As a church planting catalyst I am often asked to recommend books to church planters. If I can give only five books to a planter, I believe the most helpful writings (theologically, missiologically and ecclesiologically) for planting today include:
Church Planting: Laying Foundations by Stuart Murray
The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st Century Church by Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch
Starting Missional Churches: Life With God in The Neighborhood edited by Mark Lau Branson and Nicholas Warnes
The Permanent Revolution: Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st Century Church by Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim
The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community by Paul Sparks, Tim Soerens and Dwight Friesen
If I can expand the list to add five additional resources, I would include:
Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition by Christine Pohl
The Tangible Kingdom: Creating Incarnational Community by Hugh Halter and Matt Smay
God Next Door by Simon Carey Holt
The Abundant Community: Awakening the Power of Families and Neighborhoods by Peter Block and John McKnight
Missional Essentials: A Guide for Experiencing God’s Mission in Your Life by Brad Brisco and Lance Ford (I recommend this last book as a resource to take every member of a church planting core team through as a group to ensure everyone is on the same page in regards to language and missionary practices.)
This past week I posted a short excerpt from a Thom Rainer article where he discussed the disdain that many people have for the “Stand and Greet” time that is a part of many Sunday morning worship services. He argues that churches are actually driving “guests” away from Sunday services because of the practice.
You may debate the conclusions of his research, but what I find fascinating is the apparent need that churches in the United States have for the practice to begin with. Why do we feel it necessary to create a set time for people to turn to strangers sitting around them and say good morning? Why is it important in many churches to give specific instructions for asking totally random questions of each other? But the issue is not only why does the church feel it is essential to create this artificial moment to force people to greet one another, but why do so many people in the church find this time to be awkward, and often disingenuous?
I am not interested in examining the actual practice, but instead I want to ask what are the underlying issues? What is missing in our understanding of church and each other that prompts us to think this practice is necessary? What changes need to take place in our thinking to develop a more natural, holistic, posture towards one another?
I am convinced that the need the church feels to maintain a regular “stand and greet” time is actually a symptom of much greater issues. Further, the disdain that many people have toward the practice speaks to deeper issues surrounding our understanding of humanity and the current reality of a relationally disconnected society.
There are at least three overarching issues we need to focus more time and attention on in the life of the church. I am not suggesting that these are the only issues, or that these three are a cure-all for what ails the American church. But I do believe focusing more time on the way we think about each of these three topics would go a long way in shaping the way we act towards one another, both in and outside the church, and maybe just render the “stand and greet” obsolete.
1. We need to teach and reflect more on genuine biblical community.
We must help people in the church understand the true meaning of biblical community. Unfortunately, for many churches the people gathered on Sunday morning are not really a church, but instead are simply a collection of unconnected individuals. The church must be viewed as the people of God, rather than a time or place. We cannot go to church, we are the church.
Although speaking primarily about the communities in which we live, these words from Peter Block are appropriate to our sense of community and relatedness in the body of Christ:
The need to create a structure of belonging grows out of the isolated nature of our lives, our institutions, and our communities. The absence of belonging is so widespread that we might say we are living in an age of isolation…. Ironically, we talk about how small our world has become with the shrinking effect of globalization, instant sharing of information, quick technology, workplaces that operate around the globe. Yet these do not necessarily create a sense of belonging. They provide connection, diverse information, an infinite range of opinion. But all this does not create the connection from which we can become grounded and experience the sense of safety that arises from a place where we are emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically a member.
Our isolation occurs because western culture, our individualistic narrative, the inward attention of our institutions and our professions, and the messages from our media all fragment us. We are broken into pieces.
If Block is right, and I think he is, then the church must show a better way. We should display to the world a visual and credible alternative to living isolated, relationally impoverished lives.
I would suggest a place to start might involve doing a “community audit” that asks what are we doing to cultivate real community in the body? What is prohibiting community and relational connectedness happening in the life of the church? What might we do differently, not just during, but also before and after our gatherings? Might we participate in communion differently? For some, do we engage in the Lord’s Supper more often? Perhaps we actually share a meal together on a regular basis?
I recently attended three different ethnic churches, and all three had a meal after the Sunday gathering. In each case, the majority of attenders to the worship service stayed for the meal. It was abundantly clear that vibrant, genuine community was taking place around tables of food.
However, as crucial as the connection is between relationships and food, I believe the single most important aspect of developing genuine community involves the engagement in God’s mission. I am convinced the best way to cultivate and deepen biblical community in the body is to get people in the church engaged in mission in their neighborhoods and communities. Most people who gather together on Sunday morning do not have genuine fellowship with one another because they have never engaged in mission with those sitting around them.
2. We need to teach and reflect more on biblical hospitality.
Related to the concept of community is the issue of biblical hospitality. I use the adjective biblical to help differentiate this particular form of hospitality from what usually comes to mind when people hear the word hospitality. Most often we imagine that being hospitable revolves around entertaining; inviting family and friends into our homes for a meal.
As I have already encouraged, there’s nothing wrong with sharing a meal with friends and family. In fact, it is a great thing to do. However, conventional entertaining generally focuses on the host—and in doing so it can become a pride issue. As hosts we become concerned about what others will think. How will our home reflect on us? Will our guests like us and the place we live? What if everything isn’t perfect? If the house isn’t spotless and well decorated, how can we possibly entertain guests? This sort of hospitality holds up a false ideal that’s all about making ourselves look good. This “entertaining” form of hospitality can easily be more about appearances than people.
The word hospitality might also bring to mind the hospitality industry, which includes hotels, restaurants and cruise ships that work judiciously to create an atmosphere of friendliness and welcome. Or perhaps church hospitality teams come to mind—teams that include greeters, ushers and those who set up coffee and snacks for the Sunday morning gathering.
Author Christine Pohl says in one of the best books on hospitality (aptly titled Making Room) that in either case, “most understandings of hospitality have a minimal moral component—hospitality is a nice extra if we have the time or the resources, but we rarely view it as a spiritual obligation or as a dynamic expression of vibrant Christianity.”
The fact is that over time the Christian community has lost touch with the amazing, transformative realities of true biblical hospitality.
But what exactly is biblical hospitality? A good place to start is to consider the meaning of the word in Scripture. In the New Testament, the Greek word for “hospitality” is philoxenia, which is a combination of two words: phileo (love) and xenos (stranger). It literally means “love of stranger.”
There are several implications to this definition. First, in order to love the stranger and open our homes effectively, we need to expand our view of hospitality. Jesus challenges us to extend our circle beyond friends and relatives to include those in need:
When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you (Lk 14:12-14).
Notice that the practice of genuine, biblical hospitality is distinct from entertaining because it reaches out to those who cannot reciprocate. Jesus tells us to invite those who can’t pay us back. In other words, invite those who are in need. Often when we invite friends into our homes for dinner there is an expectation that next time they will return the favor and have us over to their house. But the point of this passage is that customary “payback” hospitality is of no merit to God. As Darrell Bock puts it, “The best hospitality is that which is given, not exchanged.”
A second important aspect of biblical hospitality is the understanding that strangers are not just people we don’t know. In a strict sense, strangers are those ￼who are disconnected from basic relationships. So hospitality is not only about creating physical environments that are welcoming to others; it is also about the posture we take toward human relationships in general.
How many people do we know in our neighborhood, and even in our church family, who are living lives severed from basic relationships? Hospitality involves cultivating connections with those disconnected people. It encompasses a willingness to listen well to those who rarely have a voice. It is about turning our lives toward the other, welcoming them into a relationship with us and also inviting them into our network of relationships. Perhaps we can create appropriate space during our gatherings to facilitate this, but it most certainly should be happening at many other times. Pohl remarks on this broader understanding of hospitality:
When we offer hospitality to strangers, we welcome them into a place to which we are somehow connected—a space that has meaning and value to us. This is often our home, but it also includes church, community, nation, and various other institutions. In hospitality, the stranger is welcomed into a safe, personal, and comfortable place, a place of respect and acceptance and friendship. Even if only briefly, the stranger is included in a life-giving and life-sustaining network of relations. Such welcome involves attentive listening and mutual sharing of lives and life stories. It requires an openness of heart, a willingness to make one’s life visible to others, and a generosity of time and resources.
3. We need to teach and reflect more on the relational implications of the imago Dei.
God reveals the relational nature of the Trinity in Genesis 1:26: “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.”
Inherent in the imago Dei is the dignity or worth of each individual. (Genesis 9:6; James 3:9) It should have a profound impact on how we see, relate to and treat those around us. C. S. Lewis said it well, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal.”
Every person we come in contact with holds immeasurable value. We need to be reminded that every person, regardless of age, gender, color of skin or social economic position has a unique story and special gifts that we can learn from – that we need to learn from.
Further, when we look at other people through the lens of being bearers of the image of God, it is impossible to close our hearts to those who are suffering, poor, or marginalized. We are all broken people who will only be made whole again as we live out the good news of the kingdom in real community with other broken people.
Who better than followers of Jesus, the church, to welcome people into a network of relationships; into genuine community? We know that God has fashioned us as social, relational beings. We know that God has created us to be in a relationship with him but also to be in relationships with others.
Where do we go from here? Let me suggest a few resources that may provide some help in regards to next steps.
To help people better understand the relational impoverishment that is so prevalent in our country, I would suggest books like Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community and Better Together: Restoring the American Community both by Robert Putman.
I would also recommend Michael Frost’s Incarnate: The Body of Christ in an Age of Disengagement to get a clear picture of the seriousness of the issue in today’s culture.
To help with the issues of community and hospitality I would suggest both Making Room and Living Into Community by Christine Pohl. I could not recommend more highly Peter Block’s book Community: The Structure of Belonging. I have also written a chapter on hospitality in The Missional Quest.
What exactly is biblical hospitality? A good place to start is to consider the meaning of the word in Scripture. In the New Testament, the Greek word for “hospitality” is philoxenia, which is a combination of two words: phileo (love) and xenos (stranger). It literally means “love of stranger.” There are several implications to this definition.
First, in order to love the stranger and open our homes effectively, we need to expand our view of hospitality. Jesus challenges us to extend our circle beyond friends and relatives to include those in need:
When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.” (Luke 14:12)
Notice that the practice of genuine, biblical hospitality is distinct from entertaining because it reaches out to those who cannot reciprocate. Jesus tells us to invite those who can’t pay us back In other words, invite those who are in need Often when we invite friends into our homes for dinner there is an expectation that next time they will return the favor and have us over to their house. But the point of this passage is that customary “payback” hospitality is of no merit to God. As Darrell Bock puts it, “The best hospitality is that which is given, not exchange.”
A second important aspect of biblical hospitality is the understanding that strangers are not only people we do not know, but In a strict sense, strangers are those who are disconnected from basic relationships. So hospitality is not only about creating physical environments that are welcoming to others; it is also about the posture we take toward human relationships in general.
How many people do we know in our neighborhood who are living lives severed from basic relationships? Hospitality involves cultivating connections with those disconnected people. It encompasses a willingness to listen well to those who rarely have a voice. It is about turning our lives toward the other, welcoming them into a relationship with us, but also inviting them into our network of relationships. Christine Pohl remarks on this broader understanding of hospitality:
When we offer hospitality to strangers, we welcome them into a place to which we are somehow connected—a space that has meaning and value to us. This is often our home, but it also includes church, community, nation, and various other institutions. In hospitality, the stranger is welcomed into a safe, personal, and comfortable place, a place of respect and acceptance and friendship. Even if only briefly, the stranger is included in a life-giving and life-sustaining network of relationships. Such welcome involves attentive listening and mutual sharing of lives and life stories. It requires an openness of heart, a willingness to make one’s life visible to others, and a generosity of time and resources.
Here’s an example of being included relationally from my own life. During my senior year of high school I worked part time on a large farm just outside of town. During the fall there were so many acres needing to be plowed that for several days tractors would operate late into the evening. Being the youngest worker and the only non-family member, I usually drew the shortest straw and was stuck with the late-night shift.
One evening I didn’t finish plowing until around one in the morning. As I drove the tractor back toward the barn I noticed a light still on in the farmhouse. When I reached the barn, Betty, a wonderful Christian wife and mother in that farming family, came out to tell me she’d kept dinner warm and invited me to eat before traveling home. I sat at one end of the large kitchen table enjoying a huge plate of chicken, potatoes, green beans and homemade dinner rolls, while Betty asked me questions about my life and family.
I had never had an adult outside of my own family welcome me in such a way. Betty not only opened her home to me, she welcomed me into her family. More than thirty years later I still vividly remember what it felt like to be included. I experienced true biblical hospitality that evening. As a young man who was experiencing the standard feelings of teenage rebellion and confusion, I felt loved, honored and welcomed that night. And I remember, as someone who didn’t know Jesus, wondering what on earth made this woman different. Why did she care to know who I was? Why did she want to hear my story? And why was I more than simply a boy who was hired to drive a tractor? In that simple act of hospitality, Betty gave me a glimpse into an alternative way of living.
In Elizabeth Newman’s definition, hospitality is a practice that “asks us to do what in the world’s eyes might seem inconsequential but from the perspective of the gospel is a manifestation of God’s kingdom.” Looking back I now see that was exactly what I experienced around that kitchen table that evening: a manifestation of God’s kingdom. I was being invited into another family.
Adapted from The Missional Quest
Sociologist Ray Oldenburg coined the phrase “Third Place” in his 1989 book The Great Good Place. The extended sub-title of the book helps to clarify the concept; Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons and Other Hangouts at the Heart of a Community.”
But what exactly is a Third Place? According to Oldenburg the first place is our home and the people with whom we live. The second place is where we work and the place we spend the majority of our waking hours. A Third Place is a public setting that hosts regular, voluntary, and informal gatherings of people. It is a place to relax and have the opportunity to know and be known by others. It is a place people like to “hang out.” Oldenburg identifies eight characteristics that Third Places share:
Why is it so important for Christ followers to understand the concept of Third Places? Because the vast majority of people in the United States are living isolated, relationally impoverished lives. And Third Places offer an opportunity for missionally minded people to do life in proximity to others. We must take the time to identify where the Third Places are in our setting. Where do people gather to spend time with others? Where are the coffee houses, cafes, pubs and other hangouts?
But in addition to the typical Third Places as described by Oldenburg, what are some “atypical” places where people congregate? Think of places such as libraries, parks, farmer’s markets, workout centers, etc. We may need to “think outside the box” when identifying where people gather. But once identified we must seek ways to engage those places. This will involve embedding our lives incarnationally into Third Places, listening and learning where God is at work, and asking how we can participate in what God is doing.
Here is a great visual of the concept of Third Places:
Where do you recognize a sense of isolation or loneliness in your neighborhood? Do you yourself experience feelings of isolation from your neighbors? How does the Gospel, the good news of the Kingdom, address the issue of isolation? Do you believe the sense of community is increasing or decreasing in your neighborhood? Why? What are the easily identified Third Places in your neighborhood?
Adapted from Missional Essentials
Jesus’ hospitality to the displaced and distressed was not calculated but casual. It is as though Jesus lived his life as a type of present participle: as he was going. Jesus saw. It is this casualness that undercuts much of what goes by the name of Christian hospitality today. The churches of the country continue to promote program after program, and call committee after committee, to care for the poor, the naked, and the hungry. There is merit, of course, in organization. There is something good to be done by working together. But these efforts, as noble as they are, begin the process of institutionalizing care. When that happens, our ability to see the stranger “as we are going,” is eroded. Clothing and feeding, welcoming and visiting, become agendas. By adopting the vision of Jesus, by seeing as and how Jesus sees, our inclination toward hospitality will become natural and unforced. Hospitality ought to be ad hoc and personal.
~ I Was a Stranger: A Christian Theology of Hospitality by Arthur Sutherland
Good word from Seth Godin that I think fits well with building relationships and incarnating in the places we live, work and play.
When you walk into a fast food restaurant, the stated, measured, delivered-on goals are to get the transaction over with as cheaply and quickly as possible. The cashier, the fry cook, everyone is rewarded on running the line just a little faster and just a little more efficiently.
On the other hand, when you are the first time client at a contractor, a bank or even a resort, everyone on the staff ought to be focused on getting something started, not over with. A relationship that might last for many stays. An engagement that might lead to conversations that spread. Trust that might surface new opportunities for both sides. It's not about spending more time, it's about caring enough about the interaction and the other person that you're focused on this person, not the throughput level.
You can't do both at the same time.
One of the speakers at Sentralized this year will be Dave Runyon, the co-author of The Art of Neighboring: Building Genuine Relationships Right Outside Your Door. This will also be the title of Dave's breakout at the conference this year, here is a brief description.
What if Jesus meant that we should love our actual neighbors? A group of us in Denver are learning the power of taking the Great Commandment literally and seriously. In this workshop we will discuss the value of neighboring and practical tools and strategies for starting a neighboring movement in your community.
We have now been a foster family for over two years. During those two years we have had somewhere between 50-60 children come through our home. Just this week we signed the adoption papers for a four-year old girl who was our very first foster kid. She was with us for six days. She then disappeared into the foster system, only to have God bring her back into our lives eighteen months later to be adopted. The decision to adopt her was the easiest and the hardest decision ever. It was easy because God orchestrated events in such a way to make it crystal clear that adoption was really the only option. It was the hardest, because there are days that I am selfish, and the idea of adopting a four-year old “at my age” was a bit terrifying.
After our first year of fostering I posted here concerning a few things that we had learned. I want to elaborate on a couple of those ideas, and add a thing or two. As I shared a year ago we decided to become a foster family as we reflected on how crazy it was that we had a “home office” that was almost never used. Our family decided to convert the office space back to a bedroom to be in a better position to welcome others into our home.
The journey continues to be a combination of learning and maturing, and at the same time heart-wrenching and challenging. Here are just a few things we have learned, or have been reminded of in a fresh way, over the past two years:
There are multiple ways to be involved as a foster/resource family.
In the past when I heard about a family providing foster care, I thought it only meant long-term placement. What we have been most involved with over the past two years is what is called “PPC”, “Respite Care” and “Family Preservation.” In a very abbreviated version let me explain each.
PPC stands for “Police Protective Custody.” Simply put, we provide a safe home where children stay for 72 hours while the police investigate a potentially dangerous situation from which the children have been removed. In a few instances the children are eventually returned to the home, but more often they are moved to a family member’s home, and in some cases they are placed in the foster system until the family can get healthy enough to care for the children. This is short term, but it provides a wonderful opportunity to love on children who come from very difficult situations.
Respite Care and Family Preservation are both about providing “rest” for families (in most cases single mothers) and children. The difference between the two is that respite involves those children who are already in the system where the foster family needs a break; while family preservation works with families that simply need assistance to help “preserve” their families. The selfish side of respite is that you can schedule when your family is willing and able to take a child into your home. This can be such a wonderful ministry to single moms who simply need someone to come alongside them, if only for one weekend a month.
The depth of brokenness is great.
Most of the kids live in chaos every day of their lives. Some evenings they don’t know where they will sleep. They don’t know if they will be safe in their bed at night. They don’t know who will be in their home in the morning when they wake up. Many times they are not sure when they will eat again. They wonder, does anyone really love me? Who will protect me from harm? Who will be on my side? Most of these kids don't know life from any other vantage point.
The number one issue, brought about by this lack of stability, for every one of these kids is fear. There is a deep and constant fear of being hungry, of abandonment, of parental anger, of other family members, of abuse, lack of control, etc. Needless to say, children cannot thrive when living in constant fear.
The Church must get involved!
I believe involvement in the foster system may be the churches’ number one, greatest opportunity for influence in the United States today. The kids in and around the foster system represent the orphans of today (James 1:27). Not only are there countless opportunities to impact the lives of the children, but in many cases the system creates significant opportunities to speak into the lives of parents and other family members.
Identify the agencies in your community. Meet with them. Find out their most pressing needs. Enlist ways for the people in your church to meet those needs, not only by engaging personally as foster families, but also by discovering ways to support and bless the workers in those agencies. They are dying for your help and encouragement.
The blessings of hospitality
The funny thing about genuine hospitality is just when you think it is about welcoming the stranger, for their benefit, you realize that it is you who is being blessed by the presence of the “stranger.”
I have learned that hospitality is a spiritual discipline and a missional practice. Both the blessings and difficulties of biblical hospitality are most deeply discovered only as it is pursued. In Radical Hospitality, the authors speak to the transformative power of hospitality on our lives when they state: “The real question is not how dangerous that stranger is. The real question is how dangerous will I become if I don’t learn to be more open?”
I have experienced this statement first hand. It has forced me to face my own selfishness. As mentioned earlier, the decision to recently adopt was not easy at first. I couldn’t help but think how adopting was going to change our way of life for many years to come. I was beginning to look forward to what it would be like in a few years for my wife and I to be “empty nesters.” Additionally, I thought of how having a young child permanently in our home would keep me from doing the things I wanted to do. But over the past several weeks, God has made it clear to me that having more time for ourselves and my own aspirations is not what He has called us to.
The older I get the more I understand that my ambitions matter very little. In fact, they amount to nothing. I am more aware than ever that when I die, my accomplishments at work, my educational achievements, my writing and speaking, will not endure. But the impact we have on the lives of others, especially children (including of course our own) will be one of the few things that last. I am still influenced by a statement from over twenty years ago when I heard someone say that we must learn to invest in our posterity, not our prosperity.
Lately there have been a couple of popular articles in the blogosphere that have pushed back on the idea of being “radical” Christians and the risk we run of having "radical, missional" Christianity become the new ligalism. In response I would say that there is no doubt that we have to watch closely that we do not position our own passions and way of life over against what others may or may not be doing. We must not fall into the trap of thinking that everyone else ought to do what we are doing. That too easily can become self-righteous and judgmental, but Jesus did say deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow me! (Lk 9) For our family, this is the very least we can do.
With this post I simply want to challenge you to look at your time, and your home differently. Do you have a spare room? Do you have a room that you can put in bunk beds? Do you have at least one weekend a month that you can open up your home, open up your lives and allow another child to do life with you? To see what a “normal” family interaction looks like? I am willing to bet you can.
Last idea. My wife Mischele will be doing a breakout at Sentralized this September in Kansas City on the topic of foster care. Her breakout is titled: Making Room — Parenting Other People's Kids. Hope we might see you there.
The missional movement must involve serious engagement with issues of justice. As missionary people of God we must champion those without a voice. Tim Keller uses the phrase “quartet of the vulnerable” (Zech 7:10) to describe the plight of the orphan, widow, poor, and immigrant. If you have any doubt about God's heart for the vulnerable, then consider this sampling of Scripture:
“You must not mistreat or oppress foreigners in any way. Remember, you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt.”
“Do not take advantage of a widow or an orphan. If you do and they cry out to me. I will certainly hear their cry.”
“And do not slant your testimony in favor of a person just because that person is poor.”
“In a lawsuit, you must not deny justice to the poor.”
“. . . but let the land be renewed and lie uncultivated during the seventh year. Then let the poor among you harvest whatever grows on its own. Leave the rest for wild animals to eat. The same applies to your vineyards and olive groves.”
“When this offering is given to the Lord to purify your lives, making you right with him, the rich must not give more than the specified amount, and the poor must not give less.”
“It is the same with your grape crop—do not strip every last bunch of grapes from the vines, and do not pick up the grapes that fall to the ground. Leave them for the poor and the foreigners living among you. I am the Lord your God.”
“When you harvest the crops of your land, do not harvest the grain along the edges of your fields, and do not pick up what the harvesters drop. Leave it for the poor and the foreigners living among you. I am the Lord your God.”
“If one of your fellow Israelites falls into poverty and cannot support himself, support him as you would a foreigner or a temporary resident and allow him to live with you.”
“But if there are any poor Israelites in your towns when you arrive in the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward them.”
“Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do.”
“There will always be some in the land who are poor. That is why I am commanding you to share freely with the poor and with other Israelites in need.”
“Never take advantage of poor and destitute laborers, whether they are fellow Israelites or foreigners living in your towns.”
“Cursed is the man who withholds justice from the alien, the fatherless or the widow.”
A few years ago our family moved to a new part of town to plant a church. We were convinced that God placed us in our new home, on our new street, in our new neighborhood, for the purpose of meeting and getting to know our new neighbors. But how do you begin to build relationships with those whom you have never met? The primary key is that you must be intentional. New relationships seldom happen by chance. Instead you must find ways to “rub shoulders” with your neighbors. While your neighborhood situation may be quite different from the one we experienced here are some simple ways we began building relationships with our neighbors.
1. Pray for Your Neighbors.
Someone has said, “We need to talk to God about people, then talk to people about God.” If you have a neighborhood directory use it to identify the names of each family member in your building, on your street or cul-de-sac. Make a list that will help you pray for each family that you seek to build a relationship with. This list will help you move from simply hoping to connect with some nameless neighbor in the future, to specific action aimed at building a new relationship.
2. Be Outside.
After dinner take a walk in your neighborhood with an eye for meeting people. Play with your kids in the front yard instead of the backyard. Some of the best opportunities for our family to meet our neighbors came from playing baseball and Frisbee in our cul-de-sac. Playing ball in the front yard many times acted as a magnate for kids in the neighborhood and inevitably parents would follow.
3. Organize a Garage Sale.
Have a garage sale at your house and ask your neighbors if they have anything they would like to sell. We found in many cases neighbors not only brought over items to sell, but they would spend time “working” the sale and creating the opportunity to begin some brand new relationships and deepen existing ones.
4. Invite People for Dessert.
One of the best ways to get to know your neighbors is to have them over for dinner. However, we have found that inviting people over for dessert is less work and many times less threatening from their perspective. Dessert is less formal and requires a much smaller time commitment.
5. Have a Cookout.
Everybody loves to eat, and few people will turn down the chance to cookout on the grill and sample others people’s favorite dishes. Some of the best-attended get-togethers that we have hosted have been backyard (or front yard) cookouts. On one occasion we had the chance to have one of the local TV stations do their weather from our backyard. We used the opportunity to have a neighborhood cookout and everyone came to meet the weatherman and to be on TV.
6. Ask for Advice.
Everyone has differing talents and areas of expertise. One way of getting to know our neighbors better is to ask for advice in a person’s area of expertise. Having moved from a condominium where the grounds were always cared for, I had many opportunities to ask the more handy men in our neighborhood for advice. Advice on how to operate the sprinkler system, to over-seeding the lawn, to fixing a frozen air conditioning unit.
7. Join a Community Cause.
Find out if your neighborhood has a Home Owners Association. If so, join in on neighborhood workdays, or find an associational committee on which you can be a part. Find out if there is a neighborhood directory, if not, offer to put one together for those on your street.
8. Have an Open House.
One of our first connecting efforts after moving into our new house was to host a “dessert party.” We hand delivered special invitations to more than 180 homes in our housing addition. We simply invited people to a “come and go” dessert party where we had a dozen different kinds of desserts for people to sample. We also found that most people are very open to attending a party around the Christmas season. Take advantage of special times in the year to invite the neighborhood over for food and fun.
9. Watch for Special Needs.
Be on the lookout for special needs. Offer to baby sit or perhaps pet sit. Help to maintain yard work while neighbors are on vacation. Not long after moving in we noticed one of our neighbors preparing to paint their house. We spent part of the day helping them paint and that evening they had us over for pizza and we had the opportunity to discuss spiritual issues.
10. Start a Home Bible Study/Discussion Group.
The most significant and rewarding step to getting to know your neighbors is to discuss spiritual issues with them. After spending several months taking every opportunity to build relationships with those around us we invited our neighborhood to a new “discussion group” that we started in our home one night a week.
Jesus explicitly told us to love our neighbors and that begins by getting to know them. Recognize that there is a cost to building relationships with people around you. It will complicate your life, it will cost you money, and it will certainly cost you your most valuable resource, time. But I hope we will also recognize that the benefits of investing in the lives of others and of being a part of what God is doing in the world, and your neighborhood, far exceeds any personal inconvenience we might experience in the process.