How often do we drive through our neighborhoods interacting with our neighbors with a subtle wave or short greeting? We may see the same people time and time again but never ask for their names or get to know their stories. With so many proximity-based opportunities, why is it that getting to know our neighbors can prove to be challenging for so many of us? We build relationships at work and church, but we find ourselves stumped by our neighbors. It may be as simple as not knowing where to begin or how to initiate interactions with them. But just like any relationship, we get to know people through touchpoints like conversations, memories, shared experiences, or commonalities. These touchpoints are presented through multiple interactions and usually take time and investment to really form connections. Our best shot at getting to know someone is to be consistent and intentional in creating and taking advantage of those touchpoint opportunities. Getting to know our neighbors will certainly take time and intentionality, so it's helpful to consider practical steps we can take to initiate the beginning of those relationships.
It may seem self-explanatory, but how often do we pass someone by with a greeting and nothing else? By introducing ourselves, we take the initiative to invite someone into our lives, even if only on the surface. More often than not, our neighbors will introduce themselves too! It takes the pressure off coming up with some sort of grand introduction or winsome opening statement to grab someone's attention. We can simply say, "I want to introduce myself. My name is..." What an easy way to learn more names of our neighbors. And as we do learn their names, those names become more familiar to us as we say them and use them regularly.
Whether going for a walk, taking care of the lawn, sitting on the front porch, or playing with our kids in the yard, getting outside allows visibility for our neighbors to see us. We may be surprised by how many people we will meet! By being consistent, we create more space to engage and be seen by others. We can walk the same route, water our flowers around the same time each day, or have coffee on the porch in the morning. These may seem like small or simple acts, but the more we are visible to others, the more familiar we become to them and the more likely it is that opportunities will arise to spark conversations.
Attend Neighborhood Gatherings
Depending on where we live and the kind of neighborhood we live in, there could be a number of neighborhood gatherings that take place. There may be a Facebook page that shares upcoming events or an email newsletter you could ask to receive with a list of upcoming events. We can consider visiting a Homeowners Association meeting, a neighborhood playground or basketball court, a block party, food trucks, or any area or event where our neighbors gather together. These are often considered to be some of the least intimidating opportunities because so many other people will be meeting and introducing themselves just as you are.
Is someone new moving into the neighborhood? Do we notice the arrival of a new baby? Has someone lost a job? By paying attention, we can search for ways to offer a hand or a meal. Whether it's offering to get the mail while someone is on an extended vacation, helping with heavy lifting on a move-in day, offering to pay for work around our house, or preparing a meal for a family soon to welcome a little one, there are countless reasons to offer help and show love to our neighbors.
Offer an Invitation
As we become familiar faces, our neighbors may feel more and more comfortable with us offering invitations to them. An invitation shows a level of vulnerability on our part and opens the door for our neighbors to step into our lives. We can invite our neighbors over for a meal or a playdate or even ask them to attend church with us. And with the invitation comes the natural means by which we can show and talk about the reason for the hope we have. It provides prime gospel-sharing opportunities. The worst our neighbors can say is "no," and the best they can say is "yes." So many great opportunities are missed sheerly based on fear of rejection. But isn't it worth the risk if it means that our neighbors could hear the good news of the gospel for the first time?
It matters that we seek out ways to get to know our neighbors. We can grow too accustomed to remaining comfortable in our own bubbles, but God calls us to something so much greater! He calls us to display His love and His gospel truth to a watching world through both big and small interactions (John 13:34-35). We have been providentially placed in the neighborhoods where we live with the people who reside there. You never know how God intends to use you or shape you through relationships with your neighbors. Though meeting new people may call us out of our comfort zones, God calls us forward in faith. We can take bold and practical steps to meet our neighbors yet not neglect to saturate every encounter with prayerfulness that God would establish our relationships with His purposes in mind. May we move toward our neighbors in faithfulness, with our ultimate aim overshadowing our fears and hesitations–that our neighbors would come to know and love Jesus, too.