How does Christian math work?

I don’t know how this adds up. So this Minnesota church is struggling with declining membership — only about 25 people show up each week, and most of them are elderly — so what they’ve decided to do is tell all those old people to stay home or go to a different church so … they … can … increase the numbers of … young people?

Grove United Methodist Church in the St. Paul suburb of Cottage Grove is closing in June, with plans to relaunch in November. The present members, most of them over 60 years old, will be invited to worship elsewhere, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported. The church is asking that they stay away for two years, then consult the pastor about reapplying.

There’s some funky logic going on here. They must have additional plans to reinvigorate the church, other than telling the old folks to stay away, unless they think somehow that older people actively repel the youth. But if they’ve got some dynamic plan to draw in more, younger members, why do they need to kick out the loyal congregation? And do they seriously think the ejected members will want to come back in two years?

They’ve got some new guy coming in as pastor, and I’d really like to know what magic he plans to work to get new people to join the church that just kicked out Grandma and Grandpa. Other Methodist churches are undergoing this peculiar division of their congregations, and it’s associated with deep splits over the inclusion of LGBTQ members. I wonder if that’s the unstated and unreported rationale for showing the membership the door.


  1. Big Boppa says

    The Lutheran Church around the corner from me went through a similar situation several years ago though, in their case, the oldsters were dying off and the young families either lost interest or were never interested in the first place. I’m not familiar with all the ins and outs of what they did to try to attract those mythical young families except that I do know that they got rid of their pastor and brought in one who was recently ordained. About 2 years ago they closed the doors for good and the building is now a mosque.

  2. vucodlak says

    That is baffling. In my experience, any change whatsoever will drive away at least some of the old folks. I’ve heard through my parents, who still attend the church I was raised in, that some of the old members left when the new pastor came in because he walks around too much when he’s preaching and/or sometimes wears blue jeans under his robes. That’s all it took. So if this church want to make changes, then there isn’t any reason to kick out the old members. Most who object will simply go elsewhere on their own.

    This is just garnering them bad press for no gain, far as I can see.

  3. unclefrogy says

    well if they got most of the old folks to go away they could advertise that they were a young congregation where would they get this good publicity though that is the question.
    if they get rid of all the parishioners then they could sell off the property for profit?
    uncle frogy

  4. robro says

    Well, if they are closing the church in June to reopen in November, the old folks will need to go to another church anyway. However, the article says after their exile they should “consult the pastor about reapplying.” Who knew you had to apply to attend a church? Perhaps it’s a Methodist thing?

    Anyway, if they think getting rid of old people is the way to “reset” their church they are missing a gigantic elephant in the chapel. Young people aren’t going to church because more and more of them see through the cruft and don’t want to go. Or they just find it boring and a waste of time. Nothing they do will attract more young people, except perhaps…

    Turn it into a free video game arcade!!

  5. says

    Didn’t they just have a schism over gay marriage? (I can’t be arsed to keep track of protestant denominations) I wonder if this is just a gentle way of opening those deeeeep rifts without spooking the cash-gomers.

  6. says

    When my family (Quaker) moved to NH way back when, we joined an old meeting (church) that was mostly made up of folks who were elderly or late middle-age. My parents played a large part in revitalizing the meeting and bringing in new members, and it was with the strength and wisdom of the existing community.

    I have my philosophical differences with them, but the idea of kicking out the people who have spent so much of their lives as part of that institution is bizarre. I feel like when young people want to join a church, wisdom is part of the point. New parents seeking help with raising their kids, young people looking for guidance in a difficult, scary world- that’s the sort of thing a church community is well equipped to offer. Unless, you know, you kick out all the old people.

    Sounds like they were trying to “attract young people” but turning it into a singles group of some sort, with a Jesus theme. Bleh.

  7. says

    This discussion made me look up the church of my youth, the First Presbyterian Church of Glasgow, KY. The building looks the same but something happened to drive most of the old folks away; maybe the “we include everyone” statements on the main page? Still exclusively white, of course.

  8. tacitus says

    if they get rid of all the parishioners then they could sell off the property for profit?

    If the UMC is anything like the British Methodist Church, they don’t need any such pretext to close the doors of a church — they can simply declare it non-viable and close the doors. It’s happened hundreds of times in the UK over the last few decades.

    They claim to be pumping $250,000 into the church, clearly in the belief that the congregants are there, if only they can reach them. Like others, I’m skeptical it will work. Younger generations are peeling away from Christianity in greater numbers than ever, and it’s the liberal mainstream denominations that are bearing the brunt of the decline (so far).

    I don’t believe there’s any subterfuge going on here. I think it was just a wrongheaded decision made in a last ditch effort to prevent yet another church from closing in a thriving suburb that used to be the perfect place to plant a mainstream Christian family-oriented church. Times have changed, however.

  9. robro says

    tacitus @ #8 — Not subterfuge, just a bad marketing strategy. The current membership isn’t the problem, it’s that there’s nothing of interest to young people in the church.

  10. Hatchetfish says

    Abe’s point about the community of churches being a part of the draw makes me wonder if someone in the heierarchy has been reading too much about social media patterns. Perhaps confusing the tendency for social media to segregate along all sorts of divisions both through self selection as well as recruitment microtargeting with a desirable recruitment strategy, rather than a reverse result.

  11. Frederic Bourgault-Christie says

    @robro: sad as it is, arcades are also a Gen X relic. A few dedicated folks like arcade archivalists and fighting game players keep a last few arcades alive.

  12. lumipuna says

    The present members, most of them over 60 years old, will be invited to worship elsewhere, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported

    Amusingly, in a Finnish (Lutheran) folk expression, death may be referred to as “registering in another diocese”.

  13. says

    Somehow their salesmen “think” young people would be clamouring to buy their product if it weren’t seen as an “something used by old people”. This isn’t replacing a station wagon with an Audi A3 or BMW 130…which is a good analogy considering how many young people stopped buying cars altogether.

  14. Meeker Morgan says

    OTOH, the tub thumping fundies don’t have this problem for some reason.
    The more progressive types are tending to outgrpw religion.