Members of the Grove United Methodist Church in Cottage Grove, MN, are being asked to leave the church. The Methodist church is struggling with membership numbers and finances. The congregation is currently around twenty-five people. The denomination does not pay for a pastor, and the members provide lay-leadership.
The Methodists’ Regional Annual Conference is paying $250,000 to restart the church. They have hired a specialist in starting new churches. The plan is to close the church in June and re-open in November. The specialist hired to restart the church, Jeremy Peters, is asking the old congregation to stay away while he attempts to attract new members.
Obviously, the older congregation is upset. They have been struggling and holding the church together for years. Now they are being asked to walk away from the very church they have been nursing along.
The denomination thinks that these aging boomers are the problem. They want to recruit young families. After all, it was young families in the 70s that launched many of the churches that are now dying off.
Neither side is correct. The Boomers are, in one sense, the problem because they have created a church that isn’t attracting new people. This can happen when you have a group of people who are so well bonded, through their time together, devotion to their church, and shared experience, that they become impermeable. New people just can’t join the group of insiders. I’m sure the boomers being asked to leave Grove UMC to feel they are being kicked out of “their” church.
The denomination is equally wrong. Attracting young families is good. I can’t say that it isn’t. However, the pattern of attending church and the pattern for giving to churches has changed dramatically. The old-time boomers made weekly attendance a priority in their life. Millennials and Zoomers now show up occasionally. They can catch the service live-streamed from the comfort of their homes; they can watch the sermon on YouTube; they can catch one of the thousands of alternate time services. Sunday morning not working for you, then try our Saturday night, or Thursday afternoon service.
The United Methodist Church is a mainstream denomination and is struggling with staying united. They recently took a large step towards conservative doctrine when they banned LGBTQ+ marriages and clergy. This has prompted some UMC churches to leave the denomination.
Most megachurches are on the Religious Right and Political Right. The mainstream liberal churches and progressive churches remain small, with entire denominations dying. Megachurches create an alternate society for church members to belong to. They are generally focused on a charismatic leader and offer alternatives to everything society has to offer. They have their own bookstores, coffee shops, sports leagues, etc. When you join a Mega-Church, it becomes your world. You live apart from “the world” and evangelize to outsiders.
Progressive churches chose to live in a society in an attempt to change it from the inside out. Leadership is often diffused across the congregation. There is less emphasis on evangelism and more emphasis on serving the oppressed.
What’s going to happen at Grove United Methodist Church? Honestly, only time will tell. The church reboot may go more conservative and attempt to create an alternate society, or the Millenials and Zoomers may decide to just stay home and stream a Sunday service at their leisure.
In my opinion, neither side is right. The older generation needs to find ways to incorporate younger people into “their” church, and the denomination needs to help them do it by investing some of that money into working with the lay ministry leadership they already have. The Church is a unique institution. It is the only place that people of every generation gather together. The opportunity to be the body of Christ is missed when your church reboot boots one group.