Songs of Praise aims to combat falling audience

A Salvation Army training camp will feature in the first episode. Picture: Rob McDougall

A Salvation Army training camp will feature in the first episode. Picture: Rob McDougall

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BBC’s Songs of Praise is to include regular services from a variety of faiths for the first time due to a declining audience of traditional Anglican followers.

The country’s flagship Christian music show currently 
predominantly features Anglican congregations. The revamp, starting from next Sunday, will broadcast from multiple locations each week, including Pentecostal, Roman Catholic and Salvation Army churches.

Alongside traditional hymns, music and readings the programme will also feature magazine style reports on topical issues facing the Christian faith.

Aaqil Ahmed, the BBC’s head of religion, said he hoped that transforming the 53-year-old series would attract new audiences, including British immigrants.

“For a good decade now the audience numbers have been in decline,” Mr Ahmed said. “That’s not because it’s not very well made. The reality is that it’s a society issue.

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“We don’t have the numbers of people in their mid-fifties who would historically have had the same kind of interest and knowledge and desire that we need to replenish the audience. So the option is, let that continue and see audiences dwindle beyond a level that would make it quite difficult, or do something about it.”

He added: “Because of immigration you’ve got significant numbers of people coming in from Africa and eastern Europe, you’ve got growth in Catholicism because of this.

“The numbers are growing, but they are not the same necessarily as the traditional Songs of Praise audience. Songs of Praise has evolved over the years and now it is even more important that it reflects Christianity across the whole of the United Kingdom as we see it today. From the emerging black majority, Pentecostal and eastern European Catholic Churches to, of course, Anglican worship, the updated version of Songs of Praise will be going all out to ensure that more viewers see themselves well represented.”

While the show currently broadcasts from non-Anglican churches only occasionally, from Sunday it will offer “more diversity of Christian faith”.

The first episode will be presented by Connie Fisher, the Welsh singer who won the BBC One show How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?, and will include a segment presented by Ade Adepitan, a Paralympian.

It will comprise seven songs broadcast from different venues, including a Catholic cathedral, a Pentecostal church, and a Salvation Army training college.

Church of Scotland places of worship are featured by the programme already, with Dunfermline Abbey and Dunblane Cathedral filmed in July.

Last night, a BBC spokeswoman said the broadcaster had not received any complaints about the changes, and added: “It’s a very positive thing, instead of focusing on one area of Christianity, we are representing the broad Christian community that is across the UK.

“It will still be relevant to Church of England worshippers and will focus on them but will provide an opportunity for other Christians to be represented and have their music played.

Songs of Praise will continue to focus on the religious theme in words and music.”

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