With a new year right around the corner, why not commit to knowing, supporting, and sharing with the people you live around?
The ever-changing American suburbs are a challenging context to live in. One of those challenges involves proximity without neighborliness. Originally crafted by William Smalley of the American Bible Society, to me, “proximity without neighborliness” means that although we live around thousands of people, we do not know, have little desire to know, and are probably not even around enough to know those with whom we share our streets and neighborhoods.
Part of the reason I am drawn to the missional movement of the church is the inherent call and desire to participate with God in his work in the neighborhood: my neighborhood. If Jesus “became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood,” as someone intent on ever-becoming like him, how can I do the same? How can I grow in neighborliness with those living in close proximity to me?
With that question at the forefront and 15-20 neighborhood events at my home to look back upon, here are 5 tips for hosting a suburban neighborhood hospitality gathering.
1) Discern through prayer.
I lead with prayer, because it is too easily neglected by me. There are several reasons why beginning with prayer is essential; however, I will cover three.
First, a love for your neighborhood begins, flourishes, and sustains with God. This is not about reporting numbers. This is not about gospel presentations. This is not about church invitations. This is about light within and for the neighborhood. This is about joining God in spreading his love, a love he is already pouring out. You just may not know about it…yet.
Second, those things I just mentioned: reporting numbers, gospel presentations, and church invitations…Before you begin any planning, you need to repent of them and anything like them to the Lord. This is not about pretense, pressure, or profit, and you need to honestly talk expectations with God beforehand.
Third, beginning with prayer affords you the opportunity to ask God what he is already up to in your neighborhood, and how your hospitality gathering can perpetuate what he already has in motion. It could go without saying, but please involve your family in these times of prayer. As you share them together, you will grow.
2) Plan with flexibility.
What is God up to? What is he leading you to do? What needs to occur in order for the gathering to come together? These and other questions like them are birthed out of prayer.
So, what did he say? My wife and I have hosted front-yard barbecues, coffee and dessert conversation parties, and garage sales as invitations for neighbors to come together. What are you going to do?
Be sensitive to the Holy Spirit. Be flexible. Be creative and fun. Be simple. If you are a husband, consider which and how many responsibilities will rest upon the shoulders of your wife. How can the kids participate?
Do not bite off more than you can chew in an attempt to throw the next Woodstock. Chill. Be faithful to the Lord, and plan with your neighbors in mind. Involve them in the planning if possible.
3) Personally invite.
For us, making “the ask” was always a lot of fun. I would involve my children, and we would go door-to-door introducing ourselves to neighbors we did not know, having fun conversations with those we did know, or (as was often the case) leaving flyers for neighbors who were not home. Whatever happened, we had a great time, and were always well received. One time, we purposely hosted a neighborhood gathering at 10am on a Sunday morning, and a lady several houses down told us she could not come because she would be “in church,” but other than that, we have had a great time inviting. 😉
4) Offer hospitality.
Be a good neighbor. Be welcoming, calm, and available. Be a student of others, an inquisitive and learning conversationalist. In other words, if you spend the entire night tweeting about what a great time you are having at your neighborhood hospitality gathering, you are not being a good neighbor.
Ask good questions. Ask good questions. Ask good questions. (Are you getting the point?) Smile. Introduce yourself, and be a good listener.
5) (after the gathering) Engage in relationships.
Honestly, I don’t know. Neighborhood life after your gathering will look different from mine. Just because you strike up a couple of relationships does not mean that it is time for you to canvas the neighborhood with church door hangers.
You see, good neighbors, I mean really good neighbors: the kind of neighbors who would care for their wounded enemy, provide him with medical attention, load him on a donkey, find him a place to stay, and cover the costs of the entire ordeal, those kind of neighbors, are diamonds in the rough shining like starts in the universe. Once you reveal yourself to be that kind of neighbor, you will season the neighborhood with the salt of the gospel.
And prayer will be your only hope.
*What tips would you add? *How have you connected with your neighbors? *How has God been revealed within those relationships?