Many churches around the country struggle with the same thing: attracting the younger generations. One small Methodist church in Minnesota is taking a unique approach that has its older parishioners feeling as though they’re being kicked out.
Grove United Methodist Church, located in Cottage Grove, has closed for the summer with plans to relaunch again in November. The church is only averaging about 29 attendees for every service. In a quest to appeal to younger members, leaders have asked older members to stay away from the church for at least the first year and a half after the church reopens its doors.
Most of the attendees that show up to every service are over the age of 60. Since there has been stagnant church growth within a growing community, leadership has taken a radical approach in order to achieve a younger membership base.
One of the first things that the church did was to hire Jeremy Peters, a church planting specialist. He will be the one leading the “reset” of the church. He plans to work with various community groups as a way of laying the foundation for the relaunch.
The specialist also believes that it’s important for older members to find somewhere else to worship for a while. According to Pioneer Press, older members were told not to return for at least 15 to 18 months on the reopening of the Methodist Church. Once that timeframe has passed, the elderly members can migrate, but only after connecting with Peters to discuss how the transition will take place.
Perhaps the worst part about it is that the church doesn’t want to lose what the older members have to offer. William Gackstetter told the press that the church leadership still expects financial contributions while also having the older members maintain the property. This led Gackstetter to call the plan “evil.” He doesn’t know why anyone would do that and that the whole plan makes him sick. His wife, Cheryl, agrees, stating that the church is discriminating against them because of their age.
The plan was explained to the congregation on January 5 by a visiting pastor. Cheryl Gackstetter called the pastor a hypocrite and that he was kicking them out of their own church.
What happens if older members decide to attend Growth United anyway? While they won’t be physically prevented from entering the church, they are strongly suggested to stay away. Rev. Dan Wetterstrom said that they are asking the older members to “let this happen.” They don’t want to have the core group of 30 individuals, which somehow, they consider would be damaging to inviting younger crowds.
The last thing that the church needs is bad press. After all, how can they possibly grow their congregation when they’re being accused of ageism? However, that doesn’t stop the Reverend from making the less-than-thrilling proposal that they can go to Woodbury, which is another Grove United Church that is located nearby.
The Reverend doesn’t seem to see anything wrong with asking a core group of older individuals to stop going to the church that they have been a part of for so long. Those individuals have volunteered at the church and financially supported it. And now, they’re being shunned as a way of making room for younger believers, though only in physical presence. The church still wants their money.
Other churches around the country have dealt with stagnant growth, too. They’ve had elderly populations consume their churches. However, they haven’t kicked the elderly out. Instead, they appeal to the community, hire a youth pastor, and invite families. They still hold onto their elderly population because they know that church is about community. Those who are 60+ often don’t like change. They don’t want to find another church to go to “temporarily” – and they shouldn’t have to.
If Grove United Methodist Church thought that appealing to the younger crowd would be easy with this new plan of theirs, they’re sadly mistaken. The older congregation didn’t follow orders as easily as expected. They’re angry and they have every right to be. They went to the press to make sure that the whole community knew what they were doing. Now, the church may be spending money on renovations for nothing. They may not be able to attract the younger crowds they’re hoping to because of the bad press and it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to lure the older ones back because of how poorly they were treated.