Several years ago, as a pastor friend of mine was discussing the upcoming mission trips his church would be taking he said, “I’m not going to send people across the world to share the Gospel if they won’t cross the street to do it ﬁrst.” This was a punch in the gut for me. You see I had just moved back from ﬁve years overseas as a missionary and I had no idea who my neighbor across the hall from me was. I’d never even thought about speaking to them if I was honest.
Why was it so easy to go to another country and share the Gospel but it wasn’t even a thought to knock on the door ten feet away from mine? Didn’t they need Jesus just as much as someone on the “mission ﬁeld”? And why did the term “mission ﬁeld” bring up images of some far oﬀ, foreign place but not my street? We all know the Great Commission is not just for the foreign missionaries, it’s for all of us who follow Jesus, so where do we even start?
Let me begin by saying that I’m not an expert and I don’t have all the answers. What I do have is a conviction that I desperately want to be in community with the people who live around me and I want those same people to know Jesus. What has, somewhat organically, happened on my street this past year is not a template for what will work on every street. But one thing I know that is without a doubt required for building community is intentionality.
When I look back on this last year I have some takeaways that I think may help in your own community building eﬀorts. This list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a good start.
- Be visible. It is all too common and easy for our neighbors to drive their car into their driveway at the end of a long work day and shut the garage behind them, escaping into their homes for the evening. Maybe you’ve been one of these people. I really do believe this is where intentionality starts. If you want to know your neighbors you ﬁrst have to be known. My backyard is a much more comfortable place for me to hang out, but it’s not where the life of my street happens. We set chairs out on our driveway. We go on walks. We pull the yard games out to our front yard. We talk to people as they walk down the sidewalk. Many of our neighbors have started doing this as well. Granted, this will deﬁnitely be easier if you have kids in your home and kids on your street, it’s a natural connection, but we honestly love when our empty nest neighbors join in on the fun. True community is multi-generational. These days, more often than not, we will have people from 5 or 6 diﬀerent houses all hanging out in a driveway talking while our kids run all over the place. It’s chaos and it’s wonderful.
- Be available. Your neighbor needs help moving a big heavy table, wants to borrow a wrench, is wondering if you can loan them a stick of butter. The answer is yes. I am here to help you. It’s not always convenient, but it is what community building is made of.
- Be thoughtful. Before you really know your neighbors well you can still show them that you care. Pull their trashcans up to their garage for them after they’ve been emptied. When you see that they’ve accidentally left their garage door open send them a quick text. If you notice that they go out of town every long weekend, oﬀer to let their dog out. Just as in any relationship, your neighbors will appreciate that you care enough to think about them and they will likely oﬀer that same care in return.
- Be fun. We have some awesome block parties on our street. Want to know how these got started? Several of us were standing around on the driveway talking one night and the hot topic of the best methods for smoking meat came up. One thing led to another and we decided the only way to settle this was to have a rib cook oﬀ. The next month we decided to have a wing cook oﬀ. Then we just decided it was so fun we would start having these (now not so little) block parties every month. We pick a theme and everyone brings something to share. Yes, they are fun, but they still require eﬀort. Someone has to spearhead everything, send out reminders, make sure we have enough paper plates. If you want to make sure the fun happens, you might have to be that person making it happen.
Intentionality may involve stepping out of your comfort zone. It may mean some extra work. It might take longer than you’d like. And it should deﬁnitely include prayer. God has placed you in your exact house to be a light to the speciﬁc people living on your street. If that’s not a
“mission ﬁeld” then I don’t know what is.
– Laura Gregory
Laura Gregory is a member of Grand Parkway. She and her husband Justin have two active boys, Hunter (12) and Henry (1). She loves to make people feel wanted by Jesus and His people, exploring new places and fancy coffee drinks with friends old and new.