October 15th, 2010
06:35 AM ET

Church expert: African-Americans’ place of worship changing

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.”

- CNN.com

Filed under: Church • Houses of worship

soundoff (142 Responses)
  1. Joan Kuree

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    November 13, 2010 at 7:11 am |
  2. nunu

    the whole truth needs to educate himself, not through school, but some serious self educating. Yes there were and are many whites who shed blood and tears for the rights of african americans, however you speak as if we should be grateful. we should but you act as if whites had a choice. they did and still do but if you believe the christian rhetoric that is spewed on a daily basis we are all brothers and sisters and there is only one right and one wrong. whites didnt give us any thing but 50 lashes if we looked them in the eye you helping us in the civil rights movement was simply cleaning up the mess you started in th first place. all those saying blacks are racist because of all black churches are morons. blacks are the most welcoming group on this planet. when hispanics or asians stay together it is unity yet when blacks do its racist, no its not. if we were so racist when whites first stepped on the shores of west africa they would have been sent to where they came from.

    October 20, 2010 at 9:49 pm |
  3. sharon phillips

    Just another means of a getting noticed. How does soledad know so much about what's going on in gods sanctuary? This is satans tactic too out number gods believers. We are not perfect. There is no difference between a small church than a mega church. God is everwhere. The pastor or preacher can't give us salvation. A church is where you go to fellowship with believers and continue to acknowledge christ and study his word to be ready to pass the good word that god is real and to minister to the broken hearted and non believer that jesus is the truth and the life.he is your bread when you are hungry and your water when you are thirsty. There is only one way to christ. Again you don't go to church to be accepted and get religion you go because you have accepted christ as your saviour. It is a place of worship. I hope this email has reached a lost soul. No person place or thing has a heaven to put you in only jesus christ. To the lost soul out there I pray that you find peace and become to know christ. Just believe and keep the faith. There is no perfect church or human being but if you have sinned and confessed to christ and believe god is a forgiven god. Just trust him.

    October 18, 2010 at 11:34 pm |
  4. Varaz

    Since when could one go to the black church without being judged??? This must be a recent change!

    October 17, 2010 at 5:12 pm |
  5. whiteGrl

    I think the media is on an anti Christian-Muslim mission. Black churhes are not more insular than a Jewish synagogue. To each their own.

    October 17, 2010 at 3:21 pm |
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