As the music industry faces historic economic challenges, some simply do not survive. Record labels have ceased operations. Songwriters and artists have found other jobs. And now, the Gospel Music Association, a massive organization that has served them all since 1964, is on the ropes as well.

The GMA is an organization for just about anyone associated with Christian music of all styles, from hip hop to rock to pop to southern gospel. The GMA is responsible for three premier events each year: GMA Week, the Dove Awards, and a music camp of sorts called GMA Immerse.

"The GMA, like many other organizations and businesses, has taken hits during this prolonged downturn in our economy," Ed Leonard, chairman of the GMA's board of directors, said in a recent statement. "It has forced the GMA Board to evaluate our association's current business model and to acknowledge that in order to meet current obligations and needs of our members, and to ensure GMA's vitality in the future; we needed to make some significant changes."

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and the GMA has undergone a complete restructuring, including the recent resignation of longtime president and CEO John Styll, who will remain a board member. "There is no way to adequately summarize John's contributions to GMA," said Leonard. "His action of leaving his position for the benefit of the association tells the story better than my words could."

Another desperate measure turned into a celebration of the sort of community that is only fostered in Christian music. Monday night's "Concert of the Decade" featured an all-star lineup performing live from the Loveless Barn in Nashville. Five-time Dove Award Producer of the Year Brown Bannister produced the event which featured Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Casting Crowns, MercyMe, and a half-dozen other prominent acts and speakers. The concert served as a fundraiser for those in person, with $1,000 tickets and a live auction, but was streamed online for free. Fourteen thousand people tuned in, crashing the server at one point.

The broadcast and the concert itself were far from glitzy. Instead, the feel was like an informal gathering of friends celebrating a community built on the gospel. Transitions from one act to the next were clunky, and the sound mix was erratic, but no one seemed too concerned. As Smith began a medley to close the show, he played three notes on a keyboard before looking up and starting to sing into a microphone stand with no mic. After his set, he announced, "I think I'm supposed to have everybody come up, but I really don't know what we're gonna do …" He improvised and led the room in a rousing singing of "Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone)."

Every artist had something to say about the power of Christian music, and many spoke specifically about the GMA. Kirk Franklin pointed out its cultural diversity. "This organization has done more than any other Christian organization I've been a part of to reach out and be diverse. This has been a community that has always made me and my friends feel at home and feel welcome." Martha Munizzi mentioned its reach. "Don't kid yourselves. There are a lot of secular artists that know about gospel music. It's their church." David Nasser recalled how his Muslim origins required that he learn about Christianity from the ground up, and much of that foundation came from music. And Eddie DeGarmo reassured the audience that the GMA is committed to hosting the Dove Awards in 2010. "This is not the beginning of the end of the GMA," he proclaimed. "It's the beginning of the future of the GMA."

More than 'saving the GMA'

In the end, Monday's event did more than raise money to "save the GMA." For an organization whose goal is to expose and promote the gospel through music, the concert helped expose and promote just what the GMA does—build and nurture artists, provide access to health insurance, legal assistance, website development, and other elements that every struggling musician faces. The community reaches far beyond artists to people in radio, retail, publishing, writing, management, and promotion, to name a few.

The future of the GMA is no more certain than the future of the music industry. Most people in the industry recognize that restructuring was necessary, and applaud the movement toward a more volunteer-based staff. Most also have a story or two to tell about how the GMA has helped equip them for ministry. In desperate times, those stories are turning into tangible support to keep the GMA alive.

Styll's decision to leave the GMA was entirely his own: "We're implementing a plan that I drafted and recommended, and we all agree this is a fiscally responsible direction to go," he said in a statement. "We've been tightening our belts for some time in this economy and now we're at a point where I think it's wise to take my own salary off the books. I remain a permanent board member of the GMA and look forward to continuing our work."