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Traditional Black Church Actions and Expressions

Updated on August 20, 2020
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Rev. Margaret Minnicks is an ordained Bible teacher. She writes many articles that are Bible lessons.

Church Buiding
Church Buiding | Source

Some things that go on in a traditional Black church are different from the things that go on in other types of churches.

Most predominate Black churches have lots of traditions that have been passed down since slavery. Regular attendees in traditional Black churches know exactly want goes on. However, visitors might not understand the actions and the expressions that are seen and heard in every Black traditional church.

1. Dress Code

Long ago, the only time farmers, their families, and people in the South dressed up was on Sunday when they went to church. It was the one day when men, women, and children wore their "Sunday best." They had special clothes and shoes that were worn only on Sundays.

Women wore long dresses, large hats, low pumps, and gloves. They also carried a fresh handkerchief in their pocketbook. Men wore suits, ties, and hats.

It is much different today. Dressing up is not limited to only Sunday. In fact, people might dress up when they go to work during the week and dress down on Sundays when they go to church. It is not unusual to see churchgoers in jeans and tee shirts or sweatpants. Some older adults stick to the traditional dress code and continue to wear their Sunday best.

The preacher used to wear their best suits or a robe. Today, some pastors preach from the pulpit in casual clothes just like the parishioners wear.

Lifting hands in worship service
Lifting hands in worship service | Source

2. Service Time and Length

The time of worship services in most churches on Sundays is from 11:00 a.m. to around 1 p.m.Some larger congregations have two services. A shorter service contemporary is at 8 a.m. service for about an hour. The later service is much longer.

The worship service of the traditional worship service includes a lot of things besides the actual preaching. Before the preaching, there might be a whole hour of praise that includes singing and testimonials. There is a greeting period when people get up out of their seats and walk around to greet others. This takes up a lot of time. Often, it is hard to get people to return to their seats.

3. Preachers and Preaching

Gone are the days when preachers will lie before the Lord during the week to get a message for the people. They have no problem going on the internet on Saturday night or early Sunday morning to grab another preacher's sermon. Then they preach it to the congregation without God's permission.

This is the honest truth. A veteran pastor admitted he has gone into a worship service without a sermon in mind. He tried to think of one as he sat waiting to hear from God. When he hadn't come up with one by the time the choir finished singing the hymn of preparation that comes just before the preaching, he asks the choir to sing it again while he continues to meditate to come up with a sermon to preach.

4. Call and Response

In non-traditional churches, people sit quietly during the preaching. If that happens in a traditional church, the preacher will think something is wrong because talking back to the preacher during the sermon is encouraged.

A pastor called all his associated ministers into his office after one particular worship service and reprimanded them for not responding to his preaching. In other words, he wanted them to set an example for the congregation to respond. The pastor wanted to hear "Amen" and "Tell them, Pastor," or "Preach, Pastor!"

The call-and-response technique is expected when the preacher uses certain phrases and expects participation from the congregation. Whenever the preacher says, “God is good” the congregation responds by saying, “All the time.” And when the pastor continues with, “And all the time,” the congregation says, “God is good.”

This has become a catchphrase, but it is not according to the Bible. The scripture alluded to is in Psalm 100:5 that reads, "For the LORD is good; his mercy is everlasting, and his truth endureth to all generations."

5. Shouting, Dancing, and Genuflecting

It is common for parishioners to shout, dance and genuflect in the church while music is being played or when the choir is singing. There are different types of dances. Sometimes people dance before the Lord so intensely that they literally "fall out."

Shouting is also called "getting happy." When people fall down on the floor, it is described that they are slain in the spirit. Leaders rush to cover them with white sheets while they are lying on the floor.

6. Offerings

You can tell if you are in a Black traditional church if there is more than one offering and much time is used to ask for it and collect it.

In some non-traditional churches, members know their responsibilities and cheerfully present their offerings without having to be talked into doing so.

It is not unusual for many offerings to be requested in traditional churches. There is a time dedicated to giving tithes. Then there are offerings for missions, building funds, and special offerings.

Offering Plate
Offering Plate | Source

This doesn't usually happen during the morning worship service, but when a guest preacher delivers the sermon in an afternoon service, a special offering is taken up. It is counted in front of the congregation and the deacons in charge might ask for more money to make it an even amount. For instance, if the total comes to $188, they might ask for more to make it an even $200. If more than an additional $12 is given, the amount makes the total a different odd number. Then the deacons might ask for a set amount to make it another even number. This could go on for a long time until the deacons are satisfied with an even amount

The guest preacher is often embarrassed seeing the way the money is collected, but he accepts it anyway during a presentation when the money is given to him in an envelope with the familiar words, "We can't pay you for the wonderful sermon, but here is a small token for you for taking time out of your busy schedule to be our guest preacher today."

7. Music

Don't be surprised to hear songs that last up to 15 minutes. A visitor once said, "No matter how pretty a song is, it should not be sung that long." The pastor wants parishioners to stand and lift "holy hands" during the singing of four 15-minute songs. Yes, that takes an entire hour at the beginning of the worship service. Some people know that will happen. Therefore, they deliberately go to church late so they will intentionally miss that part.

There used to be red hymn books in the church pews, but they have been removed from most churches because those hymns are seldom sung. The choir sing songs from Christian musicians they have heard on television or on the radio. In some cases, the choir director makes up his own songs and the choir and congregation sing them. Those songs are on a big screen in front of the church for all to see.

It is not unusual for members of the congregation to take their own tambourines and use them in the service.

Woman using a tambourine in a church service
Woman using a tambourine in a church service | Source

8. Fans

Whether it is in summer or winter, ushers pass out hand fans to people when they notice someone in the congregation using a bulletin to fan with. Officials at funeral homes in the community give fans away free to churches because their advertisement about their services is printed on the back.

Have you ever wondered who came up with that idea to advertise a funeral parlor on church fans made with a wooden stick stapled to cardboard?

9. Meetings After Service

You know you are a member of a Black traditional church when you are required to attend a meeting after the worship service that lasts a long time. There are meetings of every kind, and some of them are unnecessary. Sometimes there are leadership meetings just to make plans for the next meeting.

While stomachs are growling, some of the meetings are prolonged and people keep asking questions that have already been answered in a previous meeting. Leaders who schedule meetings after the Sunday morning worship service are not sensitive to people's time. They put planning for programs above the needs of the people.

10. Familiar Expressions

"Give God a handclap of praise." This is a familar phrase that leaders say in the church to get the congregation to clap at their command.

"Look to your neighbor and say . . ." This is a filler for a lot of preachers. They tell the congregation to repeat something to the person sitting next to someone in the pew. A similar command is "Touch your neighbor and say..."

"Bow every head and close every eye." Leaders take away people's free will when they give many instructions during the service.

"The doors of the church are open." This is what preachers say when they give the invitation for discipleship. In other words, people are invited to come to the front of the church to be saved and to join the church. Newcomers have been known to turn around and look to see if the doors are literally open.

“Rest on your feet.” This isn't even logical. Most people aren't at rest while on their feet. A better command would be, "Please stand."

“Won’t He do it?” This is a question that preachers ask during the celebratory period at the end of the service when they raise their voice and everyone stands and begin praising God and dancing

Are you familiar with any of the above things that go on in a traditional Black church?

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