Ohio Church Elevates the Place and Purpose of Grandparents

First Friends Church in Canton organizes a conference on grandparenting and offers other support.

The Church: First Friends Church in Canton, Ohio
The Challenge: Help grandparents play a meaningful role in the lives of their grandkids.
One Big Idea: Initiate a conference on grandparenting and mobilize other support.

After the birth of his granddaughter, Pastor Paul Johnson didn’t take a hands-on role in the child’s life. Instead, he let his wife take charge. That all changed when he attended a conference on the role grandparents should play in their grandchildren’s lives.

“I was not engaged,” says Johnson, head of the senior’s ministry and pastoral care at First Friends Church in Canton, Ohio. “I was removed, and I realized that I needed to be involved and not to be so selfish and really invest more time.”

The summit so inspired Johnson that he organized a similar conference held at First Friends in June 2017. “Grandparenting Matters!” featured Pastor Larry Fowler, founder of the Legacy Coalition, a ministry of Awana, and Wayne Rice, Legacy’s director of conferencing. The conference taught attendees strategic ways they could play an influential role in their grandchildren’s lives, such as sharing the gospel through storytelling and using social media to keep in touch.

According to Johnson, many grandparents focus more on completing their bucket lists or retiring in the tropics than they do on intentionally discipling their grandchildren.

“We’re coming across so many people who drop the torch,” Johnson says. “But if my child drops the torch and walks away from the Lord, whose responsibility is it to share the gospel with the grandkids? If my kids aren’t going to do it, I have to take responsibility for it.”

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About 100 people attended First Friends’ conference, many of whom learned that they needed to do more than give their grandkids sweets and spoil them, Johnson says.

Fowler says the Scriptures back up the importance of Christian grandparents. He points to Deuteronomy 4:9 because it calls on believers to pass on their insights “to your children and to their children after them.”

Fowler says the verse led to the realization that he should pass on his faith to two generations.

“It’s not like a relay race where I pass on the baton to my children,” he says. “Rather, there’s this overlapping of responsibility.”

Sometimes, however, the relationship between parents and their children can become strained, making it difficult for grandparents to play a meaningful role in their grandkids’ lives. In that case, Johnson says the grandparents need to humble themselves and reach out to their children to mend the brokenness.

In addition to equipping grandparents, Johnson says First Friends offers a number of activities for older adults. Pickleball games, very popular among the church’s senior set, take place three times weekly. The church also organizes a luncheon and a Bible study for seniors.

Just as grandparents can initiate spreading the gospel to their grandchildren, they also can play a key role in sharing their wisdom with young Christians.

“We’re really trying hard to make things at our church multigenerational because there’s this tendency to segregate ages,” Johnson says. “We think it’s important to have multigenerational programs so that the older generation can teach the younger people.”

Canton, Ohio

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