Abstract Background A healthcare provider's recommendation to undergo screening has been shown to be one of the strongest predictors of completing a colorectal cancer (CRC) screening test. We sought to determine the relationship between the general quality of self-rated patient-provider communication and the completion of CRC screening. Methods A formative study using qualitative data from focus groups and quantitative data from a cross-sectional survey of church members about the quality of their communication with their healthcare provider, their CRC risk knowledge, and whether they had completed CRC screening tests. Focus group participants were a convenience sample of African American church members. Participants for the survey were recruited by telephone from membership lists of 12 African American churches located in rural counties of North Carolina to participate in the WATCH (Wellness for African Americans Through Churches) Project. Results Focus Groups. Six focus groups (n = 45) were conducted prior to the baseline survey. Discussions focused on CRC knowledge, and perceived barriers/motivators to CRC screening. A theme that emerged during each groups' discussion about CRC screening was the quality of the participants' communication with their health care provider. Survey. Among the 397 participants over age 50, 31% reported CRC screening within the recommended guidelines. Participants who self-rated their communication as good were more likely to have been screened (36%) within the recommended guidelines than were participants with poor communication (17%) (OR = 2.8, 95% CI 1.2, 6.4; p = 0.013). Participants who had adequate CRC knowledge completed CRC screening at a higher rate than those with inadequate knowledge (p = 0.011). The percentage of participants with CRC screening in the recommended guidelines, stratified by communication and knowledge group were: 42% for good communication/adequate knowledge; 27% for good communication/inadequate knowledge; 29% for poor communication/adequate knowledge; and 5% for poor communication/inadequate knowledge. Conclusions Participants who rated their patient-provider communication as good were more likely to have completed CRC screening tests than those reporting poor communication. Among participants reporting good communication, knowledge about colorectal cancer was also associated with test completion. Interventions to improve patient-provider communication may be important to increase low rates of CRC screening test completion among African Americans.