Eight years ago, Simeon L. Corum was associate minister of the District’s Scripture Cathedral, where he ministered to thousands every week. Today, after leaving the large church with his wife to start over, he is the elder of Goshen, whose membership is north of 60 but south of 100.
“I feel the spirit of the Lord in this place,” Corum preached last week in a booming baritone that matches a torso seemingly more fit for the offensive line on a Sunday afternoon.
In moving from a large church to a much smaller one, Corum is far from alone, although no one keeps track of the number of people who make such a change. Preachers and parishioners who have swapped a “big-box” church for a tiny one said they sought a more intimate bond and a pastor who knew their name. Others yearned to return to a church like the one they attended long ago.
Greg Smith, who teaches at Hodges University in Tampa and studies church attendance patterns, said the largest churches often get more attention but often “have a revolving door.”
Across the country, churches of 100 people or fewer are still the most popular niche, Smith said. Prince George’s County has an estimated 800 churches, and most are in that size category.
“It’s awesome,” Corum said of Goshen, where the walls are painted bright yellow and industrial pipes are plainly visible overhead. “The people here are all on one accord, and I am not so busy where I can’t get back to them. In a megachurch, people often never get a chance to talk to the pastor.”
Midgett Parker, a development lawyer who helped clear the way for several megachurches in the region, attended a few of them over the years.
But after moving across the Bay Bridge, he now can be found on Sundays at the Community Baptist Church in Barclay, Md., which has about 50 members. It feels like home, and in January, he was ordained as a deacon.
“In a small church, everyone gets to know each other,” Parker said.
“We all come from humble beginnings,” he added. “I am not saying anything bad about large churches, but there is a psychological feeling in getting back to your roots.”
Megachurches are not threatened by those who leave, and some “restless” churchgoers have always moved to other places of worship, said Alton Pollard III, dean of Howard University’s divinity school.
“We live in an age where big matters,” Pollard said. “Megachurches will continue to grow, but it will not be at the expense of smaller churches. With all the things the megachurches do, they can’t provide the intimacy of the smaller churches.”