Struggling church asks aging congregation to ‘stay away’ in hopes of attracting young families

COTTAGE GROVE, Minn. — Members of the congregation at a Methodist Church in Cottage Grove, Minnesota, are upset that their church is asking them to stay away for two years so it might appeal to younger people.

Grove United Methodist Church will be closing in June, but plans to relaunch in November. Current members, most over 60 years old, will be asked to worship somewhere else, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.

Officials from the church said the congregation needs a reset and the best way is to appeal to younger people. The church has struggled with membership and finances. Seven years ago, the church could no longer pay for its minister, so it switched to lay ministry, with weekly sermons by members.

The church’s attendance and finances have stabilized recently, with an average weekly attendance of 25.

“I pray for this church, getting through this age-discrimination thing,” William Gackstetter said at church on a recent Sunday as the gray-haired heads around him nodded in agreement, according to the Associated Press.

“This is totally wrong. They are discriminating against us because of our age,” ” said Gackstetter’s wife, Cheryl told the St. Paul Pioneer Press.

The Rev. Dan Wetterstrom, head of the two-location Grove church said in a memo that the church could die unless something changes.

The Methodists’ regional body is paying $250,000 to restart the church, Wetterstrom said. They have hired a specialist in starting new churches, 30-year-old Jeremy Peters, who moved to the area with his wife and two children for the relaunch.

“It’s a new thing with a new mission for a new target and a new culture,” he said.

The older members will not be physically barred from attending, Peters said, but the expectation is that they won’t.

“We are asking them to let this happen,” Wetterstrom said. “For this to be truly new, we can’t have the core group of 30 people. The members of the church have other options. They can come to Woodbury during this phase.”

Former members can reapply to Grove United Methodist Church in two years after consulting with the pastor.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.