A small Methodist church in Minnesota is closing this summer with a plan to relaunch in November as a place that can attract younger members of the community — and leaders are asking older members to keep their distance for at least the first year and a half after it reopens, according to the Twin Cities Pioneer Press.
Grove United Methodist Church in Cottage Grove currently averages about 29 attendees per service. Almost all of them are older than 60 years old. In response to stagnant church growth in a growing community, leadership is ready to take radical steps to attract a younger membership base.
Grove United hired church planting specialist Jeremy Peters, who will lead the church's "reset." Peters will work with community groups in the coming months to lay the foundation for the relaunch.
In the meantime, the older members are being asked to find somewhere else to worship; not only during the closure, but for 15 to 18 months after it reopens, according to the Pioneer Press.
After that, elderly members interested in "migrating back" to the church can connect with Peters to discuss how that transition might take place.
One member, William Gackstetter, told the Pioneer Press that church leadership still wants those older members to maintain the property during the closure, as well as contribute financially.
"They want us to mow the lawn and shovel the snow," Gackstetter said. "As if anyone would do that. This whole plan makes me sick. I believe it's evil."
"This is totally wrong," said Gackstetter's wife, Cheryl. "They are discriminating against us because of our age."
After the plan was explained by a visiting pastor on Jan. 5, she said, "I called him a hypocrite. I said, 'You are kicking us out of our church.' "
While older members won't be physically prevented from attending Grove United, there is a strong suggestion that they not do so during the transition period.
"We are asking them to let this happen," the Rev. Dan 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 (another Grove United location) during this phase."