Minnesota Church Works to Attract Younger Congregants...By Banning Old People

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The ‘about’ page on The Grove church’s website has yet to be updated with Jesus’s apparent latest revelations on age discrimination

A Minnesota church is employing a bold new strategy to attract younger families and congregants…banning old people.


This is not a headline from The Onion or even The Babylon Bee. As crazy as it sounds, this is a verified story about a real church.

Grove United Methodist Church (I can hear the audible sigh of the reader even as I write the words) has been struggling with flagging membership thin finances for years. In an effort to boost those sweet, sweet non-fixed-income tithes, the lead pastor has decided to close the Grove United campus and reopen, sans the seniors.

Cheryl Gackstetter, 63, said she and her husband received a letter in December from the Rev. Dan Wetterstrom, lead pastor at the Woodbury and Cottage Grove branches of the Grove United Methodist Church.

“We’re not allowed in the church because they’re building a new church and they don’t want people to see us,” she said.

The letter notified parishioners that the Cottage Grove campus would go dark June 1. It will reopen in the fall with a new focus on young families with children.

In the meantime, current members were encouraged to worship elsewhere, including Woodbury United Methodist Church.

But don’t feel too badly for Cheryl and her peers. The incoming (younger, cooler) pastor will allow them to return at some point. How long will those gross old people have to stay away from the church they’ve supported with their efforts and money for years and decades? Oh, only about 15-18 months.


Wetterstrom defended the decision, saying changes needed to be made to save the future of the church.

Wetterstrom said he and their CORE Team did not make the decision lightly and that he empathized with members who are upset.
“It’s especially hard on that community,” he said. “It’s just a real tender time for them.

But he said the reboot is necessary to save the Cottage Grove church from closing altogether. Current membership is about 1,000, with about 400 attending on a typical Sunday, he said.

Most of the members are 60 and older, and not enough young families are joining.

“Something must give,” he said in the letter. “The CG campus is nearing the end of its life cycle.”

Given the current trajectory of the UMC this isn’t completely shocking. The western UMC’s commitment to “inclusion and diversity” only stretches so far these days,as evidenced by their recent refusals to come under the headship of the African UMC over issues surrounding homosexuality and gay marriage.

While this is only one small church in a denomination of thousands, this is the UMC’s ultimate failure in a nutshell. A church devoted to preaching the Gospel and guiding communities into a journey of faith in Christ should be doing just that. If you’re not reaching enough people to be sustainable either your scriptural model is broken or your community simply isn’t interested in the Gospel. Since almost everyone is looking for God in one way or another I tend to believe it is UMC’s scriptural model that is broken. A shocking decrease in biblical literacy, belief in biblical inerrancy and scriptural study has led to a “church” that has gone from worshipping the Creator to worshipping the created. Social justice (a woefully human endeavor) has replaced God’s justice (the standard for universal justice). Activism has replaced evangelism. The UMC has been branding itself as a denomination that does not turn away non-traditional worshippers (which usually refers to sexuality). It didn’t take long for inclusion to turn to exclusion in the name of ‘the greater good’.


It would be my guess that many of the older members being pushed out now have actually supported a lot of the “diversity” changes happening in the UMC over the last few decades. But that’s the problem with making the fundamental switch from God’s headship to human headship. When we make ourselves the arbiters of what is right and wrong, good and bad, we make ourselves gods. The problem is humans make crappy gods. If we stray from the standard (God) we find ourselves setting our own traps and becoming our own prey. It’s inevitable. It’s historical.

The American UMC has become the bigots they say they fight against, and what’s happening in this tiny little church should frighten Methodists everywhere.

“So true is it that men close their eyes in encroachments committed by that party to which they are attached, in the delusive hope that power, in such hands, will always be wielded against their adversaries, never against themselves.” – The Life of George Washington, Volume 1,  Chief Justice John Marshall


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