An intriguing new strategy for church growth was announced by Grove United Methodist Church.
That is, to accelerate the number of youthful attendees by prohibiting… “old people.” The strategy has come after much deliberation and decision making from the Grove United Methodist leadership, who have decided to close the church to seniors in an effort to boost attendance, and therefore tithes from the younger generation.
All hope is not lost for the senior generation, however, who will be allowed to attend again once they increase the number of families and young ones attending in approximately 15-18 months’ time.
Growth has nothing to do with seats filled, pews empty or turnout but in devotion of heart to Christ.
Reports indicate that this inherently divisive strategy is not uncommon for this particular denomination. They recently refused to come under the headship of the African UMC caused by theological disputes over gay marriage and homosexuality.
There have been worse times in church history. Poor decisions, dangerous theology and cult-like behavior that have not set us up to be a city on a hill, or the light of the world.
Yet there’s something about this decision from this UMC church, which no doubt was made by well-meaning followers of Jesus, that must be what Paul meant when he exhorted us ‘do not grieve the Holy Spirit’ (Ephesians 4:30). It causes me to cringe that a church would close its doors to faithful believers, givers and worshippers, some of whom have served the church longer than the pastors would have been there.
Did they forget that all the parts of the body form the whole body? Though Pauline theology is typically referring to gifts it is also explicitly referring to the types of people in the body of Christ; old, young, male, female, Greek, Jew, you get the idea.
There’s a reason that the Archbishop of Canterbury or even the Pope aren’t rolling around in their twenties. Age is wisdom. The elderly generation in my church were the “spiritual bread and butter,” who often carried the congregation in times of need. They were the heavyweights, the ones with years of authority and intimacy with the Lord that no “young one” could match. They were the ones praying with conviction and at great cost, up at all hours interceding to the Lord, with the Lord.
Deuteronomy 32:7: “consider the generations long past. Ask your father and He will tell you, ask your elders and they will explain to you.” Oh, the great loss of wisdom that comes with a so-called strategic ban of the elderly!
Even further, on principle, this strategy is concerning. It says something significant about the church when we “ban” and even categorize members, in order to accelerate growth. Isn’t this the opposite of what Jesus did? Jesus welcomed the marginalized, loved the outcast, extended the table and made room for the lowly. We surely can’t even subdivide them into the aforementioned categories.
Growth, in the Kingdom, has nothing to do with numbers. Growth begins on the inside and reveals itself on the outside. Growth has nothing to do with seats filled, pews empty or turnout but in devotion of heart to Christ. We only need to glance once at the Iranian Awakening, the fastest growing church in the world, that has no building, no central leadership and no bank account. But what they do have are disciples, real followers of Jesus that see spiritual sleepiness as a greater threat to faith than persecution.
As much as we seek to believe that the Pastor has the best interest at heart, it’s hard to reconcile this church’s strategy with Jesus’ command to seek first the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6:33), which indubitably does not involve the removal of someone from church based on their number of years on Earth.