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. Sami

    ScottK- Oh yes there are other "gods" out there but only one TRUE GOD! Not putting anyone down for their beliefs so don't put me down for mine. And YES my name is spelled SAMI.....how can you compare the color of a fire engine to that of the Almighty God... Like comparing apples to oranges, dumb analogy! However when one doesn't know how to respond they tend to change the subject and try to make the other person look bad. May my God truly bless you and I mean that from the bottom of my heart!

    October 15, 2010 at 3:20 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      Sami, what do you mean "Oh yes there are other "gods" out there but only one TRUE GOD!"? if there are more than one God there cannot be only one true God, can there? How do you tell the difference between the Gods, or do you choose the one that best fits your mindset?

      October 15, 2010 at 3:35 pm |
    • ScottK

      @Sami – I was merely pointing out that your belief that a capital letter is what differentiates your God from someone elses god seems childish and silly to me. You claim to not put anyone down for their beliefs but then spout some nonsense about theres only one TRUE GOD! and "Almighty God" as if its your big brother come to beat me up for comparing him to a subjective color. It seems a proper analogy to me considering both come in all kinds of shades with no two people seeing or believing in the exact same color or diety. Prove to me you see the red fire truck the same way I do (im red green color different btw) , convince me your version of how you see red is the right one. See, no changing the subject.

      October 15, 2010 at 5:46 pm |
  2. Killa Jo

    Richard M, you find what you look for.

    October 15, 2010 at 3:17 pm |
  3. Richard Mavers

    It's nice to see an article focusing on the positive aspects of African American society for a change.

    October 15, 2010 at 3:14 pm |
  4. nobodycanberight


    @human.. i dont think this is correct. i am not saying you are wrong for thinking that but um.. you are 🙂

    and i dont just belive that i know the truth.. I Know it..however that does not put me in a better position that anyone.

    the truth is even when you know what the correct path is to live past this life. it does not make life any easier. most religion is designed to make people feel warm and fuzzy about the unknown. thats why people tend to fight argue and debate silly human things like race, or muslm vs. whatever.

    October 15, 2010 at 3:09 pm |
  5. Killa Jo

    Ousal Dove: My apologies if I offended you. In all fairness I went back and read your post again, slowly this time. I still think your opening statement is off base. Stating a fact is not advocating separation, just acknowledging how it came about. You sound guilty for the whole tribe. Don't be as I am not blaming you. The point I was trying to make was simply religion is the most segrated part of our society, and it is by design. Blacks did not start churhes because they wanted to. They had to. In the end, all religion and religions are just horse blinders. Keep you focused on where the person driving wants you to go.

    October 15, 2010 at 2:52 pm |
    • Human

      wow! and that people, is what the truth sounds like.

      October 15, 2010 at 3:05 pm |
    • Richard Mavers

      Hey, you said "religion is the most segregated part of our society." I agree that sometimes religion segregates in terrible ways. But let me tell you, it can have the opposite effect as well. For instance, I recently moved to a new country, it was very hard to meet people, I didnt know anyone. The only people willing to shake my hand, show me around, and invite me to things were part of a religious group (and no, they never tried to convert me, nor get me to attend their church). I would have been miserable were it not for them, just saying.

      October 15, 2010 at 3:38 pm |
  6. Jacqueline

    If you don't believe, why belittle people who do? If you do believe, why get angry at people who don't? Everybody needs to grow up and let others do what works for them, and you do what works for you. This is the negative end of the age of modern technology/Internet – the airing of people's hateful, meanspirited, closeted thoughts against others who don't think/believe/live like they do.

    October 15, 2010 at 2:43 pm |
    • Human

      Sorry. Okay?

      October 15, 2010 at 2:45 pm |
  7. Knowledge

    Does anybody proofread before they hit send? Some of your messages are lost in the misspellings and grammatical errors.
    At any rate, ANY belief system that advocates division over unity is not based on Godly intentions any way. It doesn't matter what label you put on yourself – Christian, Jew, Muslim, etc. We all should spend more time trying to figure out how to get along rather than why OUR religious beliefs are better than somebody else's. PEACE.

    October 15, 2010 at 2:32 pm |
    • Human

      naw... no need to really proof-read... like our belief systems... this forum is informal.

      October 15, 2010 at 2:40 pm |
  8. Jay2

    Human, That was the "Greatest Story Ever Told"!
    You have now become a devil worshiper with that talk! Blashphemer!!!!!


    October 15, 2010 at 2:23 pm |
    • Human

      HA! No seriously... they will say I am...though i love the Lord... i just know it differently then they do! Not Christian or any of those silly rallying points... just human with a love for the Master of All Things; The master has authority over all things including their so-called devil... ha! Why preach so much about burning in hell when the God of Man and All that Exists has power of everything... silly humans. Why threaten me with eternal fire, when my God has already promised me eternal life... these silly sentiments and misguided stabs in the dark will only further serve to confuse the masses more. Yeah you are right though Jay... I am waiting for the inquistor and the rest of the villagers to show up at my door step with torches and pitchforks looking for someone to blame for the latest outbreak of the clap...that started when preacher bob touched those four little boys... oops... dirty laundry should stay in the laundry room huh. HA!

      October 15, 2010 at 2:31 pm |
  9. Human

    oh not sure if it makes a difference to you...but i am a black man that was raised in the black church... and still go occasionally... just to put things in context

    October 15, 2010 at 2:23 pm |
  10. Ousal Dove

    Killa Jo,,,,isn't that what i just said. you are not paying attention. sorry you don't understand and i don't have time to explain. your arguement may have been acurate at one time, but that is just an excuse today to seperate from one another. Learn to live together, not apart.

    October 15, 2010 at 2:16 pm |
  11. Killa Jo

    Human, I love your introspective though but come on bro, turn it down a notch.

    October 15, 2010 at 2:14 pm |
    • Human

      Killa i hear ya man... but seriously... it just silly. these people just aren't thinking. yes err'body has a right to believe... but come on ... some of this stuff is simply rediculous

      October 15, 2010 at 2:21 pm |
  12. Killa Jo

    Ousal Dove, you are way of base with the Black Separatist comment. Black churches exist because lacks were forced away from the white churches doing slavery and segregation but that is a prime example of how religion has been used to control the masses. The slaves were told to just be good slaves and please massa, and when they die they can be free in heaven. That's the primary reason I reject Christianity in particular, but all "religions" in general. I honor an individuals right to believe what they will, but my eyes have been opened. What matters, and all that matters, is how we treat each other.

    October 15, 2010 at 2:10 pm |
  13. Ousal Dove

    Human you need to keep clear the word God meaning and translation Vs the word prophet...
    God = God, Allah, Jehovah, Yahweh,
    Buddha, Mohammed and others were considered men and or prophet not gods.

    October 15, 2010 at 2:06 pm |
    • Human

      Ha...but that is not how your fellow religious zealots use it... Trinity anyone... Father, Son and Spirit all being the same... while Jesus is the son of God and is God in the flesh and is a prophet... but is a man born of a virgin mother who while is God and God's son at the same time was in fact mortal and was killed using a roman torture device.... but on the third day using his Power of Resurrection rose from the dead to claim his seat next to God in heaven, I mean next to himself since he was also God and then told the masses that he died for their sins, though oddly enough being God he could have simply absolved them of their sins and he really didn't die because he lives and is coming back to judge man based upon the original sins... but not sure if that would work since man can clearly kill a God with wood and nails... I know, I know confusing and likely to be labeled heresy... but debates about nomenclature and religion...i mean story telling... just don't mix. Now that you are all riled up... God bless you

      October 15, 2010 at 2:16 pm |
  14. Human

    Sure there can be a single path. And there is a single path...Truth. It's universal and I bet it would work in a galaxy far, far away... sorry Lucas. A fragment of the truth is not enough however. To base centuries of understanding on a fragment is just simply lazy and clearly destructive. The major religions of the world teach you not to ask the questions to get at the truth...in fact questioning is the one of the things that they quiet by saying... oh cuz it says so in the bible. It's a circular argument with no real beginning or ending... "I am great" ... "Why"... "Because I said so." ..."Why did you say so...?" ...."Because I am great." What??? So when i was a kid and I questioned some of the rules my parent's laid down for me... I was usually met with the response of ...Because I said so... never getting the actual truth. Without a clear understanding of the truth, I wasn't always inclinded to follow the household doctrine of 'B/C I said so' But the church wants you to follow the doctrines because they said so. To question it or disagree with it is considered heresy and at one point in time... though their own bible spoke against it...people were murdered for this so-called heresy. It's funny but most religions will use their doctrine to expouse their authority and ignore the same doctrine when their authority is used in the wrong way...manipulation. Sure there is a single path to God...of course there is... just like there is a single path in life... the difference is, that that single path from point A to point B can and does vary in the direction and degree. No two people travel the exact same path... but i guarantee you that they all have the same beginning and the exact same end. Same with your pursuit of truth and connection to the real creator... the path is simple. Point A: Your soul, energy, existance...whatever you call it... Point B: God, Allah, Buddah, Jehova, Yahweh, Creator...what ever you call it... Point A: God, Allah, Buddah, Jehova, Yahweh, Creator...what ever you call it... Point B: Your soul, energy, existance...whatever you call it... THE PATH TO TRUTH IS THE SAME NO MATTER WHAT DIRECTION YOU TRAVEL OR THE DEGREE AND PITCH THAT YOUR JOURNEY TAKES.... Religion seeks to destroy your understanding of the path to God by seeking to control the direction and degree that you travel on the path...and their lies the confusion for the sheep... they just want to be hearded as opposed to just following the truth.

    October 15, 2010 at 1:57 pm |
  15. Ousal Dove

    Black separatist, that’s what those churches are. But of course no one will refer to them in that manner because they might be referred to as racist. LOL But that’s ok, I understand there need and want to be around “there own kind”. Trouble is, this is a misconception as we are all descendants of Adam and Eve, correct. Even if you are an atheist you understand that we would have all descended from “Lucy”. Even after the great flood there was only Noah’s family that we descended from… So where is this idea of black and white coming from. It certainly does not exist, there is neither black men nor white men, there are only people of varying color. How long oh Lord before they figure it out. We are all children of the great creator, (the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob etc) now all you have to do is learn to live together in peace. IS that so hard, really. Two thousand years since you were taught of the concept of brotherly love and you have accomplished nothing. Mankind, and by this I mean woman too, are still as hate filled, greedy, selfish, petty creature, you are quite pathetic actually. But don’t give up, FOR God’s sake don’t give up. Maybe someday you’ll get it right.
    PS: Human. Of course God likes shiny things, why else would God have created the sun! The idea of “streets of gold” and such rewards were meant to instill concepts in people whom had no other way to understand. One must talk to people at the level unto which they can understand and perceive the significance. In the infinite universe there is more than your philosophy could possibly imagine.

    October 15, 2010 at 1:57 pm |
    • pete

      So says the white dude. Where is your pointy white hat?

      October 15, 2010 at 2:41 pm |
    • Kiesha

      Black separatist? All people choose where they want to worship. If white peopele choose not to go a majority black church, are they separatist? No. They just made a choice. There are very few balck churches that have racial requirements (white, black or otherwise). All people tend to worship and hang out with those they have similarities with. It gives them more strength and understanding. There is nothing wrong wth that.

      October 15, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
    • Raison

      @Ousal Dove

      I agree that we are all just different shades of one people and I'm going to stop there.


      If there was only one church there could be no accusations of "separatist", I guess.

      October 15, 2010 at 4:27 pm |
  16. Soldfish

    Believe in in what you will.... but Believe in something you must...Your religous beliefs makes each of us whole.

    No right is given to those who choose not to believe in God, to alienate those with the right to choose for themselves.

    Fighting over the Koran, that was written years after the death of Islam's beloved leader is senseless.

    October 15, 2010 at 1:43 pm |
  17. Sami

    amen Cory. But God is not with a small "g" (that's for all other false "gods" in the world today) GOD is for the One true God of the Bible!

    October 15, 2010 at 1:34 pm |
    • ScottK

      Sorry Sami, but the spelling of the name Sami should be "Sammy" for all the real true Sammy's out there...

      Oh, and the color "Red" can only be the one true color of red that we see on fire engines, no other red exists...

      God, god, gawd, gud, gott, gudan, deus, khuda, allah, el, yhwh... by any other name would spell as sweet...

      October 15, 2010 at 2:04 pm |
    • JohnQuest

      Do you know for sure, or just "believe in your heart" that what you just wrote is true?

      October 15, 2010 at 2:11 pm |
    • Human

      Yo ScottK... now that was hilarious... well said sir! well said

      October 15, 2010 at 2:59 pm |
  18. nobodycanberight

    @human. very deep thoughts.. but you seem to downplay the posibliity of there being a single path.. not religion vs. another ..but a true way to contact the "unseen good". religion was created by man and changed and modified through history.. however at its root there is a fragment of truth.. this is why religion can be used to manipulate humans.. its kind of like neo in the matrix.. we want all the answers but in fact the questions are what we should really focus on.
    you said it yourself.. there are billions of stars and planets.. so there must be a way to communicate with whatever created them..when belief is no longer and knowing is present.. then you have something powerful.. its very possible to know the truth without being arrogant.. the sad part is .. people cant handle and dont want the truth.

    October 15, 2010 at 1:32 pm |
  19. Corey

    It is not what you think! or what he thinks ! We are all gods children! Mummmummm... Can I get a amen in here!

    October 15, 2010 at 1:22 pm |
    • Human

      AMEN! Preach!

      October 15, 2010 at 1:23 pm |
  20. Human

    "Muhammed, I'm praying for you. Faith in Jesus Christ the son of the LIVING God is the only way to be saved from eternal hell, once your earthly flesh has ceased to function. There will be no virgins waiting for you, Money will be of no effect, so you won't need the gold that was promised. I'm praying for you."

    HA!!! Nor will you find streets paved with gold or pearly gates inviting you in. See this is exactly what I am talking about. One persons Dogma is just as rediculous as the next person's. These are all Human things...virgins, gold, gates... idiots. Why would you pass this world into glory only to wind up with the same things you left... materialistic and items of the flesh...you can't equate the etherial to what is earthbound. Wouldn't it be more glorious, if when you left this world, your reward in heaven was an elevation of your existance to something like pure energy...free of human desires like for gold freakin streets or virgins? i mean virgins...really? give me a freakin break... gold streets... Gold has value in heaven?? Weird... i wouldn't think a mineral found on earth would be important to GOD. Or is it that you are saying that god likes shiny things too? Pathetic.

    October 15, 2010 at 1:14 pm |
    • Raison


      Interesting again, but you are really starting to sound like an arrogant so-and-so even more than I expected.
      If you are using your intellect, can't you do it without all the snobbery? You make some good points, but really...

      October 15, 2010 at 3:58 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.