Over the last several years, Paul & I have grown to have a sweet vision for community. This vision was helped along by the teaching of our friend & now church-planter, Chris Tenny, furthered by being taught and trained through Coram Deo Church Community in Omaha, and we are still growing in what it means to live in community and to be missional to those around us. To strive in this way meant being uncomfortable, it is not natural and goes against our fleshly desire to stay “safe” in our individualized culture.
We recognized that individualism reigns in today’s society. We watched neighbors stealthily go to work, come home, drive into their garages, shut the doors and not come out again for the rest of the evening. We even saw a few be some-what rude as we sought to be friendly – instead of waving, smiling or saying “Hi” back to us, they would quickly turn their heads and pretend they didn’t see us, etc.
For two introverts, it took a lot for us to get the courage up to actively pursue people (especially Paul, the uber-introverted engineer). It took intentionality, us making up our minds and thinking of ways to be seen, be friendly and pursue. When we finally felt we were in a groove & having a ball inviting people into our home & becoming friends, we moved to a new town and a new community. Here we are, at square one again.
Here’s what I’ve been learning through this process.
- God honors a desire for community. Prayer has helped right our hearts and has helped us be mindful of engaging our neighbors. Through praying that God would give us opportunities & courage to approach them, and that He would help guide our tongues, we’ve been able to develop friendships in following the doors He’s opened. Praying for their hearts to be open has encouraged us to walk in faith and trust that God put us in this sphere of influence and neighborhood for a reason. It’s a mighty thing to know that God hears us, answers us, and that we can freely approach Him with confidence.
And this is the confidence that we have toward him, that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us..” – 1 John 5:14
- Common courtesy & friendliness go a long way. Even when we struggled to speak to our neighbors at times, we made it a point to wave as they drove out of or into their driveway. We installed a front porch swing so we could hang out in the front yard and be visible, saying “Hello” to those walking dogs or simply asking a neighbor about his new plants and landscaping. These small gestures of friendliness helped them see that we care to be nice and cordial.
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” – Romans 12:17-18
- Engage with purpose. Be intentional, plan things that will help you actually grow a friendship. Think of ways to make that extra effort and let them know you want to be friends, not just mere neighbors who vaguely talk about the weather on the way to the mailbox. Being intentional requires courage & boldness because it means we step out of our “comfort zone” and into a zone where we might be rejected.
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” – Hebrews 13:2
Here are some ideas that Paul & I have found helpful in reaching out to our neighbors and build community:
- Hosting fire pits and BBQs to invite our neighbors to (and do it in your driveway, not the backyard!)
- Game nights
- Pot lucks or just a casual dinner that we host in our home
- Play dates, even just in the park – inviting them to share your activity and day
- Block or neighborhood parties, if you are ambitious & love to plan things
- Serve your neighbors – if you know they are sick or in need, pull weeds, mow lawns, bring food, move furniture, help on a house project, provide meals, pet/house/baby-sitting, etc.
- Have kids. Seriously, one of the most successful ways we got to know our neighbors is through spending time outside with a baby. No one could not come over to visit and see how she was growing. (NOTE: I do not endorse the idea of having children just to get connected with your community, but if God’s directing you to have kids, don’t stay huddled in your house fearful of what they might catch. Kids are a natural conversation starter for parents. In addition they are usually really friendly with other people so they connect with them and you can follow their lead, wisely of course.)
- Front yard picnics, playing, ball, etc.
- Bring small gifts of extra produce from your garden, cookies, bread, etc.
- Host sport watching events (Superbowl, Stanley Cup, Huskers games, etc)
- Host a cookie exchange, freezer meal party, wine & cheese tasting, a movie/TV show watching party, etc.
- Take walks at the same time every day.
The point is to be seen regularly, and in today’s society that means much of those activities will require you to make them happen through thinking ahead and planning. Think through things and make decisions with how it can impact your relationships with your community in mind. Will it help or hinder the building of relationships? Will it give you an opportunity to get to know them and share life with them? Is it motivated by the desire to hide or “be by yourself”, are you running from community or “living life with others”?
Through small events, invitations and the awkwardness of conversing with people you don’t know, good friendships and sharing of life can happen. When we share life with people around us, they get to see what your life is made up of. That means you get to share the reasons for things you do, what you believe, struggles and how God has helped grow you through them, etc. It’s a wonderful experience to go from being nervous of that first knock on their door, to praying with them in your living room! God is glorified when we stop making our lives about us, and instead seek to reach others and share Him.
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.” – 1 Timothy 1:15-17