Developing Cultural Competence Through Cultural Consciousness (Part 3)

Written by on December 21, 2022


On the shift from hymns to modern gospel


Jacques expressed a need for balance between the use of hymns and modern gospel music in the church. In his view, millennials and subsequent generations deserve to know and should be able to experience the richness of hymns especially considering the fact that modern gospel has become sensationalized. As he stated, “just because you throw a name (Jesus) in there, doesn’t mean it has a message” (personal communication, November 9, 2020). The depth of the lyrics of modern gospel have become clouded by the sensationalism of ‘performances’ rather than reinforced by deep conviction, and singing from one’s core (Jacques A., personal communication, November 9, 2020).

Millennial (23 – 38 years old) + Generation Z (7 – 22 years old): Ava & Betty


On music exposure in church

A nondenominational millennial, Ava expressed appreciation for the simplicity and organized structure of hymns, having been raised from a Baptist denominational background: “It’s more organized, is easier to follow, it’s repetitive…And you can do whatever you want to. It’s like, you can even take it out of time.You can just be creative with it so I like it”  (Ava A., personal communication, November 5, 2020).

Betty, the Generation Z participant, also conveyed an affection for hymns: “I [love] the music [of]…the old school” (personal communication, November 5, 2020). However, while she is more drawn to the modern gospel, she can appreciate hymns as well – it all depends on the instrumentation.

On attention-grabbing aspects of church music & stylistic preferences

For Ava and Betty, the energy and instrumentation of modern gospel makes this subgenre more appealing. Both referenced an adrenaline rush that accompanies the style versus that of hymns. In the words of Ava, “[the energy of modern gospel] really gets you going real fast. It’s real hype” (personal communication, November 5, 2020). It is the instrumentation that plays a significant role in the delivery and receiving of the message within the lyrics.

Both ladies expressed a wish for balance between older hymns and modern gospel in today’s black churches. Ava elaborated on her viewpoint: if people would translate the atmosphere of hymns–ushering in the Holy Spirit–and apply it to modern gospel-singing, “it wouldn’t matter who’s on the stage, the Lord would just flow” (personal communication, November 5, 2020).

Final Thoughts


Although a very small sample size, I was surprised how everyone’s responses differed from my preconceived notions and expectations about generational church music preferences. It was interesting to see a few areas of commonality. One example of this is the appreciation that the older participants had toward modern gospel, as well as the respect expressed by the Millennial and Gen Z interviewees toward older hymns. Also, I learned how overall instrumentation could play a role in reception of older hymns for the younger generations and reception of modern gospel for older generations. Personally, I could see myself refining this into a bigger study in the future. 



The process of becoming culturally competent–as people and as music therapists–seems like a daunting task. However, we can begin our journey by developing this self-awareness and looking within–examining how our own cultures shape us. Becoming culturally competent relies on our ability to first develop cultural consciousness. From there, we can learn, grow, and change for the better.

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