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First-ever Family Matters Conference features local experts, range of topics

Pastor Leroy Childress hopes to continue and grow the idea

by Melanie Jongsma

LANSING, Ill. (August 18, 2018) – “I don’t recall any church doing anything like this before,” said Barb Lessner as she looked over the conference brochure during the continental breakfast. There were 15 workshops led by 10 local experts, covering a range of topics for families of all types.

In the minutes leading up to go-time, Pastor Leroy Childress was feeling the pre-conference stress of having to focus on his own presentations, some technology issues, and being a leader to the faculty of experts assembled for the day. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
The first-ever Family Matters Conference was hosted by Grace Church. The initial vision came from Pastor Leroy Childress, but he entered into collaboration with his own church leadership and a variety of area experts in order to make the vision reality. This morning, as the first registrants gathered around tables enjoying coffee, fruit, and Panera pastries, Childress was feeling the adrenaline of seeing months of work come to fruition. “We’re excited to give this a try,” he said. And later, “We are hoping this is not our last year of doing this. We recognize there is value in this.”

Throughout the planning and the execution, Childress wanted the conference to be a real community resource, for anyone who might want practical help with real-life issues.

The day began around 8:30am, as registrants came to the table and received a brochure, a comment card, and a name tag that also listed the sessions they had signed up for. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Before the breakout sessions, registrants gathered in the main sanctuary. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Pastor Childress opened the Family Matters Conference by explaining to registrants “Why You Matter in Your Family.” (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Dominique and Terrance Harness had a tough time choosing which sessions to attend. In the end, Terrance chose “How to Love My Wife,” which was led by Pastor Childress, and Dominique chose “How to Respect My Husband,” which was led by Eunice Childress. “Everyone needs better relationships,” said Terrance, so they chose those sessions instead of the one about Financials. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
A panel discussion of “Dating Smart” was one of the second workshop options. Eunice and Leroy Childress were joined by David Childress to lead the discussion. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
“We has a really good conversation,” said Steve Wright (center) about his session for grandparents who are involved in parenting. Some of the conversation was about navigating the changing seasons of life, when some capacities diminish but others increase. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Shelby Smith (left of screen) led a popular session called, “Arguing in Marriage: How Do We Just Get Along?” (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

Ann Smit (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
“It’s very good,” said Ann Smit about the conference. There were three breakout sessions, and each offered five workshops to choose from. Many registrants found it hard to choose which workshop to attend because so many were relevant.

During the second breakout, Smit chose a workshop by Bethany Casson about “Dealing with Cutting and Self Harm.” Casson is a licensed clinical professional counselor and mental health counselor, and she lives in Lansing.

Pastor David Prince (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
“I’m kind of jealous,” said Pastor David Prince of Lansing’s Living Word Church. “I wish I had thought of this. But I didn’t, so I’m doing the next best thing and helping out.” Prince agrees that the Family Matters Conference is a great way for churches and community to come together. He closed out the conference with an encouragement for attendees— “God’s Family Matters”—making the case that God created families for specific purposes, and we are most fulfilled when fulfilling that purpose.

Post-conference analysis

Now that this first Family Matters Conference is finished, the team of collaborators has a framework they can building on. They requested feedback from conference attendees, and they will use those comments to tweak, refine, and enhance future conferences.

Childress said, “It was great to read the feedback on the evaluation forms from the participants. Apparently the topics of the breakout sessions were really relevant to people. We addressed some really important issues.”

Childress was also pleased with the quality of the presenters who participated in today’s sessions. Having that kind of expertise within Lansing and the broader community is a powerful resource.

“I am also proud of the staff and volunteers who got behind the vision and worked so hard to give it their all,” added Childress. Rich De Vries was one of those volunteers. He’s been a member of Grace Church for 59 years, and he credits Pastor Childress with bringing a new creativity and energy to the church that both old and young appreciate. Indeed, a variety of ages, skills, and talents served as conference volunteers this morning—running technology, guiding guests, serving food, and generally making sure the conference ran smoothly.

That kind of attention to detail made it clear that this conference was ready for visitors, whether those guests had a church background or not. “There were people from the community whom I had never met before,” said Childress. “That they came out to be a part of the conference was what I call ‘awesomeness’!”

Grace Church

Grace Church is located at 2740 Indiana Avenue in Lansing. There are a variety of ways to get more information:


Melanie Jongsma
Melanie Jongsma
Melanie Jongsma grew up in Lansing, Illinois, and believes The Lansing Journal has an important role to play in building community through trustworthy information.


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