How Grandparents Can Help The Grands Connect to Church for Life
When Tom Crites and I conducted the research for the book “Why They Stay,” we found several surprises. The book addresses the issues that keep children and teens connected to church into their adult lives. On its face, one of the surprises sounded like bad news and actually hurt my feelings personally as a new grandparent. We were surprised to discover no correlation between the faith of grandparents and whether young adults were still actively involved in church as adults. That is not to suggest that grandparents cannot have an influence. The key message of this finding is for parents and the message is this; You cannot delegate the spiritual development of your children to anyone else. Though you may take pride in the fact that your dad was a deacon or your mom sang in the choir, it is you and your spouse that your children are most likely to model their faith after.
What is a grandparent supposed to do with this information? Quite frankly, I would ignore it and that comes from the person who wrote it. Here is why. My grandparents had a direct effect on my spiritual journey. The research is a 10,000 foot view of trends and probabilities. The whole premise of the book is that parents and church leaders have influence and the research directs them to the points of impact. What steps can a grandparent take to increase the probability that their grands will be in church as adults?
First, revitalize your relationship to your adult children. If you are estranged from your adult children for any reason, your ability to influence your grandchildren is lessened greatly. You will have less time with them (if any), less access to them, and less influence on them if your children are undermining your credibility based on a damaged relationship. I want to acknowledge that the problems may not even be your fault. Let’s assume for the moment you are totally on the right side of whatever the issues may be. Could it be that you need to make a sacrifice for your grandchildren? Take the high road and the humble road and set aside the fact that you are right, seek reconciliation even at a cost to your pride, and turn your attention to any possible influence you can have on your grandchildren. This is particularly important if one or both of their parents are not in church. They are in an uphill struggle for their spiritual development and you need to be a cheerleader for their faith. You cannot do that if you are estranged from the your grandchild’s parents.
Second, do what you must to get your grandchildren to Jesus. Ideally, their parents are taking them to church. If not, and it is in your power to do so, take them to Sunday School, worship, Vacation Bible School, send them to a Christian Youth Camp, and do all in your power to get them to Jesus and to a place where their faith is continually being fed as often as is within your power to do so and as early in their lives as possible.
Third, share the tools (of how to keep kids connected) with your adult children. Whether you give them a copy of a book like “Why They Stay,” or share from the lessons you have learned from reading it yourself, or pointing them to a website like whytheystay.com, find a way. Obviously I highlighted the resources that are part of the project I am invested in right now, but please understand that the principle is what I want you to see and not a product. Discover good resources and feed them to the parents of your grandchildren.
Fourth, be a model of faith and a cheerleader for the faith of your grandchildren. You have probably heard it said before that your life may be the only Bible that some people ever read. That may be true for your grandchildren if their parents are not living their faith. Be a Christ-like model of faith and demonstrate what it means to live for Jesus Christ. In addition, everyone needs encouragement. Be a cheerleader for the faith or your grandchildren by affirming any and all steps of faith and spiritual growth. Celebrate their spiritual milestones and make much of them as they make much of Jesus.