5 Simple Ways That Might Make Your Neighborhood a Better Place
I thought I was a good neighbor before the pandemic. It turns out, I had a lot to learn.
When my friend picked out the book, “The Art of Neighboring” for our church small group study, I was like the straight-A student thinking I had this one in the bag. After all, I knew most of my neighbors’ first and last names. For some, I had their email addresses. I even knew their dogs’ names. I soon came to learn there’s a big difference in knowing someone’s name versus knowing someone’s heart.
Our study started out with a powerful story of how 20 pastors were looking to change and love their community in a more meaningful way. They smartly invited the mayor to give his input. The mayor put it simply, “The majority of the issues that our community is facing would be eliminated or drastically reduced if we could just figure out a way to become a better community of great neighbors.” (pg. 19, The Art of Neighboring)
One of the authors, Dave Runyon sums up this moment of humble irony, “In a word, the mayor invited a roomful of pastors to get their people to actually obey Jesus.”
It sounds so simple. In Mark 12:31(ESV), Jesus says, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” In my mind, changing the world should involve big, sweeping, important-sounding tasks. Could good neighboring really be the thing that would help our communities to be better, grow stronger? Could caring for my actual neighbors truly be that significant?
It was worth finding out.
This year, I have begun to learn more than my neighbors' names. By being intentional in connecting with them, they have graciously allowed me to share more of their lives. We have shared meals, tools, recipes, walks, grocery store runs, pet help, health concerns, and prayers for each other. I have even learned how to receive care from them too, which is not easy for me. As time unfolds, my hope is that we will continue to deepen our connections. The most significant thing I learned was that most of my original assumptions about my neighbors were completely wrong. I’m so grateful to walk deeper in this season with the people who surround me.
Now is the perfect time to lavishly care for your neighbor, Jesus style. If you don't know any of your neighbors' names or if you know all of your neighbors well, now is the perfect time to nurture more meaningful connections. If nothing else, you will figure out who is the best neighbor to borrow spices or tools from. Can we really change the world by caring well for our neighbors? I hope you will join me in trying to figure it out.
Here are five simple ways you can consider for upping your neighbor game:
1. Touch Base.
It seems like a simple thing to give a call or text your neighbor, but for my neighbors who aren’t going out much, it is huge. If you don’t have your neighbors’ phone numbers, leave a note in their mailbox with your name, email, and number. Tell them what days you usually run errands and encourage them to let you know if you can help. This is not a one and done, make this a regular habit.
2. Share Something.
You never know how your leftovers can make someone’s day. I had a huge tray of lasagna that I was planning to freeze but remembered my neighbor across the street mentioned she was having knee surgery. I shared my lasagna with her and she treated me like I brought her gold. Share anything you have, no matter how small. Cookies, sourdough bread, herbs from your garden. You never know how being thought of by someone else changes people.
3. Pay Attention.
Taking walks in the neighborhood is an easy way to meet neighbors. Take the time to ask people’s names, how they are, if they need something or find things they care about. If you are like me and forget people’s names, it’s grace-filled to share that. Saying something like, “I know we’ve been neighbors for a long time and I should know your name by now, but can you remind me of your name again?” Being humble is endearing and human. Remembering the little things like names and interests shows people you are present to who they are.
4. Invite Prayer.
Prayer is powerful. It’s also a meaningful way to encourage each other and care for your neighbors. When neighbors share struggles, tell them you’ll pray. It doesn’t have to be huge or heavy, but you can share simply, “I’ll be praying for you.” If you know they are a Jesus follower, ask them how you can be praying for them specifically. While you are walking or driving around your neighborhood, intentionally cover the homes in prayer. There is no greater way to speak peace and unity over our surroundings.
5. Gather Simply.
I wanted to bring my neighbors together but wasn’t sure how to begin. I came up with the simple idea of gathering in the cul-de-sac for a one-hour social on a Friday. After six hours of hanging out together and having the most fun we had had in a long time, we realized we were on to something. Since then, we have gathered regularly and everyone brings their own everything – food, drink chairs, and snacks. We dress for whatever the weather brings. The street was the great equalizer as no one had to clean, cook or host. It was simply a chance to connect and enjoy each other.
I deeply believe Jesus meant for us to love our actual neighbors. Not just their names or their cars or their pets, but loving them enough to get to know them in an authentic way. Just like our faith, neighboring well doesn’t need to be complicated. There has never been a more important time to get Mark 12:31 right. Loving our neighbors may be exactly what a hurting world needs.