Southern Gospel Music’s Audience (?)

by Kyle Boreing | March 9, 2021 10:29 AM

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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