A Methodist church wants to attract young families. An older member sees age discrimination.

Daniel Wetterstrom, lead pastor at Grove United Methodist Church in Cottage Grove, said the church is seeking an "intergenerational community."
The Grove United Methodist Church in Cottage Grove, Minn.
The Grove United Methodist Church in Cottage Grove, Minn.Google Maps

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By Janelle Griffith

A Methodist church in Minnesota is being accused of age discrimination by at least one of its older members over a plan to draw younger families into the fold.

Grove United Methodist Church has a location in Woodbury and another in Cottage Grove.

The two locations have approximately 1,000 members total, with every generation well represented — except for 20-somethings.

"Over 60 is probably our largest group," said Daniel Wetterstrom, lead pastor at the Cottage Grove church.

Only about 30 people attend services at the church he oversees, Wetterstrom said, and it's struggling financially. Which is why it will close in June and relaunch at the end of 2020 with a new 32-year-old pastor and a band.

"The church has determined that the Cottage Grove campus needs to relaunch and we are seeking to welcome an intergenerational community that includes families with children," Wetterstrom told NBC News Wednesday.

The style of worship will be wildly different, Wetterstrom said. The relaunch is expected to cost at least $250,000.

"Multiple efforts over many years have been unsuccessful in engaging more people and reaching sustainability," Wetterstrom said. "This resulted in turning to worship and sermons that are led by the laity."

Bill Gackstetter, who joined the Cottage Grove church a decade ago, told NBC affiliate KARE in Minneapolis he believes that he and other older members are being discriminated against by the realaunch because of their age.

He told the station he was particularly upset by a request that current members worship at The Grove's Woodbury location during the relaunch, even after it reopens, for 15 to 18 months.

"It made me feel sick that they would treat other Methodists like that," he told KARE. "Like, who's gonna wait that long? I feel that's totally age discrimination, just wanting youth, the younger families."

Gackstetter could not be reached at numbers for him.

But Wetterstrom said the new mission is being misunderstood.

"I have never talked about age whatsoever," Wetterstrom said. He insists the church honors its most senior generation.

The Grove United Methodist Church released a statement on its website Tuesday, saying "we lament that this media attention has been hurtful to worshipers."

"The worshipers at the Cottage Grove location are beloved members of our church family; their presence and contributions are part of our identity," the statement said. "The Cottage Grove members have been invited to serve on a transition team to identify the traditions and values that are important to them and to explore options during and after the relaunch."