by Joleene Burts
And He [Jesus] said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
Matthew 22:37-39 (NASB)
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
Matthew 28:18-20 (NASB)
These scriptures are known as The Great Commandment and The Great Commission. What could this look like in your own neighborhood, right where God has placed you? It starts with prayer and finding intentional and consistent ways to connect and build relationships. Here are some practical ideas that my family uses as we seek to love God, love our neighbors and bring the light of Christ to those around us. We live in a suburban area of San Diego, CA. You may need to modify these ideas for your context.
1. Pray daily for your neighbors.
Here’s a great online prayer map tool that I use and love! https://blesseveryhome.com/
2. Go on a prayer walk.
Set a weekly time to walk around your neighborhood and pray. You can do this alone or with your family, a friend or another neighbor. CLICK HERE for a great resource on how you can pray while walking.
3. Spend intentional time outside.
Hangout in your front yard more often and say hi to neighbors as they come and go. Sometimes connecting is just a matter of setting aside time to be available. I like to garden in the front yard, watch my kids ride bikes, walk my dog, or walk to get the mail at a time when people are often outside. I’ve had some wonderful and unexpected conversations with neighbors this way.
4. Deliver treats during holidays.
Holidays and new seasons are great opportunities to connect. Make a small gift or card that you can hand deliver to meet new neighbors and reconnect with ones you don’t know well. When we first moved into our neighborhood during the Fall, my family baked pumpkin cookies and attached little cards that had our names and phone number on them. As a family we rang doorbells and passed the cookies out to each of the neighbors on our street to introduce ourselves and let them know they can call us if they need anything. People were so appreciative by this simple act of kindness.
5. Attend existing neighborhood events and activities.
Look for ways to connect where people are already gathering – garage sales, game nights, HOA meetings, park days, etc. I started attending an existing monthly ladies bunco game night when I first moved into our neighborhood. It was a lot of fun and I got to know many neighbors. I have a group of neighbor ladies I’m discipling now, who I first met from regularly attending bunco. If there aren’t any existing activities going on, then you can create one. Find a need and fill it.
6. Host a front yard party.
Find fun, creative ways to gather neighbors together. We’ve found that neighbors do have a desire to meet each other and build relationships, but often feel isolated and really appreciate someone taking the initiative to plan an enjoyable, casual get together. Host front yard parties for the neighbors to gather and meet each other like an ice cream social, holiday block party or potluck, etc. The front yard is simple and easy. People can come and go as they please which can feel less awkward for people. My kids and I make flyers and pass them out on doors. I love to use the NextDoor app as well to invite and communicate with neighbors. We host these kinds of gatherings a few times a year. People have loved this so much that now other neighbors are taking the initiative to plan and host parties too! These parties have helped many neighbors connect for the first time and begin new friendships and they’ve also created a real sense of community.
7. Take note of names and info as you meet people.
You might know the horrible feeling of talking with someone you’ve met before and forgetting their name or something about them they’ve shared with you. A practical way to love your neighbor is to be intentional about remembering their name and what they talk to you about. I use my notes app in my mobile phone to jot down any details that I want to be sure and remember. It’s also a great way to help you remember specific ways you can pray for them on a regular basis.
8. Set aside one day/night a week for deeper connecting.
The front yard parties are great for meeting people and connecting on a casual level but having individual families over for dinner can really help you get to know people on a deeper, more meaningful level. My family sets aside our Friday evenings for inviting over a family that we would like to get to know better for dinner or an activity. It’s a great time of fun around the table eating a meal, playing games and getting to know one another. Keep it simple and focus the time on connecting vs. entertaining. My family calls these times our “Neighbor’s Table” time, inspired by a company called, Neighbor’s Table that builds awesome farmhouse tables.
9. Focus on purposeful conversations that start casual > meaningful > spiritual > discovery.
Ask God to show you how He’s at work in people’s hearts. We want to join God where He’s working, not force every conversation into a spiritual one. Seek to become a good listener. As you have casual conversations, ask lots of questions. Listen for meaningful felt needs and areas of brokenness. Often these are the doors God opens where hearts are softened, and spiritual conversations are welcome. Sharing a relevant story from the Bible that addresses their felt need is a great way to share God’s truth and love in a way that is relatable. These discovery conversations can lead into a regular time of reading the Bible together in a Discovery Bible Study. This episode of the CDM (Contagious Disciple Making) Podcast is about having Discovery Conversations.
10. Meet needs.
As you’re talking with neighbors, pay attention to any needs that they express. Prayerfully consider how you can help meet those needs. Bring a meal to a family who’s struggling, had a baby, is sick, or lost a loved one. Offer to help mow a lawn, clean a house or grocery shop. Take care of a pet while someone is out of town. Help move furniture, lend tools, watch kids, or volunteer at a community function. The group of neighbor ladies I’m discipling are great at helping identify neighborhood/community needs and we serve together as a team to meet those needs.
For more great resources on this topic check out these books and podcasts:
Joleene Burts lives in North County San Diego, CA with her husband of 15 years and two children ages 8 and 6. She's passionate about Jesus, living a purposeful life, homeschooling, gardening and gathering people together.