Struggling Minnesota church to develop new programming

COTTAGE GROVE, Minn. (AP) — A struggling Minnesota church is temporarily closing one of its campuses and asking its parishioners to worship at a second location as it develops new programming to attract more people.

Grove United Methodist Church is closing its Cottage Grove campus in June, with plans to relaunch in November. The campus’ members, most of whom are over 60 years old, are being invited to worship at its nearby Woodbury campus, which has about 1,000 parishioners, or at another location of their choosing.

Church officials said the congregation needs a reset. They have asked parishioners to wait 15 to 18 months after the relaunch before returning.

The Cottage Grove church has struggled with membership and finances. Seven years ago, two leadership teams within the church said they could no longer pay for a minister at the Cottage Grove campus, and decided to switch to lay ministry, with weekly sermons by members. The church’s attendance and finances have stabilized recently, with an average weekly attendance of 25.

But Cottage Grove is growing quickly and the church should be growing with it, said the Rev. Dan Wetterstrom, head of the two-location Grove church.

The Methodists’ regional body is paying $250,000 to restart the church, Wetterstrom said. They have hired a pastor with experience in this area to help. Jeremy Peters, 32, moved to Cottage Grove with his wife and three children for the relaunch.

“It’s a new thing with a new mission for a new target and a new culture,” he said.

Wetterstrom said church officials are asking parishioners to let the relaunch happen. “For this to be truly new, we can’t have the core group of 30 people. The members of the church have other options. They can come to Woodbury during this phase.”

Stella and Jon Knapp of Cottage Grove were the only members with children at the recent service, and they hate the plan.

“If it happened, I wouldn’t come here any more,” said Stella Knapp, 34. As six-year members, the couple loves the church and said they didn’t mind being the youngest members.

“This church is very kind to us and our children,” said Jon Knapp, 34.


This story was first published on January 20, 2020. It was updated on Jan. 24, 2020, to correct that the church asked current members to wait 15 to 18 months after the Cottage Grove campus re-launches before returning to worship there, but it didn’t single out older members in that request. The story also erroneously reported the age of the pastor who will be guiding the relaunch and the number of children he has. Jeremy Peters is 32 years old, not 30, and he and his wife have three children, not two.