October 15th, 2010
06:35 AM ET
By Steve Almasy, CNN
CNN's Soledad O'Brien looks at how some are fighting debt from the pulpit in "Almighty Debt: A Black in America Special," premiering at 9 p.m. ET on October 21.
African-Americans go to religious services and pray daily more often than the general American population, studies show. And while those rates seem to be holding steady, the places of worship and the size of the groups are changing, says one expert.
Many people continue to attend mega churches, but the small communal gathering is rebounding in popularity, Teresa L. Fry Brown said.
“There is an increase now in house churches,” said Fry Brown, the director of black church studies at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia. “They kind of faded for about 20 years. But now more people are having small gatherings. And they may not even call it church - like Bible studies in homes.”
There are a couple of reasons for the change, she said. Some churchgoers find the bigger houses of worship too restrictive or simply don’t trust the leadership of the church.
She said people are meeting more often in club houses, homes and restaurants. And the gatherings aren’t always sponsored through a church.
In 2009, the Pew Research Center reported that 53 percent of African-Americans attended church regularly, compared with 39 percent of all Americans.
Fry Brown, who is an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal church, said those numbers seem to be “holding,” even as the role of the black church is changing.
The black church has always been a place where a person could go without being judged, she said.
“There’s still that yearning to be with brothers and sisters who can love you no matter who you are,” she said. “I think that’s a consistent piece that has kept things going. That’s not a panacea because there are areas of woundedness in black religiosity.
“But there’s something about walking into the doors of a black church where I am accepted as myself that still rings.”
For many years, the black church was the hub for teaching, training, employment opportunities as well as acting as a community and social justice center.
“It was those kinds of things, but as more options opened some of that was diffused in some places,” she said, noting the increase in choices came after the civil rights movement of the 1960s. “But now there is some kind of movement to re-establish that in some areas.”
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