denominations = 48%
  • Pentecostal Affiliated Denominations = 22%
  • Other (Non-Affiliated) = 9%
  • Methodist = 6%
  • Mennonite = 4%
  • Anglican = 3%

3 thoughts on “American Evangelicalism And The Future Of Southern Gospel Music

  1. I have a theory – the shift began in part as self-preservation. Musical styles move in shifts. Gospel music was an acceptable form of mainstream entertainment in the 40’s and 50’s, often right along pop music (and working in tandem with country music). When doo-wop groups came into style (which were often quartet-based), gospel music adapted somewhat, but once the late 60’s pop style became more of experimental rock, gospel music went out of style in the mainstream. Groups couldn’t fill concert halls anymore except in specific markets.

    They COULD, however, fill churches, so that’s where they went, but in order for some churches to accept them, they had to become “ministries.” It also meant that they were now at the mercy of church leaderships in terms of what was and was not acceptable in their presentations. Based on the poll numbers above, it seems that the Baptists were the most open to having these groups in their churches (which is not a surprise by any means).

    Meanwhile, the artists that continued to adapt with the mainstream music styles were either blackballed or run out of the industry. The Oaks followed the mainstream lead and were still able to book large shows….until the audiences were told not to go anymore by the “ministries.” Being a form of entertainment became taboo. If you wanted to be a gospel artist, you better follow the ministry lead.

    The same cycle could be seen in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. CCM music was hot throughout the 90’s with dcTalk, Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, etc., until tastes shifted again. Smitty solved the slowing sales problem with his “Worship” album in 2001, and these former CCM bigshots started moving away from arenas and into churches. Chris Tomlin was on his way to becoming the next Steven Curtis Chapman, but he’s now the number one P&W artist, making a career out of adapting old hymns with modern bridges.

    Oddly enough, this transition to P&W led to a resurgence in popularity, with Tomlin routinely selling out arenas.

  2. I started attending the “all-night” singings at the world’s largest Masonic Temple in Detroit (in the 1960s) where Lloyd Orrell was the promoter and bringing in most of the major groups. Personally, I was most appreciative of the ministry aspects, even though I loved the entertainment aspects as well. But I honestly could never see the point of just being entertained if your heart wasn’t touched at the same time. So, I mostly appreciated the groups that had a heart-strings impact like the Rambos, Goodmans, Andrae Crouch and others.

    Speaking of the changing culture, when the Oak Ridge Boys first started to sing secular music, I went to one of their concerts. One of the Oaks took off his coat and threw it (kind of Elvis style). It was no big deal except a lady in the audience audibly yelled out “Take it off, take it all off.” I felt then and still feel that kind of thing, leaving gospel music for secular music, helped introduce and lower the standards of gospel music (Amy Grant, etc). I don’t judge them about whether they love the Lord, but I have always had more respect for the artists who were offered secular contracts and stuck with the gospel. As big as Dottie Rambo became, for example, her name would likely have become known to the entire nation, even to this day, had she accepted that Warner Brothers offer to sing R & B. Just saying I don’t think that God’s reckoning in the sky will be based on entertainment value. In gospel music, I really believe there is a higher calling. Thanks for listening to my viewpoint…

  3. When I sang with The Weatherfords they had a saying on their business cards. It said “Our purpose is not just entertainment, but entertainment with a purpose.” I for one am all for being entertained when I go see a group. It’s hard to listen to someone when there is no excitement in their singing. But you have to keep in mind what you’re singing and who you’re singing for. Otherwise it’s just entertainment without a purpose.

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