Church to Older Members: “Stay Away, Please”

By Mark A. Kellner | Posted January 21, 2020

During the tumultuous protests of the 1960s, young demonstrators soon latched onto a phrase: “Don’t trust anyone over 30.”

Currently, there’s a church near St. Paul, Minnesota, that looks to be taking a similar stance.

According to the Pioneer Press newspaper, “Members of the Grove United Methodist Church in Cottage Grove are upset enough that their church is closing in June. What makes it worse is that their church is reopening in November—pretty much without them. The church wants to attract more young families. The present members, most of them over 60 years old, will be invited to worship somewhere else. A memo recommends that they stay away for two years, then consult the pastor about reapplying.”

As might be imagined, the older members aren’t exactly thrilled with this notion, especially since they’re being asked to help maintain the church during the interim.

“This is totally wrong,” says church member Cheryl Gackstetter. “They are discriminating against us because of our age.”

The 30-year-old congregation, part of a church plant that includes another campus, has had its problems. Due to a loss of attendance and monetary contributions, the Methodist Church announced in 2013 that it would no longer provide Cottage Grove with a paid pastor. Members stepped up to lead the congregation, including delivering the weekly sermon. Now there’s an average of 25 people attending services each week. After such dedication, solidarity, and sacrifice, it is no wonder that the older members feel wronged.

$250,000 for a “Relaunch”

Hoping to regain lost ground, United Methodist officials have now changed their minds and ponied up $250,000 to pay for a relaunch of Cottage Grove. A 30-year-old pastor named Jeremy Peters has been hired to reopen the church and attract young adult families.

Peters tells the newspaper that longtime members would be welcome at their beloved house of worship as long as they were “on board” with its new youth-oriented identity. Adds the Rev. Dan Wetterstrom, who heads the multisite Grove United Methodist Church, “For this to be truly new, we can’t have the core group of 30 people.”

But the Rev. Jim Baker, who founded Cottage Grove under another name, questions this wisdom. “I am all for renewal,” he concedes, “but why not do it with everyone? It doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

Why not, indeed? Rare is the congregation that operates like a local night club, with a bouncer at the door carding the underaged. So why should it restrict those of a certain age? Why is it so important to completely cleanse the congregation in order for this renewal to succeed?

Scripture actually advises the opposite, emphasizing the duty of older members in guiding the younger in the way of the Lord: “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, … being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:2, 3). The older members not only belong in the church; they have a specific responsibility to the younger church members. As for the youth, they are expected to treat the elderly with respect (Leviticus 19:32). 

Ironically, the youngest adults currently attending Cottage Grove say they’ll split if this is carried out. Stella and Jon Knapp, each 34 years of age, love the congregation the way it is. “This church is very kind to us and our children,” declares Jon.

Who Needs Church?

This Minnesota dustup may seem amusing to those not directly involved, but it does bring to mind some essential questions: What is the purpose of having a church? And should there be restrictions on who can attend?

At its most basic, a church exists to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, to present an opportunity for salvation to all who wish to hear it, and to create a community of believers who support and nurture one another in the faith. As it has often been said, the church isn’t a country club for saints but rather a hospital for sinners—no matter their age. As we read in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And in 1 Peter 5:5, whether young or old, we must “all … be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility.”

Who needs the church? We all do! Pastor Doug Batchelor explains this in a presentation you can find, free of charge, online. As Pastor Doug notes, “We need each other and not only do we need each other, we need the Lord. The only way we're going to make it through these last days is if Jesus takes our hand.”

Oftentimes though, we tend to associate the open door of a sanctuary with a wide gate to salvation. But the Bible is very clear that “narrow is the gate … which leads to life” (Matthew 7:14), that Jesus is the only way “under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). It is important that the church we attend offers a clear gospel message and encourages its members to stay true to the Bible’s principles and teachings. If a pastor tells you that any of the Ten Commandments are now passé, that goes directly against what the Bible states. In his article, “The Dangers of a Diluted Gospel,” Pastor Doug outlines what’s important for us to agree upon—and what to follow during these last days of Earth’s history.

And be assured of this: If you’re ever in the area of the Amazing Facts International headquarters and the associated Granite Bay church, you’ll have a warm welcome—whether you’re 13, 30, or 93!

Mark Kellner
Mark A. Kellner is a staff writer for Amazing Facts International. He is a veteran journalist whose work has been published in Religion News Service, The Washington Times, and numerous computer magazines.

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