Ethics Dunce: Minnesota’s Cottage Grove United Methodist Church

They’re going to have to update this, I think…

I believe that it’s fair to say that no church should ever make an ethics dunce of itself. This, unfortunately, is an extreme example. [Full disclosure: My father was raised as a Methodist, and my father in law was a Methodist minister and scholar.] The rationalizations and  double talk came fast and furious, and there even was a Jumbo in the mix.

Praise the Lord!

Rev. Dan Wetterstrom, lead pastor at the Woodbury and Cottage Grove branches of the United Methodist Church, sent out letters to parishioners that the Cottage Grove branch would close on June 1, then open, refurbished, in the Fall seeking the membership of young families with children. Current members who don’t fit that description will not be welcome. The letter encouraged the exiles  to worship elsewhere.

The good news is that the old, childless members should be able to come back into the fold  in 15 to18 months.

“The ends justify the means” is not a Christian, moral nor ethical philosophy, but that is the reasoning being applied by Wetterstrom and his church’s administrators to deal with what they see as a demographic crisis. Young people are staying away (perhaps because they have noticed the rank hypocrisy and stupidity in the church, indeed many churches, engage in, but I’m just guessing) and the current flock keeps getting older and older.


Wetterstrom’s tap-dancing and spinning to make this pure discrimination sound godly is a wonder to behold.  He says he sympathizes with older members who are being kicked out. “It’s especially hard on that community,” he said. “It’s just a real tender time for them.”


Still, he says, jettisoning the oldsters  is necessary to save the Cottage Grove church from closing altogether. Current membership is about 1,000, with about 400 attending on a typical Sunday, he said, and almost everyone is 60 and older. Can’t have that! “Something must give,” he said in the letter.

The something, somethings, really,  apparently are loyalty, fairness, inclusiveness and respect.

The Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church approved the plan to create a new, younger, more vibrant congregation led by young, hip Rev. Jeremy Peters. who has experience in church “planting projects,” that attract young families, Wetterstrom said. The purging—I’m sorry, I meant planting—will cost $250,000, covering Peters’s salary, promotions, events, hospitality and utilities, among other expenses.

“One of the challenges we face if we’re trying to create a new culture a new expression, a new community, it truly has to be new people for that to work,” he said. “It’s not about us, it’s not about our preferences, it’s not about what we want. It’s important we put it in a broader context of ‘How we can help the church fulfill those spiritual imperatives?’”

Rev. Ben Ingebretson, Dakotas-Minnesota director of new church development for the United Methodist Church, said their goal is to increase church membership from half of a percent to 3% statewide. “One of the things churches do is they try to plant a new faith community,” he said. “All denominations do it.”

I knew it was coming! “Everybody does it!,” right at the top of the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations List!

If you read between the lines, these rationalizations on the list also peek out at us as the church leaders try to justify the unjustifiable:

13. The Saint’s Excuse: “It’s for a good cause”
19 B. Murkowski’s Lament, or “It was a difficult decision.”
23. The Dealer’s Excuse. or “I’m just giving the people what they want!”
23 A. Woody’s Excuse: “The heart wants what the heart wants”
25. The Coercion Myth: “I have no choice!”
25A. Frederick’s Compulsion or “It’s My Duty!”
28. The Revolutionary’s Excuse: “These are not ordinary times.”
31. The Troublesome Luxury: “Ethics is a luxury we can’t afford right now”
53. Tessio’s Excuse, or “It’s just business”
57. The Universal Trump, or “Think of the children!”
59. The Ironic Rationalization, or “It’s The Right Thing To Do”
67. The Herd’s Excuse, or “We’re all in this together!”

But the church was not trying to exclude anybody, of course. Heaven forbid!

“That’s just not the way we work,”said Rev. Ben Ingebretson, as his church worked exactly as he says it doesn’t. “Elephant? What Elephant?” Yup, he threw a Jumbo into this unethical communion too.

It was this kind of thing that caused my father to leave the Methodist Church and organized religion generally. It also is a large part of the reason neither my wife nor any of her three sisters stayed in their father’s Church once they were adults.


15 thoughts on “Ethics Dunce: Minnesota’s Cottage Grove United Methodist Church

  1. Appalling. All churches may seek to plant new faith communities, but they generally don’t throw their existing members under the bus to do it.

    You bet this will cost them: older members tend to be more traditional members and, consequently, tend to be TITHING members. I wish him luck getting a dime out of millennials when the collection plate comes around.

  2. One of the tells that an organization is corrupt is that they recruit only inexperienced people, who have no knowledge of common practices and therefore have no way to know that what they’re doing is unusual. This sounds like a nonprofit variant of that.

  3. Saving souls is a tough business to be in. But when the going gets tough, the tough come up with a strategic plan that involves lots of quasi-business and military authentic frontier gibberish, mixed with woke religious gobbledy-gook.

    “It will reopen in the fall with a new focus on young families with children.” Yes, let’s “refocus.” There’s a trendy term.

    “It’s especially hard on that community,” Ah yes. There it is. The magic word of lefty bullshit. “Community!” We’re not individuals, we’re all members of one of about forty-seven different “communities,” (As of this morning. But wait, there’s more!) all of which are wonderful and important, unless they’re not, like the community of people who have already raised their children and grandchildren and gone gray in the process.

    “But he said the reboot is necessary.” By all means, let’s use a goofy, computer-related, made-up term for what we’re doing. They won’t have any idea what we’re talking about!

    “The CG campus is nearing the end of its life cycle.” “Life cycle,” there’s a high falutin’ term. Borrowed from the real estate appraisal lexicon. We’re not dealing with churches or people here, we’re dealing with an asset with a useful life! Think of all the deferred maintenance that’s accumulating on these old people’s balance sheets! At some point, you just have to write these things off and re-capitalize! Wasn’t it St. Matthew that said “Last In, First Out, sayeth the Lord (or the IRS, I forget).”

    Peters has experience in church “planting projects,” “Planting projects.” Brilliant. A whole new term of indeterminate meaning.

    Cottage grove has been identified as a “high potential” community. Reminds me of “target rich environment.” Maybe they should call it a “Turkey shoot” rather than a “planting project?”

    “we’re trying to create a new culture, a new expression, a new community,” When you don’t want people to know what you’re doing, distract and misdirect them. It’s not a church, it’s a “culture.” You know, like in a petri dish in a laboratory, full of lab rats? It’s not a church, it’s an “expression.” Huh? A new “community!” Shazam! There it is. You can’t have too many “communities” in any given “communication.” Right, PR consultant guy?

    The United Methodist Church has targeted Cottage Grove as a high-potential community.” I’m surprised they didn’t call the new minister “a laser guided smart bomb.”

    The professionalization of faith. Brilliant. Glad I checked out of church over fifty years ago. If anyone in an organized church doesn’t realize they’re the object of nothing but marketing, they’re fooling themselves.

    • OB,

      I agree with your analysis of the professionalization of faith, and enjoyed reading your comment. It is a problem in Western culture, going back to before Reformation. Jesus even threw the money changers out over a similar issue.

      However, I take exception to the last statement.

      If anyone in an organized church doesn’t realize they’re the object of nothing but marketing, they’re fooling themselves.

      So, you have a problem with one bank teller, and all banks are terrible? One branch of Subway makes a bad sandwich, and all sandwiches are bad?

      Confirmation bias, I think. There are a LOT of great churches out there. If they all acted as you say, they would not have any membership at all.

      Or are you saying that church goers are all stupid rubes being fleeced? Perhaps the word you are looking for is ‘deplorable.’

      I understand you have been hurt. There are people out there who are not looking to take advantage of you, and only want to follow the tenets of Jesus toward you: Love.

      Still love you like a brother, OB.

  4. For about the last eight years I have been involved with a number of church congregations in my county (there are over 100), helping to establish security committees, security plans and train armed security teams. While a few of these congregations have been of the “hip, woke, new age-y” variety, most are quite conservative and traditional in their orientation. The churches with which I am most familiar, rather than abandoning core Christian principles, are “doubling down,” in effect. A phrase I hear a lot is “let the church be the church*.” It is necessary, of course, to seek involvement of younger people for the church to continue, but it is patently foolish (not to mention counter to Biblical principles) to disrespect and alienate the older members. There are literally dozens if not hundreds of proven programs that can help churches do this, without becoming just a feel-good social club not anchored in Christ and the Bible. The Babylon Bee satire about the Methodist Church is closer to the truth than many are comfortable with. I hear that many Methodists in my area are moving toward severing ties to the UMC.


    • Especially since the trend of Millennials and younger is that, when they do go to a church, the number one trait they are looking for is authenticity. Is the church a social club of nattering holier than thous, or is it a community of genuine believers, encouraging and challenging each other to grow in the faith, deepen their understanding through prayer and study, and follow Jesus’ example in service – not evangelism! – both inside and outside of the church.

      If that’s the set of standards the younger set is looking for, no wonder that both long-established churches and super mega churches are experiencing troubles drawing and holding the younger set. They’re being expected to walk the walk, and not only is that hard, there’s not a lot of money to be made in genuine Christianity. Which scarcely bothers the genuine Christian’s, but sure bugs the rest!

      • I think you’re right. The mission of the Christian church is not to embrace a “youth culture”, nor an “elderly culture”, nor build an empire, nor own a big beautiful building on a really green lawn. The mission of the church is to glorify God. If a church seeks to do that above all else, it will have a very difficult time being woke or bending to the winds of culture – though it will likely find itself in those crosshairs often – but it will have a much easier time being authentic.

  5. If they wanted to reach out to younger people to join the church, they could have started a young singles group with the youth minister arranging activities that would appeal to that demographic. The idea of tossing out older members who probably came to services regularly and tithed to build the church in the first place is idiotic.

  6. I am part of the leadership group at my current church. As a Gen-Xer, I’m between the retirees and the young millennial families. Reaching young families involves a focus on their children. If the church has a fun and safe place for their kids, the parents will come. You know who is good at being fun and non-threatening to kids? Older people. We have a number of grandmas who teach children’s classes, watch babies in the nursery, etc. The older generation is also key to mentoring relationships with younger families in spiritual issues, parenting issues, and life in general.
    Yes, some older folks can be resistant to change that may appeal to a different generation, but this pastor should see these people as useful resources in the growth of the church, I believe the problem lies in his “church planting” experience. For those unfamiliar, “church planting” is a term (that has been around since at least the 80s) for starting a brand new church. This leads me to believe he doesn’t have the experience in keeping an existing church going.
    To quote the president, “Sad!”

  7. How long will this policy last? I’m not sure it will get started. Little kids like to see family, like grandparents. Booting out families with teems will accelerate the normal attrition of young adults. And older parishioners usually donate more and some in wills. This is the sound of self-destruction and it is too bad no one wiser sat them down and said, don’t be stupid.

    Now if they really wanted something they’d set up some good yentas at a large regular social events. My brother is desperate to meet someone nice. (and bars just don’t cut it and dating apps get foreign chicks who want cash)

  8. Ok, this is in my wheelhouse.

    First of all, NO, other denominations and churches do NOT do this. This is the first I’ve ever heard of it.

    Shut down for a while and re-open under new management? Sure.
    Expel old people? No.
    “Other churches” (and he means evangelical ones) can attract young people because some of us (a remnant, but still, enough to fill churches) are attracted to the Holy Spirit and the actual teachings of the Bible. Even if you look at fully post-Christian nations like the UK or Australia, there are Bible-believing churches of all sizes filled with enthusiastic young people.

    Mainline denominations that reject the Bible but still wear the dried-out husk of their abandoned faith have no reason to exist anymore, except as old-timer country clubs for people who grew up in the days when churches were hubs for the whole community. (I’m aware that the United Methodist denomination is split over these issues, and they aren’t all like this.)

    It sounds as if the post-Christian church is looking in at more vibrant, authentic congregations and mistakenly thinking that multimedia or having a cool one-syllable name is the reason those churches attract young people. In reality those churches look trendy because they are populated and led by young people in the first place.

    This pastor’s approach (“How do you do, fellow kids? Look how hip and radical we are now! We threw out all the lame old people!” is something that Jesus would never do. But Jesus doesn’t have anything to do with these churches anymore in the first place.

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