During the Great Awakening, which was during the 1700s, when many slaves converted to Christianity. Most of them had witnessed white church services but did not agree with how they saw white people worshiping and felt they could not express the way they liked to worship either. During slavery in the United States, some slaves decided they would sneak away without their masters knowing forming small church groups. In these groups, they would be able to pray and worship their religious beliefs the way they wanted to and felt most comfortable. This religious group they formed for themselves was referred to as the invisible church. They would sing and pray the way they liked rather than how they saw white church services. This would be referred to as the invisible church. 

What a church service was like...

IIn the invisible church, black people were now able to worship the way they wanted. In the invisible church, their way of worship was very expressive and ecstatic. Meaning there was a lot of hand-clapping, singing, jumping, shouting, and religious dancing involved. This type of worship in the invisible church carried on to black churches now to the present day. Today’s most black church services will also involve this type of activity, such as shouting and religious dancing; this is very much seen in most Baptist and Pentecostal black churches today. 

The Ring Shout

The ring shout was a form of the folk spiritual done in the invisible church. The slaves first did the ring shout; it was a way for them to express their spiritual emotions. To do the ring shout, they’d all form a circle and perform actions like shuffle, stomp their feet, and clap their hands. During this, they would also be singing and praying aloud as a group. Usually, there would be a leader in this circle, meaning one person might be calling out while the others all respond. So a call and response or leader-chorus type situation. Below are two videos that demonstrate this.


In conclusion, the invisible church is a significant part of Spirituals in African American history by how it was the beginning of the first black church. The invisible church was a way for African Americans to express themselves; they wanted to know how they worshiped. They were able to sing the songs they wanted and act in the dances they wanted while worshiping. They formed their way of worship that was different from how they seen white people do it. Now the way they worshiped fit their beliefs and cultural experiences.


Burnim, Mellonee V, and Portia K. Maultsby. African American Music: An Introduction. , 2015. Print.

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