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African-American Christians belong to many kinds of churches — Pentecostal, Baptist, nondenominational, mainline, Catholic, evangelical and Orthodox. Whatever the brand, religion holds a prominent place in black communities. Surveys show that more African-Americans describe themselves as religious than do other races/ethnicities and put a higher priority on religion in their life. Churches are central as places of belonging, spirituality and community, and predominantly black churches reflect the issues that concern African- Americans as a whole.


In addition to traditional Christian holidays, African-American churches observe Watch Night, on New Year’s Eve, and Kwanzaa, starting on Dec. 26. The Watch Night service harks back to the days of slavery; tradition says some Southern blacks waited throughout the night on Dec. 31, 1864, for word of the Emancipation Proclamation. Kwanzaa, a seven-day festival, honors the principles of unity, self-determination, work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith.



  • African-American churches have a storied history of activism and political involvement, and church leaders are redefining what activism looks like in the post-civil rights era.
  • African-American churches are known as incubators of political and community leadership and musical talent in a range of genres as well as repositories of black history, both local and national.
  • Churches confront black men’s issues, including high rates of imprisonment, drug use, suicide and early death, and their effect on African-American family life. Family issues include single parenthood, high pregnancy rates among teenagers, high divorce rates and high dropout rates.
  • Black churches struggle with HIV/AIDS infection rates in the black community as well as attitudes toward homosexuality, and many programs now address these issues in churches.
  • Many black urban churches have become commuter churches as members join migrations out of cities. Many members then feel disconnected to neighborhoods surrounding churches, and churches feel unable to meet the needs of those neighborhoods.
  • Pentecostalism is growing rapidly among blacks, and many of the nation’s largest black churches are Pentecostal.


  • African-American church services can be unpredictably long, both because they are planned to take more than an hour and also because preaching and singing are extended as people feel moved by the spirit.
  • Many black churches observe rituals of formality, with ushers wearing white gloves or white uniforms and people dressing in Sunday best.