Many of you preached or heard sermons last Sunday asking the question “And who is my neighbor?” – at least if the lectionary lesson for the day was preached. If you know this parable by Jesus, you also know that neighbors are not merely those who live on our street and they could even be our enemies (like that vile-but-turned-out-to-be-good Samaritan.)
True Confessions: I do not know all my geographically closeby neighbors and the way I know them is nominal. We live in a three story apartment building with lots of young adults who are cooler than we are.
There’s “Josh”* next door and I only know his name because I read the label on a package at his door to find out his name. When we pass in the hall or on a sidewalk, he never looks us in the eye when we say, “Hi.”
We know the first names of three other neighbors because we know their dogs. We met Bernie, Hops, Fifi, and Denver before we met their parents, and now we do know three of their four parents’ first names.
My neighbors also include Bob (if you live or work in the Plaza Midwood neighborhood of Charlotte, you know Bob) who is seen every day drinking coffee in one of several restaurants. And we know the first names of servers and baristas and cashiers although there’s quite a bit of turnover.
Church people often ask me, “How do we meet our neighbors?” and I follow up with “Why do you want to know?“
- Do we want to “attract young families” in hopes they will join/become involved/pledge money?
- Do we want to figure out our neighbors’ needs so we might offer support?
- Do we simply want to be friendly and build community?
If we – as followers of Christ – want to “reach out” into the neighborhood, there are ways to do this depending on your context. For example, if you are in a rural community it’s not the same as if you are in a suburban or urban community. But – assuming you want to get to know your neighbors for the sake of loving and serving them (and not targeting them), you can try these things:
- Get to know people you meet in passing. Do you know the names of the servers in the local diner? Do you know the name of the maintenance people in your apartment building? Do you know your barista enough to greet them by their first names? Developing friendly relationships is community-building.
- Invite the sheriff, the school principal, the county social worker, the high school guidance counselor to come to your church in order to get to know them and learn what they do all day. What needs do they see in the community? How might the church help with those needs?
- Offer resources based on what community leaders tell you about local needs: If there is need for reading tutors, set up a team to volunteer. If there are parents with LGBTQA+ kids who want to support their kids and don’t know how, offer space for them to gather. If there are lots of kids who go home to empty houses, consider an after school program. Reminder: this isn’t about getting new members; it’s about loving people where they are.
Living an authentic Jesus-following life is the best way to meet the neighbors. See The Gospels for examples: What do we do if we see people hurt on the side of the road? What do we do if we meet parents with sick children? What do we do when we come in contact with women being shamed? The examples are endless.
Being a good neighbor often means paying attention. Who do we see every day whom we ignore?
*Names have been changed except for Bob and all the dogs.