I was shocked to read a headline that concerned a small church in rural (transitioning to suburban) Minneapolis. The headline from the Twin Cities Pioneer Press read, “Cottage Grove church to usher out gray-haired members in effort to attract more young parishioners.” Once my sexagenarian blood cooled, I decided to look into this story. Other news sources (e.g. a Jan. 23, 2020 article on Slate.com) had, in general, presented a less sensationalized and quite common tale of the life cycle of a congregation. Cottage Grove is dying. It seems that all parties acknowledge that something needs to be done. The experts have a plan to reboot the congregation, which by most accounts excludes the ageing congregants. To paraphrase a Vietnam War era oxymoron, the plan appears to some, especially the current members, to be: “to save the church, the church must be destroyed.” Internal conflict has pursued and spilled over onto the internet.
I am very sympathetic to the anxiety facing all parties. I watched my childhood congregation die. My mother was still a member at the time. She was deeply hurt by the death of the congregation and while she joined a new congregation, I am not sure she ever stopped grieving the demise of her church family of 40 years. In the denomination in which I am ordained, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, I am witness to creative and herculean efforts to revitalize dying congregations. I am also witness to the closing of congregations.