Southern Gospel Music’s Audience (?)

Southern Gospel Music’s Audience (?)

I’d like to pose a bit of a philosophical question that is bound to open a can of worms, but I feel is very much worth discussing…

Who should the primary audience be for southern gospel music? Is it church folks who are already saved, or is it folks who are lost and need to hear the good news of Jesus?

I’ll bet most knee-jerk answers will be, “Well, obviously, the lost! It’s a ministry that should be reaching out to those who aren’t saved and don’t have a relationship with God.”

Ok, let’s go with that for a moment.

If you are standing on a beach, and you see a child being pulled out into the ocean, what’s the best way to help them? Do you stand on the beach and scream at them to swim harder? Is it their fault if they get swept out to sea because they didn’t try hard enough? Personally, I would hope the best answer is, “Get out there and help them!”

Let’s look at lost souls as children being pulled out to sea. They’re not going to be rescued by us standing on the safety of a beach. They need someone coming to them, reaching out to try to save them.

And yet, when it comes to southern gospel music, we ALWAYS see arguments that ultimately amount to, “You need to do things OUR way.” For example, one comment I read recently among the plethora of southern gospel Facebook groups ended like this (grammer left intact): “people need uplifting and anointed singing…not a show!”

I responded to this individual by saying, Ok, so YOU “…don’t want a show. What about the audiences that DO want a show? Are they there for the wrong reasons as well?” My question was originally aimed at, for lack of a better description, “church folks” who still enjoy clean, wholesome entertainment with a Christian message, but let’s take it a step further and include non-church folks, or “lost” individuals.

Shouldn’t our ministry be about reaching those people first? If so, why are we CONSTANTLY being told to stay on the beach (i.e., “Look this way, sing this style, don’t do this, don’t do that, etc.”)? People are being swept out to sea, and we’re too busy arguing about the swimwear of the people on dry land.

This analogy leads me to the conclusion that, if we’re being 100% honest, the primary audience for southern gospel music is indeed the saved. We’re so concerned about not upsetting the people in the church who like their music a VERY certain way.

And from a strictly business standpoint, this is pretty much a no-brainer. Look at the numbers. The people who purchase southern gospel music are, by and large, what we would consider “the saved.” Of COURSE, we’re going to want to keep that audience happy. Why rock the boat and risk losing your livelihood?

With that in mind, however, why do we keep calling southern gospel music a “ministry”? I mean, yes, we’re ministering to the church, but at the same time, we’re not exactly chomping at the bit to leave the beach, so to speak. When SG audiences critique artists for not doing things the way THEY like (i.e., “Their music is too worldly”), they are, in essence, saying, “I’m more concerned about what I enjoy than I am about reaching someone else.”

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying audiences shouldn’t be allowed to express their opinions (I’m doing so right now by writing this), nor should they be prohibited from enjoying a certain style of music. I’m just saying that, maybe it’s time we start being honest with ourselves and admit that, as an audience, we want our SG artists to “stay on the beach” and let the lifeguards handle the saving.

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Kyle Boreing

Kyle has been writing for MusicScribe since 2008. He is a musician, producer, arranger, and occasional quartet singer, who pays way too much attention to recordings. He is an alumni of Stamps-Baxter School of Music and has shared the stage with many different artists. He also really likes movies that are "so bad they're good." Visit his website at, or follow him on Twitter @kyleboreing.

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  1. Reply March 09, 12:35 #1 The Fosters

    Kyle, I for one appreciate your probing and thought-provoking questions and posts. In the end we are benefited by thinking carefully about these issues.

    I think an element of this conversation is the element of “separation” – that the gospel message should not be made to look or sound like the messages of the world. It should be – must be – different. And that is a valid discussion to have.

    At the same time, a cookie-cutter format for SG music is a problem. It limits us creatively, musically, and in ministry. I am a huge proponent for getting gospel music out of its box and sharing it unashamedly with audiences beyond the traditional convention crowds.

    Thanks for writing. We appreciate your perspective.

  2. Reply March 10, 00:19 #2 scottysearan

    Thanks for presenting a thought provoking topic.

    Let’s look at this from a spiritual viewpoint.

    Is there anywhere in the scriptures that it says to use singing as a soul winning tool?

    I cannot seem to find it.

    You don’t find Jesus having a concert to draw the people to hear his message.

    How did Jesus get the attention of the people? By meeting the needs of the people.

    What were the needs of the people?

    They were sick and he healed them.

    They were hungry and he fed them.

    They were lost and he forgave their sins.

    The were demon possessed and addicted and he delivered them.

    They were on the sea about to sink and Jesus came to them and calm the storm.

    Now where do you read about singing? In the Psalms and talking about singing hymns.

    You also read about it a couple of times from Apostle Paul.

    Let’s read them.

    Ephesians 5:19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;

    Collosians 3:16-17

    16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.

    17 And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.

    In none of these verses does it say to use singing to win the lost.

    What does it say to do? Use singing to praise, to teach and to admonish the saints.

    There is a lot of the secular culture in our churches that is not scriptural.

    We are taught that the church is a hospital for the sinner man to be made clean. But that is not the main purpose of the church. The church coming together as group of believing people is to equip the saints, who are the believers, to go into the world and win the lost.

    Let’s look at one more scripture.

    1 Corinthians 2:1-5

    1And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God.

    2For I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified.

    3And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.

    4And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:

    5That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.

    Paul said he presented the gospel in the demonstration of the Holy Spirit and the power of the Holy Spirit.

    Apostle Paul did not say have a concert or a big musical program to draw the the sinner man, but he did as Jesus did. He met the needs of the people.

    Man’s wisdom says have an excellent program that will entertain and people be pleased that they come. But that is not necessarily the way the Bible speaks, because it speaks about being a sword and piercing and that does not seem pleasing.

    Now this article is targeted to the Southern Gospel Music singers and fans.

    Why do we want Southern Gospel Music to change?

    We want bigger crowds.

    I am 68 and I remember those days of thousands going to a football field and listening to Southern Gospel Music. I remember seeing the auditoriums filled when the Southern Gospel groups came to town. But what I also remember about not seeing many young people at those sings because they did not want to go. I took my children with me to sing the sings till they were 16 years old, whether they wanted to or not and my children love the Southern Gospel Music.

    There are many genres of Christian music available today. I don’t believe we need to change Southern Gospel to have bigger crowds.

    The one thing I see that has hurt Southern Gospel is the fact of not having a live band while they sing. Yes it is good to have a good presentation with good sound. But I believe southern Gospel shot itself in the foot when they quit having live bands.
    The Cathedrals had a piano and a bass and good singers. They were good singers. There records did have the superb production. But they used for the most part simple music in their concerts.

    If a group wants to sing contemporary, then go sing contemporary. But don’t change Southern Gospel music.

    • Reply March 10, 07:32 Kyle Boreing Author

      So, are you saying that SG music can’t (or shouldn’t) be used as a ministry?

      And on a similar note, do you think SG music should belong to the church exclusively as an audience?

      • Reply March 10, 10:30 David Bruce Murray

        Music should absolutely be used as a soul-winning tool. That is biblical.

        In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, the Apostle Paul listed several ways he related to different groups. He said “to the Jews, I became like the Jews,” for example, and “to the weak I have become weak.” He then concluded that list by saying “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some.”

        Yes, he really said “ALL possible means.” “All” includes music…and there are examples of music being used in the bible, like David playing for Saul, although the outcome there wasn’t positive.

        Sure, music, like anything, can be used for good or bad. It just seems rather self-defeating to say we will only tolerate music sung for God if it “doesn’t look like the world” or if it’s exclusively restricted to praise or only in a style that WE personally enjoy, be that hymns or Southern Gospel style or whatever the case may be. A particular type of music is not better simply because you enjoy it. It’s only better if it’s following the suggestion in Psalm 33:3 to “play skillfully.”

  3. Reply March 10, 20:21 #3 Michael McIlwain

    I think you make a valid point about the focus of our ministry. I do know many young people who love many aspects of classic gospel music when it is sung with passion and professionalism. SG was innovative for many years. In the early 70s the groups were singing I Believe in Music and Bridge Over Troubled Water in order to relate to the young people. Today, we don’t need to cover secular tunes, but we need to connect with people who are doing a good job of ministering to lost world. I’ve connected with many young christian hip hop artists. They support my type of music and I support them. Some our more progressive groups should connect with music leaders in their local community and get on some programs with these groups.

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